When technical debt accrues, organizations can find themselves spending a lot of time and resources on maintenance, integrations and mitigating the risks and complexity it creates. But managing technical debt effectively can free your employees to focus on higher business priorities and innovation instead.
In our previous blog post, we explained what technical debt is and how it can affect an organization’s health and operational efficiency. In this post, we’ll delve into the sustainability implications of tech debt and the benefits of reducing it, as well as some scenarios where colocation and digital services can help.
Tech debt is an ongoing challenge, so we encourage our customers to think about and address it continuously throughout the lifecycle of their IT assets. You should adopt a proactive approach by incorporating technical debt management practices into your processes. Regularly assessing and prioritizing technical debt, allocating resources for its resolution and incorporating tech debt reduction into sprint planning can help minimize its accumulation and impact. The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities to reuse, recycle or refresh your IT equipment to deliver greater efficiencies and reduce the carbon footprint for your organization.
7 sustainability benefits of reducing technical debt
Before we get into specific solutions, let’s talk about why and how reducing tech debt can help your green IT initiatives. In some ways it’s obvious: Cutting technical debt can potentially reduce energy consumption and waste, leading to improved efficiencies across IT operations.
Here are some of the top sustainability benefits of technical debt reduction:
- Energy efficiency: Addressing technical debt can lead to more energy-efficient systems, as optimized code and infrastructure often consume less power. By reducing energy consumption, organizations can shrink their carbon footprint.
- E-waste reduction: Effective IT asset management involves responsible disposal and recycling of electronic waste (e-waste). Addressing technical debt can help organizations better plan for hardware lifecycle management, ensuring that equipment is used efficiently and disposed of properly, minimizing the environmental impact of e-waste.
- Extended asset lifespan: Resolving technical debt can increase the longevity of IT assets by improving system performance and stability. This can result in fewer hardware failures and replacements, which contributes to reduced resource consumption and waste generation.
- Colocation, virtualization and cloud computing: By transferring workloads off-premises and taking advantage of sustainable infrastructure, organizations can reduce their direct energy consumption and associated carbon emissions while maximizing virtualization and cloud computing technologies. By consolidating resources and utilizing shared infrastructure, organizations can reduce their overall energy consumption and environmental impact.
- Green IT initiatives: Organizations can incorporate environmental sustainability goals into their IT asset management strategies, such as using energy-efficient hardware, optimizing data center cooling and leveraging renewable energy sources. Addressing technical debt can help you achieve these goals by providing a more stable and efficient foundation on which to build green IT initiatives.
- Circular economy: Managing technical debt effectively can facilitate the adoption of circular economy principles in IT asset management. This involves extending the useful life of IT assets through refurbishment, repurposing and recycling, ultimately reducing waste and the demand for new resources.
- Remote work capabilities: Resolving technical debt can improve the performance and reliability of IT systems, enabling organizations to support remote work more effectively. This can contribute to environmental sustainability by reducing the carbon footprint associated with commuting and office infrastructure.
When it’s time for an IT refresh, you have options
Once you have visibility into your technical debt and have identified issues like unnecessary servers or applications, excessive data storage or inefficient code, you can begin to explore options for reducing that debt.
Sometimes the most sustainable choice is to keep using equipment that’s still working for you. An IT asset may have met its depreciation schedule, but if it’s still fit for purpose, it’s not technical debt. You should continue using it or repurpose it within your business.
If it’s time to replace or move the technology, you have important decisions to make, not only about what to acquire but also about recycling and workload placement. Newer IT hardware often has a smaller environmental footprint and can enable you to do more with less, so be sure to research the sustainability implications of new IT resources. If you’re ready to get rid of old equipment, it’s also important to properly recycle it. One study on data centers and the environment showed that 26% of companies don’t fully recycle their IT assets.[i] We need to do better.
If you’re refreshing IT assets, where you put your infrastructure—for example, in your private data center, in the public cloud or in a colocation facility—can have a potential effect on its environmental and efficiency impact. You might ask:
- Can this workload or application be put in the cloud, and would cloud deliver better efficiencies?
- If cloud isn’t an option, does this asset need to be cloud adjacent?
- Would it be beneficial to move it into a colocation data center with higher environmental standards?
- What about using bare metal for automated colocation, so you don’t have to own the capital infrastructure yourself?
Companies are now seeing the advantages of colocation and digital infrastructure—greater agility, easier scaling and reduced environmental impact, to name a few. But what’s right for your business—and any specific asset or workload in your IT estate—will be very specific to you and your current resources and needs. It may include a mix of several of these options in a hybrid multicloud architecture.
When to consider colocation
Sustainability has become a business imperative for colocation providers, and as a result they’re often better positioned to improve the environmental impact of their data centers at scale. Shared infrastructure facilities also deliver greater reliability, redundancy and connectivity.
There are three scenarios where colocation could be beneficial as you reduce technical debt and refresh IT equipment:
- When you’re refreshing any IT assets related to networking, storage or compute
- When you’re reevaluating your hybrid multicloud strategy and considering what workloads need to be in the cloud or cloud adjacent
- If you’re undergoing network modernization and thinking about where to place infrastructure in a sustainable distributed architecture
A colocation provider like Equinix can help in these scenarios. Equinix has a huge global footprint of 240+ data centers in 70+ markets. Our data centers’ electricity consumption is covered by 96% renewable energy globally, and we’re working toward a target of 100% renewable energy coverage by 2030.
Equinix is also the first digital infrastructure company to commit to optimizing our overall power use by widening the operating temperature ranges within our data centers, as demonstrated by our efficient temperature commitment. We’re piloting innovations like liquid cooling technology at our co-innovation facility in Ashburn, Virginia. And we’re exploring ways to reuse waste data center heat, where possible, such as heating local offices, homes and even the Olympic swimming pool in Paris. We can also provide guidance on where, globally, to place your equipment to best align with your sustainability goals.
So, as you work to manage your technical debt, think carefully about its environmental costs. And when it’s time for a refresh, see how Equinix colocation services and digital infrastructure services can help.
Are you ready to learn more about how to refresh your IT infrastructure sustainably? Check out our Sustainable Digital Transformation white paper.
 Cited in Dan Swinhoe, Re-use, refurb, recycle: Circular economy thinking and data center IT assets, Data Center Dynamics, March 8, 2022.