Tech companies destroy millions of reusable storage devices every year

Daniel Sims

Posts: 677   +27
Staff
In a nutshell: Tech companies tend to destroy storage devices as soon as they deem them obsolete for fear of data leakage. Experts say the practice is highly wasteful, claiming they can and should securely delete data to reuse storage. This dilemma pits security concerns against sustainability.

According to a new Financial Times report (reprinted by Ars Technica), the standard procedure among tech companies is to shred servers and hard drives every few years instead of wiping and selling them. The report outlines different ways the practice is harming the planet.

Tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google upgrade their storage hardware every four or five years. They, along with banks, police services, and government agencies, shred an estimated tens of millions of obsolete storage devices yearly because exposing even small amounts of data can have considerable legal consequences, as a leak could anger regulators and damage consumer trust.

Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission fined Morgan Stanley $35 million for auctioning thousands of hard drives before erasing them, leaking millions of customers' data. Although nothing indicated that any customers came to harm, many companies — particularly the ones operating cloud services — likely don't want to suffer a similar fate.

Some groups may think disposing of obsolete hardware is environmentally friendly when the opposite might be the case. Concerning e-waste, the energy use and recycling problems are more complex than initially apparent.

Companies may upgrade to newer hardware because it's more energy-efficient, supposedly carrying a lower carbon footprint. However, most tech carbon emissions come from manufacturing, not operation. University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers discovered this might be the case with SSDs, and Harvard researchers had similar findings regarding tech companies' overall carbon footprints.

Furthermore, although shredded hardware sees around 70 percent of its component material recycled, the process essentially wastes the emissions from its initial manufacturing. Reusing those materials means repeating the most emissive part of the hardware's carbon footprint. Even worse, any lost material like rare earth metals must be re-mined, possibly contributing to the use of conflict materials.

Companies may think destruction is the only way to ensure data security, but experts believe it's an unnecessary nuclear option. Many hard drives and servers can probably remain in use for years or even decades, and there is likely minimal risk of bad actors recovering data from second-hand storage with forensic software. Google and Microsoft say they've started using some refurbished servers, but shredding is still standard procedure for hard drives.

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yRaz

Posts: 4,819   +6,049
Data leaks happen all the time due to improper wiping of hard drives, their fears are not unwarranted. human error is a real thing and all it takes is someone to come in hung over or just having a bad day for a mistake to be made. While it is physically wasteful I'd argue the pros of destroying drives outweigh the cons. Metals are nearly 100% recyclable so depending on how they handle the waste it isn't as bad as it seems.
 

brucek

Posts: 1,297   +1,926
So it's not perfect, but it's a pretty a reasonable compromise. They are right that protection of data trumps trying to eke more years out of an already obsolete storage device. If they did release all those to a second hand consumer market, where they'd eventually fail, the individual consumers would not be well positioned to recover from the data loss either.
 

yRaz

Posts: 4,819   +6,049
Key point. Diligence requires competence. Done properly, wiping drives is easy and effective.
Even the most competent people make mistakes or are distracted by things outside their control. You will never eliminate human error. Having multiple people doing redundant checks might cost more than what could be gained from selling the drives.
 

ZedRM

Posts: 1,363   +945
Even the most competent people make mistakes or are distracted by things outside their control. You will never eliminate human error.
When was the last time you properly wiped a hard drive? Did you find it very complex? Was there a whole lot of room for error? If so, you're doing it wrong.
 

yRaz

Posts: 4,819   +6,049
When was the last time you properly wiped a hard drive? Did you find it very complex? Was there a whole lot of room for error? If so, you're doing it wrong.
We are talking about literally millions of drives. When was the last time you properly wiped millions of drives? Did you find it very complex?

And we aren't talking about room for error, we're talking the potential for error. There is no room for error.

To people saying drive makers promote this practice. Well, maybe a little, but the issue is that after X amount of years all the drives will have turned over anyway so the manufacturers will still get their chunk of change in the end. Another thing is that these drives are decommissioned because they are getting close to the end of their running life and failure rates are rising. You guys want the drives until they fail. Finally, more people looking to buy these drives are looking to save a buck, they probably are going to want to run raid or want to pay for SAS to sata adapters.

Everyone likes the idea of cheap drives until they start failing. It doesn't make sense from a security, financial or logistics standpoint.

