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Robotics: the new frontier in data centre operations?

Paul Lewis

Paul Lewis

Senior Operations Director at Telehouse
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Image credit: Blue Planet Studio / Shutterstock.com

With the emergence of new technologies and applications, today’s data centre is more vast, complex, and interdependent than ever before.

The accompanying surge in customer demand has led to global investment in data centre infrastructure more than doubling over the last year alone. But as data centres grow in response to customer need, so does the pressure on teams to ensure the smooth and efficient running of all operations 24/7.

This is no mean feat. The modern data centre’s plethora of components – spanning IT, facilities, and security – requires proactive, real-time monitoring to ensure faults are identified and responded to before they get worse. This calls for an unprecedented level of visibility and operational efficiency, which becomes increasingly challenging for staff as the data centre becomes more densely populated.

To meet growing demands for security, compliance, and efficiency, manual data centre operations should give way to more intelligent decision-making. Automated technologies have already proven to improve operational efficiency – but we have now arrived at a new frontier in data centre excellence.

The robots are ready. Robotics provide a ‘single source of truth’, ensuring greater visibility while streamlining and transforming complex data centre processes. From automating mundane manual tasks to driving greater efficiencies and faster response and resolution times, the technology complements human skill by removing the burden of low-level tasks from teams. This, in turn, allows for new heights of productivity and efficiency to be reached, as greater attention can be given to more skilled and strategic activities.  

Ensuring data quality

The successful day-to-day running of the data centre hinges on data management systems working together to provide a thorough overview of the entire ecosystem. But today’s sprawling data centre demands ever-faster, frictionless communication between security, IT and facilities. Without this communication, faults and safety hazards may only be flagged after an employee or customer makes a complaint.

To overcome this challenge, data centres need a single source of truth – a centralised reference point that provides the visibility needed to identify and respond to potential operating problems in real time. This federated view is essential for timely and proactive problem-solving. It allows for obstructions to be removed with minimal disruption, and for equipment to be quickly replenished at the opportune time.

While current control systems and data centre personnel carry out regular checks on facilities to ensure there are no potential hazards, technology can support and streamline these efforts, combining human expertise with automated precision and speed to achieve maximum efficiency.

For example, a single robot can obtain 4k, in-depth, and 360-degree visibility across all areas of the data centre. With these capabilities, the machine can diligently resolve issues while communicating any irregularities back to teams for immediate escalation. Therefore, by acting as a ‘one for all’ for enhancing functionality across the ecosystem, the robot can also strengthen the security and compliance of all data centre operations.

Robotics can also swiftly identify multiple unrelated safety hazards, flagging issues that may not be immediately obvious. For instance, a member of staff may notice a missing fire extinguisher in one corridor and take steps to resolve the issue but may not necessarily notice an obstruction in an adjacent room. A single robot can carry out the most extensive manual checks in a short period of time, whilst simultaneously communicating data insights around security, facility, and environmental health across multiple departments. 

Mapping the data centre

Using self-driving technology, robotics autonomously maps and navigates the data centre to provide real-time sensor data. The robots can then monitor key metrics, establishing norms and immediately escalating any anomalies for human analysis. With no risk of distraction or bias, robotics offers visibility, speed, and multi-layered intelligence far beyond the capability of a single human or static camera.

AI-driven sensors and live visualisations of energy dynamics, such as heat mapping, have the power to accurately detect anything from temperature and Wi-Fi signal strength to air quality index, smoke, and gas levels inside the data centre. The real-time data insights provided by this technology then allow staff to be proactive in dealing with any issues that may affect operational efficiency or customer satisfaction.

According to the Ponemon Institute, almost a quarter (24%) of unplanned outages to data centres are caused by weather, water, heat, or computer room air conditioning (CRAC) failure. Crucially, robotics can respond to alarms and other security devices, providing a validation of any condition to a specific area or rack. This ultimately results in fewer humans being deployed, as a technician would only be required to attend if there is an issue or confirmation of the problem by the robot. Therefore, these capabilities offer an extra layer of accuracy and security, whilst also balancing workloads and costs throughout the data centre.

Collaborative intelligence

Traditionally, the well-worn axiom that robots will steal people’s jobs has kept the UK on the back foot when it comes to embracing robotic automation. Attitudes appear to be shifting, however, as more people accept that innovations in technology are driving the creation of new and more interesting roles. Furthermore, the only jobs robots are likely to take from the data centre are the ones people should not have had to do in the first place.

There will always be a place for the skills and adaptability of human workers in the data centre, just as there will be a place for the speed and precision of robots. When the most menial, time-consuming, and repetitive aspects of data centre work are replaced by automated processes, staff are freed from robotic tasks and can instead channel their energy into more strategic areas. In turn, by improving the workflow of tasks within the data centre, robotics can drive operational excellence, bringing forth greater insights and innovation to meet the challenges of ever-growing demand.

Therefore, human workers and robotic technologies can actively enhance each other’s complementary strengths. This partnership will prove critical in the years ahead. As the demands on infrastructure grow, data centres need a multidisciplinary all-in-one solution to enhance operations and streamline essential processes across the ecosystem. The latest innovations in robotics will help teams reach higher levels of autonomy, visibility, and efficiency, enhancing all data centre operations with 360-degree intelligence.  

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