Q

How to securely dispose of data before server donation

Here's some expert advice on preparing old systems for server donation and refurbishment.

Our old systems are about to be sent off for server donation and refurbishment. How much do I really have to worry

about data on the local disks? How can I be sure that our data is unrecoverable?

Data leakage and theft from discarded hard drives is a serious concern for every business -- especially businesses that are already subject to stringent regulatory control. This is one principal reason why so many organizations opt for centralized storage. When local disks are eliminated from individual servers, the danger of sensitive data being recovered from those servers later is also eliminated.

However, to prepare for server donation, simply deleting data is not enough, because it remains recoverable. IT professionals can take steps to protect corporate data assets stored on individual servers. One option is to uninstall any applications and operating systems and "scrub" the local disks, using software tools that will overwrite the disks' contents dozens of times, rendering the disk contents practically unrecoverable. Uninstalling any relevant software from the disk should also free those licenses for reuse. The recipient of the old server would then be responsible for purchasing and installing a new operating system and applications on the local disks.

Another option is to physically remove and destroy the local hard disks. This can be as simple as pulverizing a disk with a sledgehammer, but many businesses opt for the data destruction services of a third-party provider, such as Iron Mountain. These services will grind the disk platters, frame and electronics into scrap. In this case, the system recipient would need to install new local disks (if needed) before adding their own operating system and applications to the platform.

Aging servers may no longer be suited for a data center production environment, but that doesn't mean they're useless. Increased computing power and resilience -- coupled with virtualization -- is extending the useful life of servers in secondary roles that may have been impossible just a few years ago. And when it's time to discard aging servers, a business can find vendors that will refurbish or recycle the equipment. But regardless of where your servers go, it is critical to secure any local data to guard against data leakage or theft once a system leaves the enterprise.

This was first published in March 2013

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