How Automation Is Changing the Data Center Industry
By: Kayla Matthews on June 17, 2019
Fully automated data centers are now possible thanks to several powerful technologies such as advanced AI and machine learning solutions.
But, in order for any data center to be truly autonomous, a great deal of information needs to be collected about its operations and infrastructure first. Particularly, the visibility of an involved network plays a huge role in just how automated an operation can be. And guess where all of that digital content or information goes?
It goes right to a data center where it must be stored and handled appropriately. But with the right solution in place, data handling can be automated, streamlining an otherwise lengthy and complex system.
When discussing “automation” it’s easy to imagine a network of machines and devices working sans human input or interactivity. The reality is that’s not the case at all, as both human interaction and oversight are needed for certain aspects of an automated system.
What automation truly enables is a faster, more accurate system that can react to events or actions with much fewer resources. The IT team will still receive important alerts and they can take action if necessary, but the automated system handles everything otherwise.
As the demand for data center support continues to grow, and providers continuously scale up their operations to meet such demands, automation will play a key role in keeping everything running smoothly. The data center automation market is expected to reach a value of $16.10 billion by 2023, with a CAGR of 17.83% from 2018 to 2023.
The question remains: How exactly is automation affecting the data center industry?
Minding the Gap
It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about an in-house data center managed for a particular organization or a large-scale data center managed by a service provider, there are IT teams waiting in the wings. Generally, when something bad happens on the hardware or software side of things — we’re talking malfunctions or errors — those IT agents are inundated with system alerts, warnings and communications.
Making matters worse is the fact that one problem will almost certainly cause another, just compounding the number of warnings or alerts IT professionals receive.
They’re not always in the office when these alerts come in, either. So, you have to consider the time it takes the average professional to read an alert, figure out what’s happening and either respond accordingly or travel to the necessary facility.
During that time there’s an ever-increasing gap. If the error or problem in question causes an outage then that’s a huge span of time where the data center isn’t operational, and that will almost certainly cut into the bottom line.
A survey from the Uptime Institute revealed that nearly one-third of all data centers had an outage from 2017 to 2018, which was an increase of 25 percent from the year prior. Furthermore, the top causes of those outages include power failures at 33 percent, network failures at 30 percent, and IT or software errors at 28 percent.
Automation platforms can help mind this gap by handling various troubleshooting and recovery tasks, at least until a more knowledgeable agent can make it to an office or facility.
Sometimes, the automation tools can solve problems outright, without any human assistance. The end goal is to eliminate downtime, which is possible. Machine learning and AI controllers can become more capable too, as time goes on and they encounter more events.
Boosting Operational Efficiency
Automation platforms can also take over rote or mundane tasks, freeing up human personnel for more important duties. This has the added effect of boosting efficiency, further improving resource usage, operating costs and even wages.
Imagine, for example, a network of load sensors that can detect environmental changes inside the data center. When a server becomes too hot — enough to cause a dip in performance — an automated system migrates the workload elsewhere not just to give it a break but to better manage cooling.
This takes added stress off the nearby hardware, lowers the overall heat inside the server room or case, and keeps performance optimal. It becomes something of a juggling act where the ideal conditions are always honored, largely thanks to a smarter, more aware system. Notice how automation is the core element that makes it all possible? Substituting automation for human labor would almost certainly balloon both the costs and time it takes to complete the same process.
While the illustration above helps to show how an automated system can handle smarter, more informed resource management, it’s just one piece of a rather large pie. Automation can and does, ultimately, help boost operational efficiency within data centers in many ways, simply by taking over repetitive tasks.
The Rise in Automated Software Is Boosting Demand
While there are definitely plenty of hardware-based automation solutions, software tools play a key role too. Not just inside the data center, but across every facet of a business. Scheduling and payroll, customer service, inventory management, machine and equipment maintenance, all of these tasks are often backed by some form of monitoring and automation software.
This is yet another way that automation is affecting the data center industry, both internally and externally. Data centers themselves need automated software tools, as do customers from varying industries. All of the necessary data needs to be collected, processed, stored, analyzed and distributed. That’s even more stress offloaded to the average data center.
Take workflow automation software, for example. It’s used across many industries, for many things from email and engagement tracking to smart, automatic lead distribution. All of the information collected, ingested and utilized by the technology must flow somewhere. Queue the average data center, be it local or remote. Because these kinds of software solutions are being used more openly by organizations today, it strengthens data center and cloud computing demands.
New Technology Continues to Disrupt Our Data Centers
Automated software tools and solutions aren’t the only things disrupting data center operations. A variety of new and innovative technologies are doing exactly the same. Everything from driverless vehicles to IoT, and blockchain to additive manufacturing or 3D printing. They all put an increased strain on data centers.
3D printing, for instance, involves using digital blueprints which are fed to the printer to create various items. The blueprints are nothing more than data files, often stored in the cloud or via online databases and accessible via the web.
Automation can help deal with this by properly managing resources, and more effectively. It shows just how important automation will be to the future of the data center industry.
About Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews writes about data centers and big data for several industry publications, including The Data Center Journal, Data Center Frontier and insideBIGDATA. To read more posts from Kayla, you can follower her personal tech blog at ProductivityBytes.com.