The Role of Robotics in Data Center Automation

Robotics will never replace the need for unique human interaction within the data center. But robotics may help automate repetitive tasks, freeing up professionals to do bigger and better things, and thus boosting increase productivity.

Bill Kleyman

December 18, 2013

5 Min Read
The Role of Robotics in Data Center Automation



The hot aisle of a Google data center. Google has been acquiring robotics firms. Will that lead to a deeper level of data center automation? (Photo: Google)

Today we present part two in Data Center Knowledge's three-part series on data center automation and the potential role of robotics.

Why is Google buying up robotics companies? No one knows for sure, but the technology titan is known for its intense focus on customization and efficiency in its data centers. Whatever else Google may have up its sleeve in robotic applications, the data center seems a natural opportunity for automation.

We've previously discussed how the data center of the future will likely incorporate more robotics-driven technologies. Already, we’re seeing great levels of robotics happen at the warehousing, industrial and manufacturing arenas. Data center administrators looking to embrace optimization and better efficiency are looking to robotics to help them alleviate these challenges.

Our previous articles have examined the concept of a "lights-out" data center, and drew comments and thoughts from both ends of the spectrum. Many embraced this new vision for a more efficient data center. Others very clearly wanted it to be known that robotics have no place in the data center. Why not meet in the middle?

Right now, it’s pretty clear that robotics will never (at least not for quite some time) replace the need for unique human interaction within the data center. What robotics can help with is creating automation around repetitious human labor. By freeing up professionals to do bigger and better things, robotics can actually encompass a more automated environment and increase productivity.

Already, robotics, automation, and services around these technologies are helping define the next-generation data center model. Let’s take a look at a couple of quick examples:

  • A recent article discusses how IBM is actually using robotics to plot the temperature patterns in data centers to improve their energy efficiency.  Basically, as another post in Slashdot points out, IBM is using robots based on iRobot Create, a customizable version of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, to measure temperature and humidity in data centers. The robot looks for cold zones (where cold air may be going to waste instead of being directed to the servers) and hotspots (where the air circulation may be breaking down. IBM is putting the robots to commercial use at partners — while EMC is at an early stage on a strikingly similar project.

  • Panduit, a leader in Unified Physical Infrastructure, just recently announced the launch of advisory services aimed at assessing, designing, and deploying optimized physical infrastructures for industrial organizations. These services help customers create industrial network systems designs that reduce deployment time, exceed performance requirements, and reduce maintenance and repair costs. Panduit goes on to state that as networks converge, the physical infrastructure becomes even more critical to support the demands of real-time control, data collection, and device configuration. Other data center and infrastructure shops have already begun exploring automation and robotics advisory services and roles as well.

  • Another example is Blue Prism. This organization has developed a robotic automation technology to enable business operations teams to configure their own local business process automations and rapidly design, build, test and deploy new business process automations with all the functionality and IT governance required to support enterprise operations. At this point, more than 300 processes have been automated by over 1,000 robots. Already, organizations like Fidelity Investments, Telefonica, University Hospitals Birmingham, and RWE npower have jumped on the robotics train.

  • Robotics manufacturers – the big ones – are already looking at ways they can place their robotics into a data center. Big robotics makers like FANUC are already developing smaller, smarter and much faster robotics. The idea is to create new lines of data center-ready robotics capable of scaling racks and truly optimizing the data center. The future of the physical robot is very bright. These machines will continue to get smaller and develop new sensors capable of analyzing equipment, computer parts, and negotiating intelligent machine routes.

The future of the data center will have to incorporate new levels of automation. Whether this is cloud-based software automation. or creating direct data center robotics automation protocols. next-generation data center models will require new levels of control.

Before we get into the next article in this series it’s important to note a few important points. First of all, robotics are NOT here to replace you. Although companies like Blue Prism certainly spell trouble for some outsourcing organizations. It really revolves around the evolution of both technology and the data center. You can either embrace new ways to compute and control your data center, or you can stand to the side.

Secondly, robotics is not here to replace intricate business processes or people who need to do unique job tasks. Robots, ideally, replace repetitive tasks and allow those administrators to focus on higher-level business and technology-oriented projects. These knowledge workers and thought-leaders will always be necessary to make a data center run optimally.

Finally, the major obstacles currently facing robotics are found on two fronts: technology and economics. Currently, it might not make any sense for a data center to attempt a retro-fit with robotics when they know their existing data center is old and out dated. Similarly, for some data center operators – there may not be a financially feasible fit for robotics at this time. Either way, before jumping into the robot pool. make sure you do quite a bit of research to ensure the longevity of your robotics initiative.

About the Author(s)

Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman has more than 15 years of experience in enterprise technology. He also enjoys writing, blogging, and educating colleagues about tech. His published and referenced work can be found on Data Center Knowledge, AFCOM, ITPro Today, InformationWeek, NetworkComputing, TechTarget, DarkReading, Forbes, CBS Interactive, Slashdot, and more.

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