Safe in the hands of robots: how innovations in robotics can enhance data centre efficiency

By Paul Lewis, Senior Operations Director, Telehouse.

The past few years have seen a huge swell in data centre demand. With the rise of data-generating and data-hungry technologies, such as cloud computing and IoT, driving the market’s continued growth, overall spending on data centre infrastructure is projected to surpass $200 billion this year. To keep pace with this demand, today’s hyperscale data centre has become more densely populated, complex, and interconnected than ever before.

For data centre operators, the stakes have never been higher when it comes to ensuring the secure and efficient running of 24/7 operations. But the proactive monitoring of all these components – encompassing IT, facilities, and security – requires unprecedented levels of visibility and operational efficiency. This is a real challenge for dispersed teams working across a labyrinthine data centre, who need to monitor, identify, and respond to concurrent issues and faults in real-time.

The data centre industry is looking towards a more unconventional source of operational support – robotics. Once feared as job thieves, robots are now showing their potential to complement and enhance human skill in the data centre by providing greater visibility across the ecosystem. In fact, the latest innovations in robotics are streamlining and transforming manual data centre processes, automating mundane activities to drive greater efficiencies, faster response and resolution times, and lower risks of human error.

Multidisciplinary intelligence

In today’s sprawling data centre, the need for fast, frictionless communication between security, IT and facilities are more pronounced than ever. Without this harmonious interaction, data management systems may lack a comprehensive overview of the entire ecosystem. This could result in faults or safety hazards being left unnoticed and unaddressed until they escalate into bigger problems.

Data centre staff need a centralised reference point that gives them the visibility of potential operating issues, ensuring that they are quickly identified and responded to. While current control systems and data centre personnel do undertake regular hazard checks on facilities, robotics can support and streamline these efforts by providing a single source of truth. This federated view is essential for the smooth day-to-day running of the data centre, as it allows for timely and proactive problem-solving with minimal disruption to regular operations.

Robotics offers a multidisciplinary all-in-one solution to a raft of operational challenges, combining human expertise with automated precision and speed to achieve maximum efficiency. For example, a single robot can obtain 4k, in-depth, and 360-degree visibility across all areas of the data centre. With these capabilities, the machine can diligently isolate and resolve issues while communicating any irregularities back to teams for immediate escalation. By acting as a ‘one for all’ system for enhancing functionality across the ecosystem, the robot can also strengthen the security and compliance of all data centre operations.

Traditionally, a member of staff would notice a fault – such as a missing fire extinguisher – and diligently take steps to resolve the issue. But would they necessarily have spotted an unrelated hazard in an adjacent room? With robotics, operators are given extra peace of mind. A single robot can swiftly identify multiple unrelated safety hazards, flagging issues that may not be immediately obvious. By carrying out the most exhaustive manual checks in a fraction of the usual time, robots also simultaneously communicate data insights around security, facility, and environmental health across multiple departments.

Unrivalled visibility

Robotics use self-driving technology to autonomously map and navigate the data centre. Real-time sensor data then allows the robot to monitor key metrics, establish norms, and immediately escalate any anomalies for human analysis. With no risk of distraction or bias, the technology offers decision-makers a level of visibility, speed, and multi-layered intelligence that no single human or static camera could ever replicate.

AI-driven sensors and live visualisations of energy dynamics, such as heat mapping, can accurately detect anything from temperature and Wi-Fi signal strength to air quality index, smoke, and gas levels inside the data centre. The live data and reports provided then enable staff to proactively deal with any issues that may jeopardise operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

This real-time visibility is particularly valuable at a time when the length, cost and severity of data centre outages continues to surge. A significant number of these unplanned outages are caused by factors such as weather, water, heat, or computer room air conditioning (CRAC) failure. Therefore, controlling humidity helps to protect sensitive equipment from moisture damage and system failure. Robotics that monitor temperature and humidity levels in a busy data centre yield real-time, advanced data which provides data centre staff with an extra layer of visibility. This helps decision-makers to balance workloads throughout the data centre, leading to further efficiencies in cost and energy.

Automated allies

When all these benefits are considered, media-fuelled fears of robots ‘stealing’ people’s jobs ring increasingly hollow. Human workers ‘need not fear’ robotics in the data centre. By excelling at the most tedious, time-consuming and repetitive aspects of data centre work, robots free staff from robotic tasks, enabling them to channel their own attributes and skills into more strategic areas. Therefore, robotics and humans can actively enhance each other’s complementary strengths, driving operational excellence to yield greater insights and innovation as demand on data centre infrastructure continues to grow.

Automation in the data centre is nothing new – but the latest innovations in robotics are unlocking a new frontier in operational efficiency. To cope with growing pressures and demands, data centres need the multidisciplinary, all-in-one capabilities of robots to streamline essential processes across the ecosystem. With enhanced visibility and 360-degree intelligence, humans and technology can combine to reach unprecedented levels of autonomy, productivity, and round-the-clock security.

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