I bed most people complaining about being able to buy these are the same people who "would never buy a used mining card"
 

nodfor

Posts: 322   +578
Another example of gov intervention leading to more waste
If it wasn't for those stupidly high fines for data protection / GDPR issues, this wouldn't be happening
 

ZedRM

Posts: 1,363   +945
We are talking about literally millions of drives.
Spread across thousands of companies.
When was the last time you properly wiped millions of drives?
Pedantic question. However, I have done hundreds at a time and the process was almost completely automated. Plug and play.
Did you find it very complex?
Not at all. Tedious and time consuming, but not complex or difficult. Again, diligence requires competence.
And we aren't talking about room for error, we're talking the potential for error. There is no room for error.
That is why a verification procedure is built into the process.
I bed most people complaining about being able to buy these are the same people who "would never buy a used mining card"
That is called grasping at straws...

Just because some people don't have the know-how, confidence and competence to both complete a task and provide 100% assurance that it was done properly, does not mean it can not be done.
 

yRaz

Posts: 4,819   +6,049
Spread across thousands of companies.

Pedantic question. However, I have done hundreds at a time and the process was almost completely automated. Plug and play.

Not at all. Tedious and time consuming, but not complex or difficult. Again, diligence requires competence.

That is why a verification procedure is built into the process.

That is called grasping at straws...

Just because some people don't have the know-how, confidence and competence to both complete a task and provide 100% assurance that it was done properly, does not mean it can not be done.
These drives are replaced after X amount of hours because of the increase in failure rates.

I wouldn't say it's thousands of companies, big data has millions of drives. I wouldn't be surprised for Google to have million drives, then you have amazon web services. I doubt the infustructure to process these drives exists and I certainly don't think Big Data would pay for it just so people can buy cheap drives. And you didn't address people looking for cheap drives probably don't have the money to adapt SAS to SATA.

The market isn't there for used drives. Go on ebay right now and look at used enterprise drives, they aren't that much cheaper than new drives. For the potential trial for failure, the cost isn't justified.

By the way, I have seen you say you'd never buy a used mining card so it's far from "grasping at straws"
 

OortCloud

Posts: 826   +820
I'm all for being more environmentally conscious but in this case it's difficult to see a valid alternative.
Those drives have probably been running 24-7 in hot data centres for years, they really shouldn't be put up for sale or reused.
 

brucek

Posts: 1,297   +1,926
However, I have done hundreds at a time and the process was almost completely automated. Plug and play.
...
Not at all. Tedious and time consuming, but not complex or difficult. Again, diligence requires competence.
This right here is enough to tell me that there is a non-zero risk that the assigned human will decide this is the day they feel lazy or hung over and just skip the entire procedure guessing that the buyer who ends up getting potentially priceless data sure isn't going to complain.

I think the legal pressure here is having the correct and desired effect - the paramount concern is that the data does not leak, by about 1000x over trying to save a few bucks on extending life a little past when a company who thinks about this for a living has already voted with their wallet to say it is obsolete.

The board or CEO or general counsel who makes this policy doesn't have to know anything about the tech, just that the only sensible policy that a wide range of humans will agree on is that the only way the drives leave the company is as completely destroyed garbage. Anything else just has too much risk of looking recklessly negligent in the next lawsuit or front page story.
 

takaozo

Posts: 428   +658
In the company I work now, we use SAS drives only for servers. No matter if HDD or SSD.
We keep them running for 5 to 7 years ussualy in RAID config. I see no point in wiping and re-sell
obsolete devices and heavy used. We punch holes in each HDD drive plater and for SSD on each NAND.
And we call recycle company to pick up.
Who would buy a 2000-2500 days used disk?
 

Theinsanegamer

Posts: 3,783   +6,626
Another example of gov intervention leading to more waste
If it wasn't for those stupidly high fines for data protection / GDPR issues, this wouldn't be happening
And if those fines were lower data leaks would become far more common. See also: companies violating contracts because its cheaper to pay the fines then abide by them.
Gibberish
I've never met perfection before. What's it like, Jesus; having never made a common or simple mistake before?
 

kira setsu

Posts: 411   +392
Wow, if people are mad at these drives being scrapped they'd drop dead over how much waste in general happens with tech,

I work with a pc manufacturer and we toss so many uber expensive parts that could imho be used or given away to people, and some do, but the rest...trash. lost count how many times I've casually had to drop a mil or more so in parts in the scrap bin.

but thats the cost of chasing the cutting edge I guess?
 

