Hardware after XP: Reuse, recycle or donate?

The end of XP support drives hardware repurposing projects

The end of Windows XP support does not overly dismay home users with technical expertise. Open-source operating systems will allow them several choices to enhance their home networks.

Some will use their notebooks or PCs as dedicated media servers for streaming music and video to all rooms, or as file or print servers. Others view it as an opportunity to set up a Network Attached Server (NAS) or enhance home security.

Frank Muscarello

MarkITx’s Frank Muscarello says the secondary market for used computer equipment is growing and there may be refurbishers who are experienced in retrofitting old equipment and extending its life.

Unfortunately, companies are not as flexible, due to security, regulatory and asset management restrictions, and find it difficult to include such hardware in their networks. Luckily, there are options:

Reuse, recycle, donate?

Frank Muscarello, co-founder and chief executive officer of MarkITx, a Chicago-based online exchange for buying and selling used IT hardware, says, “recouping value from old equipment is the most attractive option for companies because it’s found money and they may be able to give equipment a second or third life. Before donation or recycling is even considered, a business should first get a free value estimate from a neutral information technology exchange.”

Hardware that cannot be upgraded to Windows 7 or 8 can be sold to recycling companies.

Muscarello says, ”most companies have already depreciated their old computers down to zero, but there are companies that may be willing to buy this hardware even if it can no longer be upgraded. Exploring the secondary market should be a first step for any company to make sure they are not leaving money on the table.”

Corey Donovan, chief operating officer with Vibrant Technologies, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based information technology asset disposition partner,recommends recycling as entire systems can be repurposed or components can be reused.

“There are users and maintenance companies worldwide who will continue to require parts for these systems, so don’t rule out reuse,” he says. “Certain foreign markets and specialty cases will even find applications for repurposing entire systems.”

Donating to worthy organizations is another option. As with recycling, data security is a concern.

“In a case where we have donated hardware away we make sure to just completely take the hard drive out,” says Brad Roth, IT service manager for EZSolution, a Lancaster, Pa.-based provider of web design, marketing and information technology. “While we have software that can wipe them clean, it is better to be safe than sorry when dealing with sensitive information.”

Protect your data

Data sanitization is always necessary when decommissioning hardware, as confidential or proprietary information can end up in the wrong hands.

“There are great options for data sanitization,” says Vibrant’s Donovan. “Disk erasure is often available as part of the system acquisition, just ask.”

Others prefer data destruction.“With modern erasure techniques, it’s possible to overwrite all data on your hard drives, but if you’re unsure, you can ask for complete physical destruction of the drives,” Donovan says. “Recyclers use physical erasure methods such as shredding drives into metal strips or degaussing, which destroys the drives with high-powered magnets.”

Companies also need to consider software licenses. “Licenses don’t transfer with a PC sale, so it’s up to the next user to install Linux or acquire their own licensing,” says Donovan.

Refurbishing companies are an important link in the used equipment supply chain.

“Oftentimes, there is a buyer on the other end of the trade willing to purchase used gear once it has been sent to a certified third-party refurbisher who ensures data are wiped and the equipment is production-ready,” says Muscarello.

Continue with XP?

XP machines can still be used in closed environments and enjoy a new lease of life in a production environment without network access.

Vaclav Vincalek, president of Pacific Coast Information Systems Ltd., a Vancouver, B.C.-based provider of strategic IT consulting services, says “a colleague of mine (CEO of another company) is using XP to control their equipment. These systems are closed systems, which don’t connect to anything and are running specialized software.”

While Microsoft has ended active support, several manufacturers continue to support XP-compatible equipment for control of manufacturing, testing or production equipment. National Instruments’ LabVIEW hardware designers and developers use such equipment to automate instrument control and for data signal analysis, among other tasks.

These systems can be in productions for decades,” says Pacific’s Vincalek. “I even built systems like this in 1991, using Windows 3.1, which are still in production.”

In standard company networks that are connected to the Internet, upgrade or removal tasks should already have been performed. “If you [prefer to retain XP machines on the network], understand the risks and create a plan to manage it,” Vincalek says.

Michael O'Dwyer
Born in London but living in Hong Kong, Michael O’Dwyer spent over 15 years in the electronics industry, managing information technology, process improvement and supply chains. He writes for a variety of online portals on IT and related topics.
Michael O'Dwyer
Michael O'Dwyer
Michael O'Dwyer
Tags: Software,Technology