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How robots can do more in data centers and lower the costs of operating the cloud

Machines are giving us better and better suggestions for things to read, restaurants to eat at and people to date. Behind the curtains, some of the ways these services are being delivered are also being automated.

An article out Wednesday from Data Center Knowledge envisions the next few steps for automating operations inside the data centers. Robots can move literally higher up the stack than humans and still be safe, which means data center builders can build vertically instead of horizontally. That could bring better use of data center floor space.

If robots do all the work on the floor, lights might become unnecessary, and poof: just like that, a line item can be nixed from the budget. Deploying robots could also lead to less downtime, as they could act with more certainty than people when it comes to replacing a server or another hardware component.

Using robots to grab equipment is “becoming quite feasible,” and Google (s goog) does it to get backup storage tapes, according to the article. Most gear isn’t really made for machines to handle, though, so this area might be in need of tinkering before it can get widely adopted.

The article also makes mention of unmanned data centers, including one operated by AOL. (s aol) Apple (s aapl) revealed plans last year to build one of these facilities in Prineville, Ore., before saying it would expand the site to add data centers where some people would work. As more companies move in that direction, prices will drop, leading to further market penetration.

Despite this, the article suggests that data centers will still need administrators, so not everyone working inside data centers will lose their jobs as this wave of automation carries through — for now.

Meanwhile, data center admins can also optimize their facilities by changing out hardware and software to match use cases. Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware, (s vmw) will talk about his vision for the software-defined data center, and Andrew Feldman, general manager and corporate vice president of AMD, will talk about how companies can do these things at GigaOM’s Structure Conference in San Francisco on June 19.

With these sorts of upgrades, while the initial capital expenditures might be high, they could bring operating expenses down for public, private and hybrid cloud providers, resulting in price drops for customers in time.

2 Responses to “How robots can do more in data centers and lower the costs of operating the cloud”

  1. Bill Kleyman

    Mark – do you really believe that robotics automation isn’t coming to the data center?

    Look, temperature and all of that physical access elements aside – the future-thought around the data center technologies will revolve around robotics. Nothing around this technology is concrete – so to shut it down like this is a bit short-sighted.

    You make really, really good points Mark. And, I hope that in the future new methods of cooling are adapted into the data center. Give the great folks at Google and Amazon a call – they’ve already got some amazing ideas around data center robotics automation.

    As always, thanks for reading!

  2. mark hahn

    Um, yeah no. The people writing about this topic appear to have never been involved in an actual, you know, *datacenter*. physical access to nodes just isn’t a big deal – it’s uncommon and not difficult or expensive.

    for instance, the article blathers something about temperatures, as if DCs are configured to provide comfort to the rare person who passes through. nonsense! it’s all about chip specs and thermal resistance of heatsinks and CFM. if anything there is going to change, it’s bringing coolant directly in the chassis (like IBM’s Aquasar) – again, nothing to do with comfort levels, and everything to do with Tcase and exhaust heat at a useful temperature.

    let me put it this way: why is someone running a DC that needs a lot of physical access? amazingly high hardware failure rates? vacuuming out the idle bits and data lint?