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What to do with used server equipment after virtualization

If virtual consolidation has left you with extra server hardware, put those boxes to good use and give old servers new life.

Virtual consolidation can dramatically shrink your server footprint, saving you space and money. But what do you do with server equipment that now sits idle? You can take advantage of some of these servers even if you don't trust them to run critical applications.

Add redundancy

Sometimes it makes sense to keep a few pieces around to make your infrastructure stronger You should consider backups for key applications, such as an additional domain controller and domain name system/Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol backup server. These backups can be stand-alone installs or virtualized in a management cluster completely outside your main production environment. While virtualized environments are already strong it never hurts to add redundancy.

Although it isn't ideal to spend additional money on server equipment you intend to virtualize, a small investment in memory for some server platforms can help you take advantage of stand-alone installs of VMware's free ESXi or Microsoft Hyper-V. If you set these up with local disks, you can create utility VMs for your IT staff to remote into. Management clusters, IT VDI hosts and even stand-alone installations all reduce the burden on your production level infrastructure and maximize efficiency.

Recycle equipment

Some used server equipment simply has no place in your data center. You've considered dropping it off at the dumpster, but that's not environmentally sound. Many organizations recycle old gear -- many free of charge -- for the precious metals inside. This is ideal for gear at the end of its life, but what about gear that still works and isn't quite up to your needs? You could create a test/dev lab, but with the expansion of virtualization, that isn't really necessary.

Donate equipment

Another option is to donate old server equipment to your local technical college. These organizations often have IT programs in need of gently used server equipment that students can practice with. It's important to donate server equipment that's still relevant and has some life left. Besides helping students, donating used server equipment has additional benefits. Depending on your location, your donation might qualify for a tax deduction, so check with the school. Also, establishing a relationship with technical colleges can give you insight into the programs they offer and might even give you a new location to recruit potential employees.

Protect your data

Data protection is one of the most critical pieces of recycling and donating server equipment. If you intend to recycle your old equipment, first punch the drives with a drill so that they're unreadable. If you don't have a drill, a heavy hammer blow to the spindle will cause the drive platters to shatter inside the case. For equipment you want to donate, use a drive scrubbing program to overwrite the drives multiple times and render data unrecoverable. Don't forget about other gear you might be donating -- switches and routers often contain sensitive information, such as server names and IP addresses. Be sure to flash or wipe these devices before you donate them.

Virtual consolidation has helped many organizations condense and clear out their data centers. You might be able to reuse some of this hardware or donate it to a good cause. If it's completely outlived its usefulness, it's your responsibility to make sure it doesn't retain sensitive data or hurt the environment.

Next Steps

Patch servers and IT infrastructure

Replace or upgrade your servers

Use blade servers in your data center

Dig Deeper on Server hardware and virtualization