IT directors were this week advised to check how their infrastructure hardware suppliers plan to comply with the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) for electrical and electronic equipment directive when the legislation changes in 2010.
Currently many suppliers are exploiting an exemption in the directive that allows them to continue to use potentially dangerous levels of lead in servers, storage and network systems.
Under RoHS, which passed into law this July, IT hardware manufacturers were required to only use agreed levels of six hazardous chemicals: lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants. However, several exemptions were granted in areas where the use of these chemicals was deemed unavoidable and as a result firms using lead-based solders in some IT kit have been given an exemption until 2010. The EC will reassess the situation then and experts predict lead based solders will be banned with the new legislation likely to take effect around 2012.
Stuart Brown, service architect at networking consultancy 3net, said many hardware vendors are operating under this exemption. "We deal with a lot of manufacturers that have carried on largely unchanged since the summer," he added.
Aside from the resulting environmental damage this is creating potential long term risks for IT directors, according to Brown, as it is unclear if some products are fully RoHS compliant or only compliant up to 2010 when they could be changed or even banned.
"All products you buy today are compliant, but unless you ask you don’t know if they are compliant because they have none of the six substances or because of the exemption," he commented.
Brown said IT chiefs should ask this question and if their suppliers are still using lead they should find out how they plan to achieve full compliance by 2010 and how they plan to maintain legacy products. He argued that firms acquiring systems that might be banned in four years' time could find themselves facing major maintenance problems in the future similar to those currently being experienced by firms running banned firewall appliances.
Firewall appliances have not been exempted from RoHS and as a result several products were banned in July. Brown said the legislation was leading to an increase in demand for unified threat management (UTM) systems that can effectively replace firewall appliances and creating maintenance and support headaches for those firms still running products that have now been discontinued due to RoHS.
"Finding spares for legacy products that fail is going to be a major issue," he explained. "You need to talk to your support partner to make sure plans are in place to deal with this."
I'll hopefully be talking to some of the leading hardware vendors affected by the legislation to see how they plan to mitigate the risk of having many of their most popular products banned within four years and will update you on what they say.
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