Hardware longevity should be encouraged

Any efforts to improve energy efficiency and cut waste should be applauded. But for every good outcomes, the IT industry seems to take several steps backwards, in its ability to promote energy efficiency and recycling.

Computer Weekly has previously written about the TPM scam on Windows 11. Yes it is a scam, because a perfectly good PC is made redundant due to the lack of a TPM 2.0 module. Rather than make it easy for people to update from Windows 10, the industry wants everyone to have the latest PC hardware. And just looking at the data from the chipmakers, and the performance gains offered by the latest generation of processor and chipset come at cost. While Moore’s Law may well hold true in terms of being able to purchase twice as much computational power for the same cost, the actual energy, as specified by the thermal design power rating, is actually rising in real terms. Go ahead. Buy the latest hardware. Then, to keep power within the TDP rating, switch off all the acceleration features. Surely this makes no sense. How much fast is the new hardware now, compared to the one it replaces? The performance increase, if indeed there is one, may be hard to justify. The simple answer is not to upgrade at all.

Addressing datacentre waste

Within the datacentre, the systems generally run well within their performance envelope to maximise reliability. This means they do not need to be upgraded as frequently. AWS, for instance, has extended the life of its servers from four years to five years and networking equipment from five to six years, leading to significant cost savings.

Buying the latest server and networking hardware will certainly increase a datacentre operator’s ability to boost computational capacity and potentially deliver greater economies of scale to its customers. But at what cost? The old hardware is destined to go into a landfill site even though it may well have a number of years of useful life left.

The tech sector is being pulled in two directions. On one side, it is making more effort towards becoming a sustainable and green industry. But, based on how the stock markets rate tech, companies are compelled to sell more products in a bid to deliver greater shareholder and stakeholder value. The trouble with IT hardware is how to make it sustainable. Recycling old tech, the second user market for IT equipment and the whole circular economy is still nascent.

What is needed is an entirely new value system for IT hardware, one that rewards reuse and sustainability.

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