Decommissioning A Data Center And Eliminating Zombie Servers [A How-To Guide]

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In the recent past, data centers were the lifeblood of commercial data. However, as cloud storage and computing advance, the need for data centers is getting to be less and less. As Network World reports, a lot of companies are taking it onto themselves to shut down their data centers since the cloud offers a much better solution for their data storage needs.

Data centers form the core of an enterprise data system. Shutting one down requires having a bit of know-how about the technology being used. So how does a company properly go about shutting down its data center?

Step 1: Inventorying Assets

Proper data asset management would suggest that companies have a record of their assets, and what they're doing with it. Unfortunately, according to Computer World, the large volume of so-called 'zombie servers' suggest that many businesses aren't really sure about what they own within their data centers.
Inventorying is supposed to help enterprises to have a basic idea of what's in their data center, and what applications would be affected if they were to shut down a particular device.
Ideally, all the information regarding this step should be in a configuration management database (CMDB). The CMDB serves as a storage point that catalogs configuration data on both virtual and real-world assets. While most data centers have a CMDB, they aren't up to date.
The rate of change of hardware and software makes it difficult to set a system up to deal with updating the CMDB as those dependencies change. The size of the company also has a significant part of play in the maintenance of a CMDB.
Larger companies tend to have a harder time to manage their CMDBs than smaller companies, simply because of the sheer volume of assets they need to keep track of.

Step 2: Develop a Dependency Map

Dependencies seem to spring out of nothing. As a data center ages, hardware dependencies arrange themselves to maintain the functionality of the data center. A company intent on shutting down its data center, therefore, needs to know what is dependent on what, so that they don't inadvertently switch off a system's life support n a moment of carelessness. Connection problems specifically start cropping up once a data center is being disassembled. Internet connections routed through servers are disrupted as those servers are assigned temporary IP addresses when their own server subnet is being moved. Knowing which systems affect others is a crucial part of maintaining connectivity throughout the movement.

Step 3: Talk to Decommissioning Providers

Chances are the business itself won't be doing all of the disassembling themselves. Decommissioning providers are there to help a company shut down its data center efficiently. However, before a business hires a decommissioning contractor, they should ask the right questions to ensure that they get what they're paying for. It's easy for a small company to claim they can decommission an entire data center. If they don't have the requisite experience, they are going to find it a demanding job, and you will most likely have to clean up after them. To avoid putting the company in this position, there are a few pertinent things you ought to find out, including:
  • Ask about the last three data centers the potential contractor worked on
  • Let the contractor give you a breakdown and walkthrough of how they intend to decommission the system
  • Find out about if there will be any subcontractors involved
  • Query the contractor about their recycling and disposal of electronics policies
  • Find out if the contractor can recover value from the parts of the data center and how fast a turnover time is likely
  • Ask about disposal methods for metals and hazardous materials
  • Delve into the contractor's security protocols
Each of these questions carries weight in determining whether the contractor can indeed do what they claim they can. It's better to be considered annoying for asking too many questions than to end up having to clean up the contractor's half-finished mess.

Step 4: Recycle Electronics in a Responsible Manner

Knowing where your data center's electronic waste gets shunted to after it leaves the site is of utmost importance. The disposal of your refuse by a contractor in a sensitive area leaves your company liable to charges. One of the things that a company outsourcing its decommissioning should look out for is the presence of recycling certifications, such as the R2 standard.
NQA explains that the R2 standard is a certification granted to companies that can dispose of electronic waste sustainably. Moreover, R2 certified companies have to present a chain of custody for their disposals, so that the client knows where their waste is at all points in time.
One of the most significant hurdles a company has to overcome when decommissioning a data center is reconciling the cost of the waste disposal.
Being cheap, in this regard, might benefit the company in the short term. However, hiring companies with poor or no reputations for doing dumping leaves the company open to legal problems further down the road. It may cost more to hire an R2 certified disposal expert, but the cost is well worth the peace of mind.

Step 5: Control Access to the Site

A data center being shut down may be difficult to maintain security for. However, to avoid having to deal with problems such as industrial espionage or theft of proprietary data, locking down the site as securely as possible using embedded hardware design is a necessity. Shutting down a data center will require the business to bring in outside consultants.
The company should ensure that all personnel from these contractors are outfitted with temporary security passes that have a set expiration date. It's a scary prospect letting strange individuals access the most sensitive data the business has, but when decommissioning happens, the company has little say in the matter. As a result, they can only do what they can to contain potential threats.

A Complete Project By Itself

Shutting down a data center may be even more complicated than building one. All the loose ends need to be accounted for, all the data moved into its new site, all connections terminated, and all dependencies shunted to working systems.
Disposal of electronic and physical waste is another issue since data centers might generate massive volumes of these. And if computers are being marketed as secondhand to recoup some of the cost, they need to be adequately wiped before the company allows them to be resold on the open market.
It's a time-consuming process, but with proper planning and timed scheduling, there's no reason it should be more complicated than any other major project the company has undertaken in the past.

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