IBM Watson AI to Help CBRE Manage Client Data Centers

AI, augmented reality, and analytics technology will provide remote management and predictive maintenance support globally.

Wylie Wong, Regular Contributor

August 17, 2020

4 Min Read
IBM Watson AI to Help CBRE Manage Client Data Centers

Commercial real estate services giant CBRE has teamed up with IBM to provide new IT support services to its data center customers.

CBRE’s dedicated data center business – which manages data centers for colocation providers, hyperscalers, and enterprises – historically has focused on managing their customers’ facilities infrastructure, such as mechanical and electrical systems. But the company began offering IT hardware maintenance as part of its data center services four years ago, said CBRE Converged Solutions Director Andrew McKenzie.

CBRE and IBM recently launched a new IT management service offering, called “Smart Maintenance,” that takes advantage of IBM’s artificial intelligence, analytics, and augmented reality technology to proactively monitor, manage, and troubleshoot CBRE customers’ IT and networking equipment.

When problems occur, IBM’s remote technical support team will first try to resolve the issues remotely. But if they can’t, they will collaborate with CBRE’s on-site technicians to fix the issues, McKenzie said.

“In partnering with IBM, we are bringing together two of the biggest brands in the world – one from the technology space and one from the data center space – which seems a perfect match for the converged concept we are promoting,” McKenzie told Data Center Knowledge.

From CBRE’s point of view, “converged solutions” means managing not only the data center facilities but also the IT hardware.

“We will provide one team of (on-site CBRE) technicians who are qualified to manage not only the building envelope in the facility but perform IT break-fix maintenance,” he said.

The new service is particularly relevant to CBRE’s corporate clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, because it allows for remote management and automation and potentially reduced IT maintenance and support costs.

CBRE manages about 875 data centers globally through its Global Workspace Solutions business. A dedicated business within GWS manages more than 400 data centers in 43 countries for colocation providers, hyperscalers, and some enterprises. CBRE manages approximately another 475 data centers for enterprise customers as part of an integrated offering that includes different property types, including offices and retail stores, McKenzie said.

The new Smart Maintenance service, announced in July, is being rolled out globally and is available to all of CBRE’s data center customers – data center providers and enterprises alike, executives from CBRE and IBM said.

The two companies are calling the new service “Smart Maintenance,” because significant parts of it are driven and enabled by IBM’s Watson AI capabilities, McKenzie said.

For example, IBM’s AI technology will remotely monitor the health of IT systems in the data centers. It can help diagnose problems and allow for predictive maintenance, he said.

“Watson is taking all the data from the devices that IBM manages globally, and by mining it for patterns it can identify that the data we are seeing from a server gives us a 95 percent probability that there will be a disk failure in the next three months,” he said. “So we should replace that proactively at a time that’s convenient for the customer’s business rather than doing it when the disk actually fails.”

“It’s providing that insight that allows our maintenance service to be more than just break-fix,” he added.

The two companies will also take advantage of IBM’s augmented reality technology for troubleshooting when they do need to fix something inside a data center. For example, CBRE technicians can hold up their smartphones to show a remote IBM technician what they are seeing and the equipment that needs repair.

The remote IBM technician can even draw a big red ring on the device’s screen to show the on-site CBRE technician which cable to pull out as part of the fix, McKenzie said.

“The remote technical support can interact in real-time with the field technician and see the same things and guide him on what he wants to look at and what buttons he wants him to push, and so forth,” he said. “It provides us a second pair of eyes on every operation.”

The augmented reality technology can also provide videos on how the on-site technician can make the repairs, said Linda York, VP of IBM’s Technology Support Services.

“You can literally point the device to the serial number, and through augmented reality and the use of Watson and AI, it will simulate exactly where to remove screws, and how to exactly do it through video,” York told DCK.

CBRE technicians will be trained to the same level as IBM’s technicians, McKenzie said. But if CBRE comes across a special piece of hardware, and it’s not economical to train the CBRE technician on it, then the company will call on an IBM field technician to come on site to carry out the tasks if needed, McKenzie said.

“It’s an exciting partnership, and we are anxious to get started,” York said. “It’s really interesting that companies like CBRE are reinventing themselves with the help of IBM. If you think about it, they’ve been a traditional real estate broker, and they are morphing into a technology company. We feel proud that we are able to help them do that.”

About the Author(s)

Wylie Wong

Regular Contributor

Wylie Wong is a journalist and freelance writer specializing in technology, business and sports. He previously worked at CNET, Computerworld and CRN and loves covering and learning about the advances and ever-changing dynamics of the technology industry. On the sports front, Wylie is co-author of Giants: Where Have You Gone, a where-are-they-now book on former San Francisco Giants. He previously launched and wrote a Giants blog for the San Jose Mercury News, and in recent years, has enjoyed writing about the intersection of technology and sports.

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