Happy Earth Day 2016 Eliminating Digital and Data e-Waste

April 20, 2016 – 1:20 pm

Happy Earth Day 2016 Eliminating Digital and Data e-Waste

server storage I/O trends

With Earth Day 2016 on April 22, here are some thoughts about electronic waste (e-waste).

For those involved in data management or data infrastructures, the following are five tips to help cut the overhead and resulting impact of digital e-waste and later physical e-waste. Most conversations involving e-waste focus on the physical aspects from disposing of electronics along with later impacts. While physical e-waste is an important topic, lets expand the conversation including other variations of e-waste including digital. By digital e-waste I’m referring to the use of physical items that end up contributing to traditional e-waste.

digital and data ewaste

Digital e-waste ranges from the overhead of keeping extra copies of data that result in an expanding data footprint that in turn requires extra physical resources and their impact. Addressing physical e-waste also means keeping digital (not the physical items) including data waste in perspective. Also note that digital or data waste may in fact not be waste per say if it exists as a by-product of making sure applications, data and resulting information are protected, preserved, secured and served for when needed. The warning is what can be done to make sure there are good useful effective and efficient copy data that has a relative low data footprint overhead impact, more on this later.

Here are six themes to consider to cut the impact without costing or compromising your organization when address e-waste (physical, digital, data).

1. Understand Digital e-waste

You might be familiar with the term e-waste (electronic waste), you know, those physical items that get discarded from supporting your digital lifestyle. The reason awareness around e-waste is important is because of the environmental impacts of discarding all those devices. The more known about the issue, impacts, causes and effects helps to drive awareness as well as insight into what can be done to mitigate those items.


Devices range from smart and dumb cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), tablets, notebook and workstation computers, MP3 devices, cameras, video display monitors along with larger servers, storage and networking technology, not to mention all the other Internet of Things (IoT) and Internet of Device (IoD) items. What’s important to know about physical e-waste is the impact of the various components. You can learn more about physical e-waste impact in general with a web search such as Google e-waste impact.

2. Reuse, Repurpose, Redeploy, Reconfigure, Re-Tool, Recycle

Reconfigure and retool where possible by re-driving installing newer, more energy-efficient high-capacity drives, or more performance effective devices. Besides replacing Hard Disk Drives (HDD), Solid State Devices (SSDs), magnetic tape among other mediums, look at the pro’s and con’s of replacing CPU processor sockets, upgrading memory and PCIe I/O cards for networking or storage among other enhancements. Pro’s include being able to use the chassis longer reducing amount of physical e-waste, however at some point it can be more cost-effective to do a total replacement. However the longer you can use the asset or device the more that has as a positive benefit to cut e-waste.

Repurpose, reuse and redeploy assets such as servers, storage and networking devices in a hand me down approach assuming there is a value or benefit in doing so.

Recycle when done, dispose of the technology properly including for storage secure erase of digital media and later physical handling.

3. Responsible Recycle and Disposition of technology (including secure digital destruction)

What are you doing with, how are you disposing of physical items ranging from laptops, workstations, tablets, phones, MP3 players, TVs and monitors, servers, network and storage devices among others when no longer needed? Are you securely erasing your digital data on HDDs as well as SSDs or even tape and optical devices before they are disposed of? If not, you should be. For example if you are not yet using or looking at Self Encrypting Drives (SED) including HDDs and SSDs for securing your data, start investigating them. Sure they have a security value proposition for when lost or stolen, however they can also cut the time to secure erase to a given standard from days or hours to minutes or seconds.

These will become e-waste

Smart shopping up front, what you want, what you need, how long can you leverage, spend more up front to get something that can last 3-5 years vs. discarding in 1.5-3 years.
Smart management with insight, know your cost and impacts, not just for PR purpose, for profit and practicality

4. Plan acquisitions with disposition in mind

Redesign and design for replacement, maximizing what you have or will acquire, using it for longer time to cut costs, improve productivity (and profitability) while reducing e-waste overhead contributing footprint.

For example, do you need or want to have the latest in new technology replacing that phone, tablet, watch or other IoT or IoD item as soon as something newer comes along? No worries if you are also doing something responsible with what was new and now old by such as donating or giving it to somebody else who might be able to get a few more years worth of use out of it before it becomes e-waste.

On the other hand, if you are acquiring technology with a 2-3 year useful life plan, what would it take to upgrade that item to a larger or more robust version using it for 3-5 years. Granted, you might not use it in its primary role for the longer duration, however can it be repurposed for some other uses? Also from a technology acquisition perspective, have a forecast and plan that can help you make smart, informed decisions up front knowing when upgrades or extra resources will be needed to prolong the usefulness of the item.

Of course you can also simply move everything to the cloud and out-source your e-waste footprint to the MSP or cloud provider.

5. Understand Changing Data Value

Keep in mind that data has either no value, some value or unknown value all of which can change over time. For example some data has value for seconds, minutes or hours and can then be discarded. Other data have some value which can be low or high which determines how as well as when, where and how to protect, preserve, secure and serve it when needed. Then there is data that has an unknown value. However, that can change over time.

Different and Changing Data Value

Over time your data may end up having no value meaning it can be discarded, or, it might have some value (low or high) meaning change how it should be protected, preserved, secured and served. Then there is data that may stay in limbo or unknown status indefinitely or until somebody, or some software or via other means decide if it has value or not.

The point is that to cut digital e-waste is to discard data with no value as soon as possible, protect, preserve, secure and serve data with value appropriately. Likewise, for all of that growing data with an unknown value, rethink how it is protected and stored, all of which has an impact on both physical as well as digital e-waste.

This means having insight and awareness into your environment, applications, data, settings, configuration and metadata, not only of the space being used, or when it was last updated. Also, look beyond when data was last modified or changed, look at when it was last read or accessed to decide how protected and secured including virus and other scans.

6. Data Footprint Reduction (DFR)

Implement data footprint reduction (DFR) to lower overhead impact not only at the target or downstream destination using compression, dedupe and other techniques. Also, move upstream to the source where the problem starts and address it there. Addressing at the source leverages various techniques from Archiving, Backup/Data Protection Modernization (rethinking what saved, when, how often, etc), Cleanup, Compression and Consolidation, Data management, Deletion and Dedupe along with storage tiering, RAID/Parity/Mirroring/Replication/Erasure Code and Advanced Parity/LRC/Forward Error Correction and other technologies.

For example if you have 10TB of data, how many copies do you have and why, how are those copies protected and what is their overhead. The issue and concern should not be primarily how many copies, rather, if those copies add or give value, then what can you do to keep them while reducing their overhead impact, besides simply trying to compress or dedupe everything. Hint, start exploring copy management as well as revisiting what you protect, when, where, why, how often along with options for implementing DFR as close to the data source as possible, as well as downstream.

Where To Learn More

What This All Means

Gain insight and awareness into what is occurring with physical and digital ewaste side stepping the greenwashing and other activity. Small steps implemented by many will have a big impact. Every bit, byte, block, blob, bucket file or object along with their copies have an impact, hopefully as well as a benefit, a question is how can you reduce the overhead while increasing your return on innovation reducing costs, complexity and overhead while enhancing organization capabilities. There are many techniques, technologies, tools and approaches to apply to various environments, after all, everything is not the same, yet there are similarities. Happy Earth Day 2016 and happy spring to those of you in the northern hemisphere (as well as elsewhere).

Ok, nuff said, for now


Greg Schulz – Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)
twitter @storageio

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