Bigtechs destroy HDD and SSD in millions instead of simply erased data from them

Bigtechs destroy HDD and SSD in millions instead of simply erased data from them

Companies such as Amazon and Microsoft, as well as banks, police services and government agencies, have annually destroyed millions of data storage devices, discovered the Financial Times after interviewing more than 30 people from the server industry, and this despite the opinion of many experts and specialists who say there is another, the best safe disposal option is to safely erase the devices with a special software before they are sold on the secondary market.

Mick Payne, chief operating director of Techbuyer's IT asset disposal company from Harrogate, remembered the moment when he realized the wrong approach to the disposal of data storage devices. At the data centre in London, he saw thousands of used hard drives belonging to the credit card company, knowing that he could erase the disks and sell them to new clients, Mike offered management a six-digit sum for all the devices. The answer was negative.

Instead, a truck drove up to the building, and authorized security officers loaded all the storage tanks into it and took them to the processing centre, where the industrial machines crushed them into small fragments. "

There are about 70 million servers worldwide, each containing several data storage devices, located in more than 23,000 data processing centres. When companies decide to upgrade their equipment, which usually happens every three to five years, data storage devices tend to be destroyed in the same way that Payne described them. But there is an alternative.

"," says Feliche Alfieri, a member of the European Commission who co-authors a report on how to make data processing centres more environmentally friendly, and advocates that data be erased instead of destroying devices.

For example, last month, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission fined Morgan Stanley $35 million for "" after the bank's out-of-service servers and hard drives were sold without proper clean-up by an inexperienced company. As a result, some of the equipment containing bank data was auctioned on the Internet.

Although the incident was due to the fact that the devices were not cleared before the sale, the bank now requires that every data device that is taken out of service be destroyed on site, and this approach is widespread among most large companies.

One staff member, Amazon Web Services, said anonymously that the company destroyed all data storage devices as soon as they became obsolete, usually after three to five years of use: ".

A person who is aware of Microsoft's data-recycling operations says that the company periodically destroys all the reservoirs in its over 200th Azure data processing centres. According to Microsoft itself, this is done for this reason, ".

The British Department of Education, the Department of Labour and Pensions and the Scottish Police have reported to the Financial Times that they are also destroying all written-off data storage devices, and the Northern Ireland Police have destroyed over 30,000 pieces of equipment over the past two years, including servers and hard drives.

Some government agencies claim to follow the recommendations of the National Cybersecurity Centre, which recommends the physical destruction of hard drives, but the Department of Taxes and Customs and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have stated that they do not require destruction, and the London Police have reported that they only destroy hard drives when necessary.

According to the Gartner consulting company, an additional 700 data-processing centres will be built around the world in the next three years, so what companies will do with millions of tons of obsolete equipment becomes increasingly important.

It's hard to tell exactly how many hard drives are out of service worldwide every year, but according to a study conducted by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory alone, the number is at least 20 million in America, although most companies operating in data processing centres dump their savings in a few years' time, according to several industry experts, they can serve for years or even decades.

According to the study, more than 90 per cent of the reservoirs are destroyed when the equipment is scheduled to be taken out of service, although most of them are still in operation. According to the European Commission, about half of the equipment in the EU is affected by the same fate.

" Says Greg Rabinovitz, President of Urban E Recycling, an electronics recycling company in Florida. "

According to Julian Walzberg, a researcher from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, although recyclable reservoirs are usually sent for recycling, modern technologies provide only about 70% of the raw materials.

In processing electronic devices, they are usually divided into aluminium, steel, and printed boards. But hard drives also contain valuable materials such as neodymium and dispromisions in magnets, as well as nickel and palladium in printed boards, which often fail to recover. Some of these materials are included in the lists of "critical" in the US and the EU.

Although various projects are under way to restore some of the material lost in the processing of storage devices, the very phenomenon of destroying hard disks after several years of use violates the first rule of sustainable consumption — reuse is always better than recycling.

"," says Walzberg.

Some major cloud service providers are taking steps towards reuse. Google states that 27% of the components used in the upgrade of servers in 2021 have been restored and hard drive data is being re-recorded for reuse where possible. Microsoft is currently implementing several programs to rehabilitate old servers and states that by 2024 more than 80% of the abandoned devices will be reused.

But for hard drives in particular, destruction is still the norm. Although some companies have already moved on to erasing and reselling their data storage devices, others still believe that risk outweighs the potential benefits, and many experts insist that conventional disks can be safely erased and reused, a practice that first appeared in the early 1990s but has only been widely distributed in the last decade.

"," says Fredrik Forswand, vice president of Blancco, which produces data removal software. Financial Times interviewed several industry experts about whether they were aware of any data leaks after using software to erase information such as the Blancco software, and no such case was reported.

If large technology companies change their use of disks, other companies will necessarily follow their example — many experts believe so. However, they now prefer not to change the recycling process but to extend the life of the equipment. Last year Google announced that it would extend the life of its cloud servers from three to four years, and Amazon Web Services extended the life of the equipment from four to five years in February. Microsoft announced the extension of all of its server and network equipment from four to six years.