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Give a hoot! How to reduce e-waste with VMware technologies

VMware technologies can reduce e-waste. As computer equipment becomes obsolete, it's often disposed of improperly. So give a hoot, and virtualize to extend equipment shelf life.

Unlike pure silver coins, Renaissance art or a bottle of Bordeaux wine, IT equipment does not get better with age. Rather, servers and computers "mature" like meatloaf or slovenly houseguests.

As I cleaned out my company's storage unit, the reality of how to reduce e-waste hit home. Inside, I found 15 years' worth of pre-VMware technology. I felt like an archaeologist as I dug through layers of 10 MB hubs, servers, 4 GB hard drives, cathode-ray tube monitors, and even an electric blue Silicon Graphics Inc. Indy -- which was a state-of-the-art computer when the movie Jurassic Park was released. (The irony is inescapable.)

Fortunately I live in Colorado, which is well-known for being environmentally conscious, so I have access to a wonderful program for recycling computer equipment. Granted, equipment from a 100-square-foot storage unit is really tiny in the scheme of things. Nevertheless, I've thought about how big the e-waste problem must be on a global scale, as well as available VMware technologies that may help reduce e-waste. (Of course, other virtualization technologies can also help, but this article will focus on VMware, my area of expertise.)

All good equipment must come to an end
As of 2007, the U.S. had approximately 65 million desktop computers, 2 million laptops and 42 million monitors in storage that were in need of disposal, according the Environmental Protection Agency. Many of these systems contain toxic chemicals, such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium.
This equipment will meet one of three fates:

  • reuse: equipment is donated to a person or organization for continued use;
  • recycle: equipment is stripped and used for parts in new products; or
  • disposal: equipment is thrown away in a landfill -- sometimes in poorly regulated and/or developing nations.

How can VMware technologies reduce e-waste?
Virtualization provides the flexibility to upgrade software without ripping and replacing the underlying infrastructure. Additionally, with blade server technology, virtual machine (VM) density can reach levels that only a few years ago were unimaginable. And in the future, that greatly reduces the amount of electronic equipment that you'll need to dispose of in the future.

You are probably already realizing some of these benefits with VMware technologies and products such as vSphere. But you are still in the minority compared to the total number of computer users. The challenge is to educate users who are unaware of virtualization (I dare say, the vast majority of computer users). Get them to consider using virtualization at home not only to help the environment but also to save money.

How to reduce e-waste: A real-world example
Recently, a software architect contacted me regarding development and testing in a Linux environment. He wondered whether I had thoughts on which hardware to use. My first response was, "Download VMware Player and Linux appliances for free."

After a quick overview of VMware Player, we determined that it could work on an average laptop. Once Player was installed, he selected a Linux distro from VMware's appliance website. In the end, he had a new computing platform at no charge. It took up no additional desk space, the added power draw was minimal, and his computer was up and running in a day or so. Furthermore, this approach saved one more computer from heading to the recycle bin.

How many of us have more physical computers than we want or need? Most of us can probably clean up and reuse some machines for others. We can even virtualize our home environment instead of opting for new hardware.

The next time you buy a new computer, consider how many VMs it can host. Will upgrading the RAM or processor give you the flexibility to host additional guests? Compared with procuring another physical machine, this approach can be a real bargain.

In the spirit of reducing e-waste, I decided to see how many usable VMs I could simultaneously run on my laptop and still do everything I need to on the host OS (Windows 7 Professional). For the purposes of testing and learning, I have now built an entire vSphere lab with five VMs that run simultaneously within VMware Workstation 7 -- without purchasing a single piece of additional hardware.

Besides the money saved, reducing e-waste also gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you helping to keep this beautiful planet healthy.


Mak King has been in the IT industry for 14 years, progressing from his blissfully green days of DOS and sneakernet to VMware and storage area networks. He has certifications from NetWare (CNE), Microsoft (MCP), CompTIA (iNet) and VMware (VCP Virtual Infrastructure 3). He is the virtualization and directory services subject matter expert for NYCE Payments Network LLC (an FIS company), where he has been employed for more than 10 years.


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