Data Center Management And The Circular Economy: Key Initiatives To Watch

Date: August 15, 2019

Horizon Technology

Proponents of the circular economy are eager to point out that waste does not exist in nature. In the same way nature reuses and recycles its resources, how can we minimize waste in the data center?

Here are some of the key initiatives, focused on the data center and inspired by circular thinking, that look to reduce the environmental footprint of enterprise computing.

1. Google’s Data Centers
The search giant recently restated its commitment to advancing circular principles across its global operations, including its 14 data centers worldwide. Google says it is working hard to design out waste and keep products and materials in circulation for as long as possible.

Repair management is a key aspect of its approach to data center hardware. The longer a device can be kept in good working condition, the lower the waste. “A circular data center ecosystem requires keeping products and materials in use,” wrote Kate Brandt, its head of sustainability in a blog post supporting the initiative. “We need to design everything for longevity, repairability, and disassembly for future use.”

In the commercial data center, a move away from planned obsolescence and toward designing for repairability is steadily gaining ground. “Today, we use components from old servers to upgrade machines and we build remanufactured machines with refurbished parts,” Brandt explained.

The company is active in supplying the secondary market, too. In 2018, Google released more than 2.1 million units for remarketing, it states.

2. OEMs Prioritizing Sustainability
It’s not just hyperscale operators such as Google that are onboard with circular principles: large OEMs have long promoted the importance of green IT.

Take HPE’s commitment to refurbishing or recycling returned enterprise hardware, whether server, network, or storage equipment. In the 12 months from November 2017, the company refurbished 73% of returned storage media and recycled the remainder, for example.

Rival Dell announced at the beginning of this year that it had met its 2020 goal of recovering 2 billion pounds of used electronics across consumer and enterprise-facing hardware – a year ahead of schedule. Additionally, the computing giant recently unveiled a closed-loop process, developed in conjunction with Seagate and Teleplan, to recover rare earth magnets from recovered enterprise hardware for reuse in hard disk drives in the Dell Latitude 5000 series laptop.

3. Hard Drives From Hard Drives
The concept of using recycled componentry in hard disk drives is close to the heart of industry group iNEMI and its work to promote circularity in electronics manufacturing.

End-of-life HDDs are particularly good candidates for circularity, iNEMI believes. “They have a consistent form factor (2.5″ or 3.5″) and consistent manufactured design, plus the demand for data storage capacity is outpacing the ability of HDD and SSD manufacturers to keep up with that demand,” the group explains. The presence of valuable rare earth material is another reason to target HDDs for closed-loop recycling.

In one project, voice coil magnet assemblies containing rare earth elements were recovered from end-of-life hard drives for reassembly into new drives that Google would eventually use. In a parallel project, where it was not possible to reuse HDD magnets in hard disk drives, iNEMI remanufactured the magnets for use in motors.

4. Factory Recertified Drives
While the harvesting of parts from end-of-life equipment is an important aspect of circularity, repair and reuse remain the gold standard. The longer we can keep such data center hardware as hard drives in operation, the better. “The reuse of used HDDs by securely and economically wiping them is the highest value recovery option and is central to a viable circular economy for HDDs,” says iNEMI.

At Horizon Technology, we offer the industry-leading, OEM-licensed program for the distribution of factory recertified drives. From significant costs savings to performance benefits, there is a compelling (and entirely circular) business case for deploying factory recertified drives in your enterprise storage mix.

5. Global Momentum Toward Circular
If you need further convincing that the data center is going circular, consider the steady stream of politicians and industry insiders increasingly talking the language of conserve and reuse.

World leaders in Davos firmly voiced their commitment to circular initiatives at their meeting earlier this year. Open source proponents, such as the Open Compute Project Foundation, routinely promote the development of core standards in the enterprise data center that facilitate hardware reuse. And industry experts are busy preparing for the implementation of the European Union directive on reducing energy consumption in the data center, a key goal of the circular movement.

Meanwhile, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation , a vocal advocate for circularity in all areas of modern life, is banging the drum for Google’s efforts to drive up hardware reuse through smart lifecycle management. For its part, Google says that almost one in five of its newly deployed servers in 2017 were remanufactured machines.

Where Sustainability Meets Profitability
Data center management of IT hardware is rightly under the microscope. But it’s not just corporate stewardship of the environment that is on the table. According to analysis from Accenture, the financial upside of implementing circular business practices could reach as high as $4.5 trillion by 2030. Now that’s worth taking seriously by anyone’s measure.

At Horizon, we are passionate advocates for green computing in a way that makes both environmental and financial sense. How can we help you implement circularity into the management of your data center and enterprise storage hardware?

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