How to minimise costs when overhauling a datacentre

Virtualisation and cloud technologies are pushing IT to take a revolutionary and replacement approach to datacentres. How can it be done efficiently?

Despite the rapid pace of technology change, IT executives have approached their IT equipment and datacentres with a view of re-using as much of it as possible. This has often involved cascading IT equipment through different types of usage scenario, and retrofitting the facility with, for example, new uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) or computer room air-conditioning (CRAC) units as needed.

However, some organisations are now taking a different approach. Virtualisation and cloud computing technologies are pushing many beyond an evolutionary, incremental approach to a more revolutionary, replacement one.

Many virtualisation and cloud projects have led to small islands of IT equipment positioned in an existing facility that has become too large, along with the associated high overhead costs of cooling and inefficiencies in energy distribution.

The benefits of moving to a new computing architecture are strong, however. A newer, more standardised platform can be better optimised to meet an organisation’s needs, and modern equipment will be more energy-efficient and provide immediate cost savings. 

Any organisation with an inkling of capability will ensure that a project plan is in place for areas such as data and application migration, along with ongoing maintenance and support, before attempting to move from one platform to another.

But what can be done beyond a technical project plan to minimise the overall cost of assigning an end-of-life status to an existing datacentre?

Regard the IT equipment and datacentre facility as true assets and cash in on them wherever possible

Assessing what can be effectively cascaded

Although attempting to re-use as much of the existing equipment as possible could minimise the opportunities of moving to a new architecture, there may well be a proportion of equipment which is modern enough to fit in with the new plans, or to be used for specific tasks, such as file and print serving or archival storage.

Assessing the residual value of the IT and facility equipment

Too many times, organisations pay for old equipment to be removed, or even for just dumping it. 

The waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) regulation means that enterprises cannot simply dump IT equipment, while disposal of IT products without a proper strategy or security could lead to data protection issues because data containing Personally identifiable information could be recovered from the disposed devices.

But companies such as Bell Microsystems offer services where any residual value within the equipment is maximised through refurbishment or use as spares. But this should always be done with security in mind. For instance, disk drives must be securely reformatted or destroyed. Networking equipment can have log files that must be wiped off to remove any identification of where the device has come from – and any log of username/password pairs. 

Bell Microsystems also offers services to recover as much value through such scrap as possible – there is a lot of gold, copper and other rare and valuable metals in such scrap material. 

In a majority of cases, more can be recovered in overall residual values than the cost of secure disposal. 

Even at the datacentre facility level, there may be good residual values in equipment such as old auxiliary generators, UPSs and CRAC units.

Consider whether the facility itself is a problem or an opportunity

If the facility is a standalone datacentre that is not part of an organisation’s larger building or campus, then it could be sold as a datacentre shell. With the growth of co-location, hosting and cloud services, a large enough facility with the right characteristics – strong floor, all services on hand, basically secure building – can be tempting for an organisation that needs to bring new infrastructure to market fast.

But in instances where this is not feasible, what can be done with the datacentre building?

The main problem tends to be that a purpose-built datacentre is neither fish nor fowl: it is similar to a warehouse in that it has a large open volume as its main aspect, but it also tends to be over-designed and provisioned for selling on as a warehouse to be a cost-effective means of optimising any payback for the facility. 

It is not conducive to rapidly converse it to office space, as mezzanine floors and new heating and other services will all have to be put in place to make it usable. 

For an organisation where the facility is part of a larger building or part of a campus where it would be difficult to sell off the building, it comes down to identifying the best possible re-use for it – even if there is a cost associated in retrofitting for alternative use. 

If the facility can be sold off as a separate unit, then it may just be a case of seeing what value per square footage can be obtained for it – even if this does not provide a good return on investment. 

Even at the most basic level, datacentre managers must bear in mind that any building has something that is always of value underpinning it – the land it is built on. Should a buyer be able to gain change-of-use planning permission, what could appear to be a few pounds per square foot of empty building space could be turned into high-value housing or retail space. One tip is not to look at the facility itself as the only thing that has value.

For organisations whose existing datacentre facility has reached the end of its useful life, ensuring that costs of any move are minimised must be a priority. 

Making sure that as much value is gained through the disposal of existing equipment and buildings can help in this – regard the IT equipment and datacentre facility as true assets and cash in on them wherever possible.

Clive Longbottom is a Service Director at UK analyst firm Quocirca Ltd.

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