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The Automated Data Center: Two Layers of Technology Innovation
Cold aisle at a Google data center (Photo: Google)

The Automated Data Center: Two Layers of Technology Innovation

As cloud and data center continue to evolve, automation and robotics will play a larger role. In the first of as three-part series, Bill Kleyman looks at the opportunities and challenges in data center automation, and the role that robotics may play.

This week Data Center Knowledge presents a three-part series on data center automation and the potential role of robotics.

There's an interesting conversation taking place that revolves around automation, robotics and the future of the data center. We helped jump-start the discussion in May with The Robot-Driven Data Center of Tomorrow, and this week we’re going to look at what’s happening in the world of data center automation and how robotics may make an impact.

Data centers will only become more critical overcoming years. As more users utilize content delivered directly from cloud resources – the data center will need to be able to handle the influx of new demands. This means creating efficiencies at all levels within the data center. And so, we’re seeing automation happen within the modern infrastructure at two layers:Logical and Physical Automation.

  • Automation at the logical layer. Virtualization, cloud computing, and the modern data center are intertwined to deliver some pretty amazing workloads. In an ever-connected world, automating workflow at the logical layer is absolutely crucial. Why? This is the only way to dynamically control user influx, new types of cloud content, and a new way that organizations interact with the data center platform. A few examples of automation include technologies like provisioning services. Platforms like Citrix’s Provisioning server or the Unidesk infrastructure are able to connect directly into virtualization brokers to help the delivery and control of both desktops and applications. Other platforms like CloudPlatform, OpenStack and Eucalyptus further help automate and create true cloud orchestration. Organizations are able to granularly control hosts, clusters, various zones, and even core virtual machine resources. Then, we have other technologies which help create even further IT automation and configuration management. Solutions like those from Puppet Labs allow administrators to create a unified approach to automation. Under this type of umbrella, an admin can manage a completely heterogenous infrastructure. This means controlling platforms like VMware, Amazon EC2, Juniper Networks, Google Compute Engine, and even bare metal systems. Furthermore these tools allow for organizations to enforce security and compliance policies by defining the desired state of your system and automatically monitoring all changes against that baseline.

At the logical layer, this level of automation and orchestration will continue to advance. More logical systems are becoming interconnected as the resources they utilize are becoming much more streamlined and efficient. This means that intelligent APIs are removing the amount of hops that applications and data have to take to get to necessary resources for optimal operation.

  • Automation at the physical layer. Although entire data center automation technologies aren’t quite here yet, we are seeing more robotics and intelligent hardware solutions appear within the data center environment. Robotic arms already control massive tape libraries for Google and robotics automation is a thoroughly discussed concept among other large data center providers. Furthermore, technologies like those from Cisco and its UCS chassis allow administrators to create powerful “follow-the-sun” data center models where hardware automatically re-provisions itself for the appropriate set of new users. In a recent article, we discussed the concept of a “lights-out” data center. Well, major data center vendors are taking notice. In fact, Panduit is jumping on the automation bandwagon very quickly. Recently, Panduit launched its new Industrial Automation Advisory Services. These new services bridge the gap between IT and Control Engineers for connecting, managing, and automating industrial networks and control systems. The news release goes on to explain that today's industrial organizations are driven to increase production and reduce costs while maintaining quality and safety. As networks converge, the physical infrastructure becomes even more critical to support the demands of real-time control, data collection, and device configuration.

To paint an even clearer picture, according to Gartner Research, 80 percent of mission-critical outages through 2015 will be caused by people and process issues, and more than 50 percent of those outages will be caused by change/configuration/release integration and handoff issues.

In addition, poorly controlled and managed change is responsible for approximately 80% of all unplanned outages and incidents. Panduit Industrial Automation Advisory Services works to help address these issues by examining your current environment and providing recommendations for optimization around efficiency and automation. Further automation technologies help align data center power, cooling, environmental, and overall management all together to create one intelligent control layer.

  • Automation in the future. The future of data center automation and orchestration will see even more integration between the logical and physical layer. Data center technologies will be able to communicate more closely with the workloads that they are carrying. Furthermore, robotics and other automation technologies will help alleviate challenges around outages, scalability, and overall data center management. As the data center evolves, so will all of the technology that supports it. We saw robotics enter warehousing, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and many other verticals. It’s only a matter of time until more automation and robotics are incorporated into everyday data center functions. Already, we are seeing greater data center distribution as more bandwidth and resources become available. Data center in Iceland become popular for super-efficiency cooling and power mechanisms. The large amount of bandwidth running through those data centers makes it completely feasible for an organization in Europe or Asia to deploy or utilize a data center located many miles away. These data centers will grow as more users and workloads are placed within their walls. From there, the management and control process will need to change as well. Common management practices just won’t be enough for the future of the cloud and all of the new ways that we’re consuming information.

The data center model is going to continue to advance quickly. More systems and users will be placed inside of the data center environment and even more data will be traversing these systems. The current trends around data center utilization are all showing direct growth.

According to the latest Cisco Cloud Index Report, “the amount of data center traffic is already 2.6 zettabytes per year-and by 2017 will triple to reach 7.7 zettabytes per year.” The report goes on to state that, “Cloud traffic will represent 69 percent of total data center traffic by 2017. Significant promoters of cloud traffic growth are the rapid adoption of and migration to cloud architectures, along with the ability of cloud data centers to handle significantly higher traffic loads. Cloud data centers support increased virtualization, standardization, and automation. These factors lead to increased performance, as well as higher capacity and throughput.”

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