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The Four Rs of sustainable IT: refurbish, reuse, recycle, ROI

IT Best Practices Alert By Linda Musthaler, Network World
November 06, 2009 12:06 AM ET
Linda Musthaler
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What does your company do with old computing equipment when it has reached its apparent end of life, whether it still works on not? Do you stash it in a warehouse and forget about it? Do you toss it in a trash bin? Do you donate it to a charity and hope it can make use of a bunch of 5-year-old PCs?

In this era of green computing, the days of buy, use and dispose are over. It's time to implement sustainable IT by engaging with an asset management company that can provide the effective recovery, reuse and retirement of your old equipment. Not only is this the responsible thing to do; it also will increase the ROI on your computing assets.

What does a real green data center look like?

TechTurn and Redemtech are two of the largest U.S. companies that provide such a service. They can take your old computer equipment and refurbish the devices so you or someone else can use them again, or break them down into components that are reused, recycled or disposed of responsibly.

This is not the kind of task you want to do in-house. Specialized expertise is required to safely handle the hazardous materials that are found in computers. What's more, this is a process that is highly regulated by federal law. Big fines await any company that doesn't do it right.

Speaking of fines, did you know that in some U.S. states, it's illegal to store large quantities of unused computers for long periods of time? That back room full of clunker equipment could put your company on the wrong side of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Here are some asset management best practices for sustainable IT that also will help maximize the ROI on your computer equipment.

Start with detailed asset tracking the moment you bring any new equipment into your organization. Computer configurations change many times over the course of years of use. What goes out the door at the end of life is usually quite different from what came in the door years earlier. When you decide to retire the equipment, you'll need to know precisely what you have, including the software installed on the computers.

When it comes to asset management, forget the spreadsheet; use a tool that is specifically meant for this purpose and automates the task as much as possible. Example tools would be LANDesk asset management software; Altiris Service and Asset Management Suite; and Asset Manager Pro from Vector Networks.

If you don't already have a vendor that provides complete asset management and recovery, shop around for one and negotiate a contract. You and your vendor should decide ahead of time what you want done with your equipment once the hand-off is made. The vendor should agree to your policies of how you want the assets handled and disposed of, and should be able to certify how this work is done.

A good asset management vendor will provide the following kinds of services for you:

Arrange secure logistics: The vendor will take accountability of your equipment before it leaves your loading dock. This is important to ensure that PCs, servers and storage devices whose hard drives haven't been thoroughly wiped clean yet aren't susceptible to data theft.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation.

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