Automation Killed the Data Center Star

The future for data center automation
Data Center Automation

Where do people fit inside the data center of the future?

The aging data center workforce poses unique challenges for providers, especially with the boom in online services. Hyperscale cloud providers are actively looking for ways to automate every single aspect of the cloud process, and human workers can easily become another bottleneck in the pipeline delivering cloud services to end-users.

Major cloud operators are already building data centers that operate without humans. From robots to data centers that are 100% self-contained, advancements in technology and operations are poised to reduce the need for human workers.

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Invasion of the Robots

Robots are moving from science fiction to reality. Industrial robots and physical automation are in use right now in various aspects of data center operations. The difficulties of dealing with ever-growing server farms and, now, limitations due to local public health restrictions are driving operators to do more with fewer humans everywhere they can.

Earlier in 2020, Alibaba Cloud revealed a video of their third generation of systems administrator robots. A systems administrator robot can replace a faulty disk inside of a server in a few minutes without any human intervention. With these robots in place, Alibaba Cloud can respond to faulty disks much more quickly than if they had to wait for a human to move through the data center to the server in trouble.

In 2018, the German Internet Exchange operator DE-CIX deployed a robot named Patchy McPatchybot to automate deploying or upgrading ports on their Internet Exchange infrastructure. This particular robot is able to service customer requests immediately upon receipt instead of the customer having to wait for a human technician to go to the port in person to make the requested changes.

As Internet-of-Things technology continues to mature and operators look for areas to trim costs and improve responsiveness, look for increasingly advanced robots to enter the data center to handle basic operations and maintenance tasks.

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The Disposable Data Center

What if you built your data center to be 100% maintenance-free? Microsoft’s underwater data center pods show us what such a data center looks like. Microsoft has been trialing fully self-contained modules they can install off the coast of geographic locations that are difficult to service with traditional data centers.

A single pod has all of the hardware and resources needed to run Microsoft’s cloud services from within the data center. Naturally, sending a systems administrator to service the pod would be just a bit inconvenient. The pod is designed to fail over time without losing full functionality during the pod’s expected operational lifespan.

Although these pods were designed for remote locations, the techniques they use to endure failure could apply to a human-less data center. The data center pod in the previously linked article was filled with inert nitrogen gas, for example, and this gas helped significantly reduce the hardware failure rate.

The data center’s environment was also considerably drier than would be comfortable for humans. As it turns out, when the data center does not have to be comfortable for humans, it can be much more comfortable for server hardware.

Data Center Workers are Still the Stars!

The cynical may look at the advancements in data center automation and see only doom and gloom for workers. However, these advancements are not a cause for fear.

Imagine how much more work an administrator can do if there were no more tedious, simple tasks to do like replacing disks or plugging in cables? Datacenter automation gives humans a chance to do more and spend their time on the things that matter the most.

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