The Green Machine Challenge

Environmental legislation could bring big changes to your data center

January 11, 2007

4 Min Read
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Got HIPAA and SOX under control? Get ready for environmental issues, which are looming on the horizon as another big financial and logistical headache for storage managers and CIOs. (See Compliance Remains Elusive Target, Top Tips for Compliance , and Hospital Skirts Compliance Meltdown.)

The prime mover behind this trend is the European Union, which introduced its Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive last year in an attempt to ensure that hardware is free of toxic substances, such as lead and mercury. Penalties for failing to comply with RoHS vary among member states, although manufacturers are liable to fines and even prison sentences.

As a result, suppliers with international reach such as Dell, McData, Quantum, and Xyratex have been scrambling to make their products RoHS compliant. (See McData Announces Earnings, Xyratex is Compliant, and Quantum Reports Fiscal Q1.)

Although there is no similar federal legislation in the U.S., a number of states are already making moves in this direction. Last week, for example, California's version of RoHS, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act (EWRA), came into force.

At this point, California's Act is less comprehensive than the E.U. directive, focusing mainly on laptops, computer monitors, and cathode ray tubes, although it is widely regarded as the catalyst for tougher regulations across the U.S."We're getting a lot more sensitive in this country to waste requirements," warns Adam Braunstein, senior research analyst at the Robert Frances Group. "It's only a small period of time, three to five years, before we see something like [RoHS] implemented over here."

Meanwhile, the emergence of RoHS-style initiatives in other parts of the world is increasing the pressure on American users. "Whether it is legislated or not in the U.S., it will happen," says Richard Goss, vice president of environmental affairs at the Electronics Industry Association (EIA), a group that lists Cisco, Dell, HP, and IBM as members. "Australia and South Korea are looking at RoHS, as are several of the major Latin American countries."

Multinationals, in particular, need to address the environmental issue as a matter of urgency, according to Braunstein. "Companies with a strong global presence are not going to put up with different sets of technology," he says. "I may want to ship stuff from America to the U.K. and France."

The big winner in all this looks to be the vendor community. Faced with the prospect of different islands of technology and obsolescent hardware, CIOs will have little choice but to open their wallets for standardized RoHS-compliant kit.

For users, this could mean expensive and complicated upgrades of their data centers. "It's really a financial issue -- it's all money," says Jackson Shea, technical lead for storage administration at Pacific Northwest health plan provider Regence, and co-founder of the Portland Storage Networking User Group (SNUG). "It's going to encourage additional costs."Along with the cost of procuring eco-friendly equipment, Shea says a hardware overhaul could raise the need for new monitoring applications due to changes in internal componentry. "It's an added layer of management that would be required."

Users may also face some serious service issues as vendors move to RoHS-compliant product lines. What if firms need non-compliant parts for a legacy system? Isn't there a good chance that these parts will be hard to come by as vendors streamline their product lines?

EIA's Goss tells Byte and Switch that the E.U.'s RoHS directive allows for the use of some non-compliant spare parts, but it remains to be seen how vendors will address this issue in the U.S.

As the environmental changeover revs up, users are being urged to think about the impact on the resale value of their legacy hardware, something that has traditionally helped firms recoup some of the cost of their initial investment. "It's easier to sell RoHS-compliant equipment," says Braunstein. "It's a heck of a lot easier and simpler for all the parties involved."

The focus on environmentally friendly hardware also brings up the issue of hardware disposal. Today, users have a number of options for getting rid of older storage, ranging from total destruction to clearing the hard drives and recycling the hardware. (See Data Demolition.) DriveSavers, an outfit that restores data from damaged disk drives, for example, tells Byte and Switch they often recycle drives through Goodwill Industries, which has a program with Dell for disposal of computers.Dell, for its part, is regarded as something of a green pioneer after offering to recycle any of its products for free last year. (See Dell Dives Into Recycling.) Yesterday the vendor also teamed up with environmental groups, The Conservation Fund and the, as part of a tree planting program to offset the carbon dioxide impact of PCs and laptops. (See Dell Intros 'Plant a Tree for Me'.)

What are your views on the green data center? Are you a tree-hugger or a toxic terror? Why not tell us about it on the latest Byte and Switch data center poll: Good Riddance.

James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA)

  • Quantum Corp. (NYSE: QTM)

  • Robert Frances Group

  • Xyratex Ltd.

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