ZedRM

Posts: 1,363   +945
I wouldn't say it's thousands of companies
YOU wouldn't. Your opinion does not reality make.
I wouldn't be surprised for Google to have million drives, then you have amazon web services. I doubt the infustructure to process these drives exists and I certainly don't think Big Data would pay for it just so people can buy cheap drives.
Your understanding of IT infrastructure needs improvement. Companies as large as Google and Amazon take the idea of recouping expenses and costs very seriously. And if they see an opportunity to recover some of that cost through reuse and recycling, they do it. The cost of wiping and repurposing/reselling drives is small in comparison to the costs of complete disposal.
By the way, I have seen you say you'd never buy a used mining card so it's far from "grasping at straws"
That is a blatant lie. No you haven't, I've never said that. EVER. I actively promote and encourage people to buy GPU's that were used for mining. Mostly because there is little to nothing to worry about and card used for mining are a solid value.

So do you have anything at all to share that is not based in the delusional and fanciful?

Gibberish
Irony (yeah, I can do that too)
 
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bviktor

Posts: 1,066   +1,557
Data leaks happen all the time due to improper wiping of hard drives, their fears are not unwarranted. human error is a real thing and all it takes is someone to come in hung over or just having a bad day for a mistake to be made. While it is physically wasteful I'd argue the pros of destroying drives outweigh the cons. Metals are nearly 100% recyclable so depending on how they handle the waste it isn't as bad as it seems.
Oh I'm sure they'll recycle those hard drives in the dumpsters.
 

yRaz

Posts: 4,819   +6,049
Oh I'm sure they'll recycle those hard drives in the dumpsters.
those metals are actually quite valuable because of how easy they are to recycle. And, if I remember correctly, recycling some materials gives companies carbon credits that they can then sell or use for tax breaks. Recycling both Iron and Aluminum saves TONS of energy.
 

toooooot

Posts: 1,746   +909
Data leaks happen all the time due to improper wiping of hard drives, their fears are not unwarranted. human error is a real thing and all it takes is someone to come in hung over or just having a bad day for a mistake to be made. While it is physically wasteful I'd argue the pros of destroying drives outweigh the cons. Metals are nearly 100% recyclable so depending on how they handle the waste it isn't as bad as it seems.
That reminds me, when we did wiping in college it did not work :D
The app reported that the wipe is complete but 100% of data was still there.
I understand why they destroy the drives. It is so much safer. Sadly. Those drives are often perfectly usable and could serve for years.
 

kinetix

Posts: 57   +46
In the company I work now, we use SAS drives only for servers. No matter if HDD or SSD.
We keep them running for 5 to 7 years ussualy in RAID config. I see no point in wiping and re-sell
obsolete devices and heavy used. We punch holes in each HDD drive plater and for SSD on each NAND.
And we call recycle company to pick up.
Who would buy a 2000-2500 days used disk?

well, the older drive on my PC has a cumulative 850+ days of operation. but the one that accumulates the longest has about 1875 days. and that's on a desktop PC, not a 24/7 server.
if the "health" is good, and the price is good, I buy them, the ones with the greatest capacity.
 

kinetix

Posts: 57   +46
That reminds me, when we did wiping in college it did not work :D
The app reported that the wipe is complete but 100% of data was still there.
I understand why they destroy the drives. It is so much safer. Sadly. Those drives are often perfectly usable and could serve for years.
That reminds me, when we did wiping in college it did not work :D
The app reported that the wipe is complete but 100% of data was still there.
I understand why they destroy the drives. It is so much safer. Sadly. Those drives are often perfectly usable and could serve for years.

For that I usually use BCWipe and/or Eraser. after that, I fill the disk with videos, movies, series, anime, games, etc. :)

And as far as I know, with the SSDs is a lot easier to destroy any information they store.
 

takaozo

Posts: 428   +658
I had some spare 400 GB 12 Gbps SAS SSD's and a HBA in my PC.
That HBA reached 80-90C in a regular PC case. Also the SSD's were hot as hell. Without the wind tunnel from server case you can use them but I dont see much time till failure.