How To Decommission A Data Center

The potential for disrupting business is much greater when you decommission a data center than if you’re constructing one. The process involves a lot more than just shutting down servers, turning off switches, and dismantling storage racks. In this article, we’ll consider some of the specifics and best practices required to achieve a smooth decommissioning process.


Why Decommission A Data Center In The First Place?

There’s a growing trend for companies to move away from on-premises data centers, and into co-located rental accommodation, or the cloud. This trend is likely to continue, with the pace of data center closure accelerating over the next three or four years. Some analysts reckon that anywhere between 10% and 100% of businesses worldwide have it on their agenda to decommission one or more of their existing data center facilities.


So in the foreseeable future, more IT administrators and engineers will be called upon to dismantle their data center infrastructure. Even with these mostly smaller-scale architectures, the process of decommissioning is a complex one, involving several steps. The critical stages are as follows.

Make An Inventory Of Existing Assets

Basic information such as what equipment you currently have, what software is installed on this hardware, and what data is stored on each device should be listed in an inventory file known as a configuration management database or CMDB. This database acts as a repository for all configuration data associated with your physical and virtual IT assets.

Map All Dependencies That Exist Between Data Center Resources

In a typical IT setup, the front ends of certain applications will depend on back end databases, processes will rely on the stable IP addresses of specific servers, and so on. The number and nature of these relationships will tend to increase, the older a data center is.


Breaking critical dependencies as you decommission is a sure fire way to create unwanted disruptions. So it’s essential to map out all of these various relationships before you start. Having this knowledge will enable you to segment the process into manageable sections and proceed with the decommissioning in phases, which can be planned so as to minimize disruption.

Hire Or Consult A Decommissioning Provider – But With Due Diligence

Besides the complexity, it takes a considerable amount of labor to decommission a data center, and you may find it easier to contract the work out to an organization that specializes in it.


There are a lot of companies that claim to provide decommissioning services, but not all of them have the experience and reputation needed to make them trustworthy partners. It’s best to exercise due diligence before hiring a contractor. In particular:


  • Have the contractor provide you with a detailed statement laying out how they will handle every aspect of the data center decommissioning project.
  • Check out their reputation and track record online, and have them provide references from their last three clients.
  • Find out if the contractor will outsource any aspects of the job, such as labor or data destruction.
  • Ask for specifics on how they will handle data destruction, including their security protocols and any software they might use.
  • Ask how materials will be handled and disposed of, with particular emphasis on hazardous materials, and any recycling that may be possible.
  • There may be some monetary value left in your old equipment. If so, ask how much the contractor might expect to realize, and how you may receive any compensation.
  • Documentation of the entire process should be provided, covering aspects such as asset removal, asset destruction, chain of custody, certifications for the destruction of hard drives, and the proper disposal of toxic materials.
  • If you decide to hire them – and before the work proceeds – have the contractor accompany you on a “walkthrough” of your data center, showing how they will execute each step of the decommissioning.

Control Access And Foot Traffic As Decommissioning Proceeds

As we’ve noted, it takes a lot of labor to decommission a data center. Since many of these workers will be external contractors rather than members of your staff, it’s essential to keep a close eye on all of their movements, and to control their access to the site.


Any contractor you hire to do a decommissioning project must clearly identify the people they’re sending – and provide them all with verifiable documentation to back this up.


To better safeguard your assets, it’s a best practice to detail members of your IT staff to oversee the contractors as they work, and to escort contract workers on and off the premises.

Make And Distribute A Checklist

To make sure that all of your workers are on the same page, you should print and distribute an interactive checklist, laying out the sequential stages of the decommissioning, and with room for your IT oversight team to make notes as the work progresses. Points to cover might include:


  1. The Scope Of The Work
  2. Itemized Listing Of Data Center Assets
  3. Implementation Plan with Roles, Responsibilities, Activities, and Time Frame
  4. Tools And Labor Needed For The Job
  5. Action Plan For Tearing Down Infrastructure and Wiping Data
  6. Packing And Clearing Up
  7. Coordination And / Or Recovery Of Dismantled Assets


It’s important to stress that your own IT people need to be present and involved at every stage as you decommission your data center – even if the actual physical labor is being done by a contractor.  In this way, you can better ensure the security and integrity of your data.

Des Nnochiri has a Master’s Degree (MEng) in Civil Engineering with Architecture, and spent several years at the Architectural Association, in London. He views technology with a designer’s eye, and is very keen on software and solutions which put a new wrinkle on established ideas and practices. He now writes for markITwrite across the full spectrum of corporate tech and design. In previous lives, he has served as a Web designer, and an IT consultant to The Learning Paper, a UK-based charity extending educational resources to underprivileged youngsters in West Africa. A film buff and crime fiction aficionado, Des moonlights as a novelist and screenwriter. His short thriller, “Trick” was filmed in 2011 by Shooting Incident Productions, who do location work on “Emmerdale”.