Posey's Tips & Tricks

At What Point is it Safe to Dispose of Obsolete Technology?

One of the pressing questions that I have been dealing with lately is that of when it is truly safe to dispose of outdated technology.

One of the pressing questions that I have been dealing with lately is that of when it is truly safe to dispose of outdated technology.

In some of my older posts, I have occasionally made the comment that my attic is like a computing museum, with a vast collection of technology dating back about 40 years. Admittedly, I have hung on to some of these items just because they have a certain coolness factor. After all, when was the last time you saw a 5.25-inch, full height, 20 MB IBM hard drive? Some of the other stuff, however, I have kept because of the chance that I might need it at some point. You would be surprised at how many times I have been asked to do projects centering on extremely outdated systems.

Recently I was forced to make some tough decisions about what types of things to keep and what to let go. As you may or may not know, I tend to record a lot of video courseware. In the past, these courses were usually recorded in a recording studio. Because of the pandemic, I have been having to record courses from home, usually late at night in an attempt to minimize background noise. Unfortunately, background noise has become a major issue with some of my more recent courses, necessitating me building a nearly sound proof recording studio in my home.

As you can imagine, building a recording studio has meant that I had to do a lot of rearranging and some major decluttering. That meant making some tough choices about what to keep and what to get rid of.

So let’s go back to the question at hand. When is it safe to dispose of outdated technology? The simple answer to this question is that it is usually safe to dispose of old technology once you reach a point at which it will never be needed again.

In most cases, technology disposal can be directly tied to an organization’s data retention policy. Imagine for a moment that an organization has either a regulatory requirement or a business requirement that it must retain its backups and/or archived data for five years (in the real world, such requirements may be longer or shorter). Just to keep things simple, let’s also pretend that this organization uses tape-based backups.

The five-year retention requirement would of course mean that the organization in question needs to hang on to its backup tapes for five years. However, because technology changes over time, the organization may also need to keep its old tape drive (if it decides to upgrade to a newer model at some point) and may also need to hang on to older versions of its backup software. That way, the organization can be sure that it has the resources needed to restore an old backup tape should the need arise.

One thing to keep in mind is that there is a big difference between being able to restore data and being able to use restored data. Imagine for a moment that the organization in question switched to a different accounting software package a few years ago. The organization would need to keep a copy of its old accounting software (as well as a system to run it on) just in case it ever became necessary to restore an old backup.

That’s the way that the retention of outdated technology works in the real world. In my case however, I try to maintain a very diverse collection of hardware and software because I never know what someone is going to ask me to write about (or deal with as a part of a consulting project). This makes it tough because there is no clear guideline for when it is OK to dispose of certain technology. I based my decision on the likelihood of ever having to write about or support a particular piece of software in the future, although admittedly, there were a few items that I got rid of because I have absolutely no desire to work with that particular platform ever again. I will leave it to your imagination to figure out what that platform was.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 20-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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