The Data Centre ITAD & Decommissioning Process: An Overview

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Learn about the data centre decommissioning process, from meticulous planning and risk assessment to the final asset disposal and documentation.

11 April 20247 mins
The Data Centre ITAD & Decommissioning Process: An Overview

Moving or retiring data-bearing IT assets requires a meticulous approach to ensure their secure, efficient, and environmentally responsible disposal or repurposing — particularly to properly manage and dispose of sensitive information. This is where the data centre ITAD and decommissioning process comes in: As technology evolves and data storage needs change, decommissioning becomes a necessity for organisations looking to optimise their IT infrastructure, reduce costs, and align with regulatory requirements.

Data centre decommissioning involves several steps, from the initial planning and risk assessment to the final asset disposal and documentation — each designed to address the unique challenges of managing IT assets at the end of their lifecycle.

Read on to learn more about the data centre decommissioning process, associated best practices, and real-world examples of how efficient decommissioning yields significant benefits for businesses.

What is Data Centre Decommissioning?

Data centre decommissioning refers to the process of systematically retiring data storage devices, servers, or entire data centres — ensuring that all sensitive data contained within them is securely erased or destroyed. This process works to maintain data security and compliance with data protection regulations while concurrently mitigating the risk of data breaches.

The Data Centre Decommissioning Process

A comprehensive data centre decommissioning process comprised of seven key phases:

  1. Phase 1: Data centre analysis
  2. Phase 2: Sanitisation
  3. Phase 3: Shipping
  4. Phase 4: Processing
  5. Phase 5: Value Recovery, rectifying systems and reuse
  6. Phase 6: Resale in global markets
  7. Phase 7: Value return

At Iron Mountain, our standardised approach to the data centre ITAD and decommissioning process is meticulously designed to ensure secure, sustainable, and profitable decommissioning of outdated or unnecessary data and hardware. Our seven-phase process facilitates the safe removal, repurposing, or disposal of these assets, aligning with the highest standards of operational excellence, compliance, and environmental responsibility.

Here’s an overview of how we execute each phase.

Phase 1: Data Centre Analysis

This phase initiates with a strategic analysis aimed at understanding the current state of the data centre assets. It involves customised decommissioning solutions tailored to the specific needs of the data centre, ensuring that the process aligns with the client's operational and compliance requirements. This is the preparatory stage where the groundwork for asset tracking, audit trails, and decommissioning plans is laid out.

Phase 2: Sanitisation

Sanitisation involves several critical steps to ensure data security before hardware leaves the client's premises. It starts with the deployment of Teraware or similar asset discovery and data destruction software, designed to securely overwrite storage devices, making data recovery impossible. Asset discovery follows, cataloguing all data-bearing devices to be decommissioned. The data wiping process is then executed to remove data from these devices, followed by the issuance of a Certificate of Sanitisation, which serves as proof that data has been securely erased in compliance with industry standards. For physical data destruction, mobile shredding units may be brought onsite to shred storage devices. Lastly, hardware removal and loading trucks are carried out efficiently to prepare for the secure transport of the hardware to the next phase.

Phase 3: Shipping

The third phase is the logistical step, wherein sanitised hardware is carefully and securely transported from the client's data centre to the processing facility. This phase involves meticulous, standardised care as it entails the transfer of potentially sensitive equipment and, as such, requires a high level of security and tracking to ensure that no items are lost or compromised during transit.

Phase 4: Processing

Once at the processing facility, such as an Iron Mountain location, the hardware undergoes a thorough processing protocol. This begins with the receiving process, where each item is checked in and accounted for. Inventory reconciliation takes place to match received items against the expected list of assets. Hardware processing involves preparing the hardware for resale or recycling, which may include testing, refurbishing, and repackaging of systems. Disassembly is performed on items that cannot be sold as complete systems, breaking them down into components that can be individually resold or recycled, shredding drives as necessary.

Phase 5: Value Recovery, Recertifying Systems and Reuse

This phase is dedicated to extracting maximum value from the decommissioned hardware. It may involve remarketing complete systems that have been tested and found to be in good working condition. Remanufacturing systems may include refurbishing and upgrading older systems to make them suitable for resale. Components that are still functional are remarketed as individual parts. Any materials or components that cannot be resold are directed towards environmentally responsible recycling processes to recover valuable raw materials, thereby reducing waste.

