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What Can I Do With My Old Hardware?

New computers seem to get old even before the boxes they came in get disposed of. Here are some ideas to extend the life or repurpose your old hardware to get the most value out of it.
 
Though there is a lot you can do to extend the life of your old machine, typically they end up as none too appealling modern art sculpture decorating the corners of offices and storage rooms. What can you do with these machines?
 

File Servers

One problem with a typical office network is knowing where a commonly used file or set of files is kept. Often when you have many people working on a single project, files get scattered between the various computers used to produce them.  One answer is to keep all of your important files on a machine whose only job is to serve files, i.e., a file server. While purpose built file servers or network attached storage solutions exist, older machines can often be used as file servers in small or medium sized offices. Most linux distributions ship with Samba, a file server which provides file and print services to SMB/CIFS clients, the standard protocol used for Windows file sharing. WebDAV, known as web folders to Windows users, is also available via the Apache Web Server.

A related problem is having multiple revisions of a file floating around and not knowing which is the most recent version. Though designed initially for programming projects, revision control systems can help organize the versions of a file and help track its lifecycle. These systems work by
recording the differences between the current version of a file and the previous version. Each user has an area, or sandbox, in which they keep a local copy of the file they are editing. When they are done with the changes to the file, they check it in to the revision control system.Their coworkers can now update their own sandbox to the current version and so stay abreast of the latest development. A popular revision control system is Subversion, and like WebDAV (in fact it's based on WebDAV) it is available via the Apache Web Server. There are graphical Subversion clients for both Linux and Windows, and of course the standard command line tools that are more popular with programmers.

Intranet Web Servers

A web server only visible within the office might sound like a silly idea at first glance, but for office notices, department wide memos, calendars and file sharing an intranet web server can be an effective way to organize your data for distribution to your employees. Even today in the era of 'free' cloud based office web apps, keeping your data within your office and off the Internet can be a wise decision. Older hardware is usually good enough to run a small web server if the number of users in your office isn't too large.

Print and Mail Servers

Print servers are as the name suggests, servers that offer printing services to a group or department. These days most modern printers are 'network aware' i.e. they have a little print server built right into them, but for those that don't and especially older printers a print server can be a nice way to get the most use out of the printer, and an older machine can often be dedicated for just such a use.

Thin Clients

Modern desktop computers are overpowered for most of the average uses in a typical office environment. By placing the workload for your office computers on one dedicated application server, the client machines that users interact with can be older and less powerful, but perform just as well. These client machines have no hard drives, and so are called diskless workstations or thin clients. In effect, the computer on the worker's desk becomes an appliance, easily replaceable and with virtually zero maintenance, because only the server has real data on it. Setting up a work environment for a new employee is just as simple as creating a new user profile on the server, usually no additional licenses for office suites or other software are required. And since all the thin client machines are the same, the employee's work environment can follow him to whichever client machine he works at. Security is improved as well because the application server is the only machine that needs to be backed up, and defended against intrusion. Thin clients provide cost savings on hardware and on administration, increased flexibility in setting up your office environment, and increased security.

Single Purpose Machines

In many offices, there's often one piece of legacy software that the business can't do without. Either it fits the business' need exactly, or there might be a mountain of old data in a proprietary file format that would be too hard to migrate to a newer application. One use for
older machines is to be tasked with running this software and this software alone. Since it's older software, it usually is designed to run on the slower processor found in the older machine. By not allowing other software to run in the background and minimizing the amount of memory used by the graphical user interface, these machines can often keep going for many years. One caveat; ultimately all machines end up on the scrap pile. If you don't plan for an eventual migration of that data, you're only putting off the job and allowing it to become worse. Single purpose machines like this should always be thought of as a stop gap measure while you plan for their eventual replacement.
 

How and Where to Recycle

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