Phase 6: Resale in Global Markets

In this phase, the refurbished systems and components are introduced into global markets for resale. This stage maximises the financial return by finding buyers who can utilise the remanufactured systems or components, thereby extending their life cycle and reducing environmental impact.

Phase 7: Value Return

The final phase of the decommissioning process is the value return, which is the culmination of the entire process. It represents the return on investment from the sale of refurbished systems and components, as well as the sustainability benefits from proper recycling and waste management. This phase underscores the profitability and sustainability of the decommissioning process, providing the client with a clear financial and environmental benefit. Moreover, it reflects the success of the process in mitigating risks associated with a data breach, compliance, and environmental responsibilities. It's an opportunity for the organisation to review the effectiveness of the decommissioning, identify areas of improvement and success, and document the lessons learned for future decommissioning projects.

Data Centre ITAD & Decommissioning Best Practices

When considering the decommissioning of data centres and IT assets, adhering to industry best practices is necessary for ensuring data security, compliance, and environmental responsibility, among other factors. The following practices not only help to facilitate a smooth and efficient decommissioning process but also safeguard against data breaches, legal penalties, and environmental harm.

Here are key best practices to consider:

Catalogue all IT assets: Start by meticulously cataloguing every IT asset. Detail their locations, configurations, and data sensitivity levels to ensure no asset is overlooked during the decommissioning process. Eradicate data securely: Apply data sanitisation methods that comply with NIST and NAID guidelines to securely erase data from storage devices, ensuring that all data is irretrievably destroyed before disposal or repurposing of assets.

Adhere to environmental regulations: Execute all decommissioning activities in strict adherence to environmental laws and guidelines. Opt for environmentally responsible e-waste recycling methods and collaborate with recyclers who are certified for their sustainable practices.

Maintain rigorous chain of custody: Implement a stringent chain of custody protocol for all assets from the outset of decommissioning. Document each step of asset handling, transport, and disposition to ensure compliance and data protection, providing a transparent account of the decommissioning journey.

Maximise asset value recovery: Strategically assess and execute value recovery opportunities for decommissioned assets. Whether through resale in secondary markets or material recycling, aim to recuperate costs and contribute to the organisation's economic and environmental goals.

Communicate effectively with stakeholders: Foster clear, ongoing communication with every stakeholder involved in the decommissioning process. This includes internal departments, external service providers, and regulatory authorities. Clear communication ensures alignment, facilitates smooth operations, and helps manage expectations.

Audit and report: Regularly audit the decommissioning process against established policies and standards. Produce detailed reports on data destruction verification, asset disposition outcomes, and value recovery efforts to ensure transparency and accountability.

Moreover, after the decommissioning project is completed, review the process to identify areas for improvement — and implement changes accordingly. Lessons learned should be documented and applied to future decommissioning projects to enhance efficiency, security, and compliance.

Data centre decommissioning, in practice

Our client, a hyperscale services provider, engaged in a data centre decommissioning project to securely manage the phase-out of obsolete IT infrastructure while optimising the recovery of financial value from these assets. With the help of Iron Mountain, the project focused on the meticulous process of data erasure and physical decommissioning of 297 server racks. These racks contained a total of 121,893 storage devices, including hard disk drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and flash cards.

The operation was executed with strict adherence to data security protocols, ensuring complete data destruction or erasure with certification within a four-day period.

Following the data elimination phase, the physical removal of all designated racks from the facility was accomplished within two weeks — facilitated by an efficient workflow from start to finish. The project rounded up in the successful remarketing of the decommissioned assets, generating proceeds of $4.4 million.

The Iron Mountain Difference: Efficient Data Centre ITAD & Decommissioning By trusting Iron Mountain, you leverage our expertise in navigating the complex process of data centre ITAD and decommissioning, from strategic planning to final value recovery. Our proven approach, tailored to meet your unique needs, ensures that your IT assets are handled securely and in compliance with regulations. Moreover, our expertise will help to ensure the decommissioning process yields a maximum return on investment.

Whether you're looking to safeguard sensitive data during decommissioning, adhere to stringent environmental standards, or recoup value from outdated technology, Iron Mountain offers a comprehensive solution designed to meet your objectives.

Contact us today to learn more about our process, and let us help you manage your data centre ITAD and decommissioning needs with precision, security, and efficiency.

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