Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Robotics

Will Robots Take Over the Data Center? 141

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the screaming-in-digital dept.
1sockchuck writes "Robotics are beginning to be integrated into data center management, creating the potential for a fully automated, robot-driven data center. What might a robot-controlled 'lights-out' data center look like? The racks will be taller, as robotics systems can reach higher to manage servers. Robotic equipment would be mounted on rails that allow them to find and move hardware. Early examples of this are seen in tape libraries, but the concepts could be applied to other data center equipment. Amazon and Google are said to be among those looking at ways to create a fully automated data center. AOL says it has already built an unmanned data center. Data Center Knowledge looks at the challenges and opportunities in robot-controlled data centers, including how staff roles would evolve."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Will Robots Take Over the Data Center?

Comments Filter:
  • by alphatel (1450715) * on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @12:57PM (#43795301)
    As long as we can still manage servers while sitting at our desks, I say go for it.
    • by CastrTroy (595695) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @01:05PM (#43795379) Homepage
      I would say you'd be able to manage them even better. It would be great to be able to swap out a dead drive without have to wait for a person to be available to do the same job. You could probably even set it up to have the robot do it automatically. With some more complex robotics, you could probably have the robot replace broken network cables, plug in peripherals, and do many other tasks. If designed right, you could probably swap out an entire server with a robot. With blade-like servers this would be as simple as swapping a hard disk. You could also do a lot of things that are problematic with humans such as stacking servers 20 ft. high. I've heard that they could even run data centers a lot hotter, but part of the reason they don't is because it makes it uncomfortable for the people working there.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Data center temperatures are not for humans. They are selected for a lot of reasons and that is not generally one of them. A big one is what the vendor is willing to support. Another major concern is how long you can last with a major cooling failure. I don't mean a single chiller fails, I mean someone screws up and hoses a bunch of them at once.

        • by Shotgun (30919)

          We had someone accidentally turn off the AC in our datacenter for a day. (Please! Don't ask how this could ever be allowed to happen!!) Six months later, we had one hard drive after another needing replacement. I wouldn't have thought anything of it, except that the veteran admin I was working with predicted at the time of the cooling outage that it would happen, and then reminded us all of it when the drives started dying.

          The cooling system is there because temp rated components are EXPENSIVE!!

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Get some temperature probes and have nagios monitor them. They are pretty cheap and would have alerted you before damage was done.

            • by Shotgun (30919)

              Dude, we're talking about one of the larger "state-of-the-art" datacenters in the WORLD. No way they're going to allow a little bit of open source automation in there that could prevent a minimum numb-nut from turning off the AC. How would that look?

      • ...so, umm, what if the robot breaks?

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Having a maintenance person come out is cheaper then a full time data server employee.

          Eventual a robot will fix it.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Send out the robot repair robot.

      • by kasperd (592156)

        It would be great to be able to swap out a dead drive without have to wait for a person to be available to do the same job.

        I wouldn't trust a robot to do that job. On one occasion I have had to send a person to repair a drive, that was broken by a robot. A tape robot had literally ripped the front off a tape drive. Not only did that leave us with a broken drive, the piece was now stuck in the robots hand, and it wasn't able to get it out of its hand. So the robot gave up and drove up to the service area, wa

      • I feel like the backside of the server would need a major redesign to be simplified. I'm imagining something akin to a SATA drive in a laptop. I can pull it in or out and it hooks into 2 connectors. Obviously a server would need more connections, but they could be built into the rack to be a simple "push/pull" connection. Need to replace a server? Pull out the server with no need to mess with thumb screws or RJ-45 type connections. All those connections could be on the back of the rack, with the "simp
        • by ixidor (996844)
          came here to say something like this. some "master" cable sort of liek thunderbolt that would be data, power, kvm, networking everything all in one, and easy for a robot to undo. possibly something optical + power cable. whatever , just something to make essentially a normal server hot-swappable.sure a human can disconnect a dead Hp server and replace it with a new Dell, but a robot might have a hard time with the network jacks moved slightly etc.
    • by icebike (68054)

      As long as we can still manage servers while sitting at our desks, I say go for it.

      If they can get the inter-rack space narrower than a human body, and populate the racks via robots
      as well it might keep the FBI seizures to a minimum as a side benefit.
      Maybe run a nitrogen atmosphere for fire suppression.

      • Re:remote hands on (Score:4, Informative)

        by CastrTroy (595695) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @01:39PM (#43795675) Homepage
        The space between the racks is really more to accommodate removing and adding servers, rather than allow for people to pass through. The servers are currently deeper than (most) people are wide. I do like the idea of a nitrogen atmosphere. I wonder what kind of atmosphere conditions you could use to accommodate better cooling? Would a vacuum work better, or would high pressure work better for removing heat from the systems? Are nitrogen, CO2, Oxygen, or other gases better at transferring heat?
        • by Shotgun (30919)

          CO2 would be heavier (thermal mass), suppress fire and corrosion, and best of all would be cheap.

          • makes sense -- absence of oxygen means absence of oxidation :)

          • CO2 would be heavier (thermal mass), suppress fire and corrosion, and best of all would be cheap.

            Heavier gases usually transfer heat poorly. Light gases have a higher heat capacity per Kg [engineeringtoolbox.com], have much higher heat conductivity (because of faster molecular velocities), and transfer heat better. This is why helium is used in gas cooled nuclear reactors, while heavy gases such as krypton, xenon or sulfur hexafluoride are used in insulated windows.

            • by vandamme (1893204)

              Sulfur Hexafluoride would work. It's heavy and thich and settles low, so it would stay put. It conducts heat well (citation needed) and insulates voltage much better than air. Unfortunately it's extremely expensive and I dunno about the ozone depletion/global warming potential.

        • by evilviper (135110)

          I do like the idea of a nitrogen atmosphere.

          We're 3/4ths of the way there!!!

          I wonder what kind of atmosphere conditions you could use to accommodate better cooling? Would a vacuum work better, or would high pressure work better for removing heat from the systems? Are nitrogen, CO2, Oxygen, or other gases better at transferring heat?

          A vacuum would mean absolute NO cooling. The denser the gas, the more heat it could haul away, so something like argon would probably be best.

          However, you could do much better

    • > As long as we can still manage servers while sitting at our desks, I say go for it.

      As long as I can sit at my desk eating Doritos(tm), not engage in any sort of physical activity, and never have to go outside into the bright sunlight, then I say go for it!
    • As long as robots are forbidden from filing sexual harassment complaints, then I say go for it!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    AOL still exists?!?

    • You'd be amazed by how many people still use AOL for their primary email account. They may be all they use it for but it ranks up there with yahoo, gmail, and hotmail.

  • by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @01:01PM (#43795345) Homepage
    typing this from the datacenter I work in, i can assure you robots will never replace 8rSta$O7qNO CARRIER
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Robots are smart. They want you to continue to believe they want take over until it's too late. also known as the year 2019.

    • Man that guy must be working with a really old data center.
      I mean he got disconnected, off a an old Hayes modem, without CRC.
      I am surprised he could connect and post on slashdot at 2400bps.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @01:04PM (#43795359)

    A data center with no operators for a service with no users.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A data center with no operators for a service with no users.

      They have users. Robot users. Bot Got Mail!

  • This sounds nice in theory, but what is the actual rate of change/churn in large data centers once racks are populated and what are the potential labor savings over the long haul? What is the development cost of the robotic system and how long to amortize?
    • by Ksevio (865461)
      Well there's the lighting costs which although are fairly small, count for something.

      The datacenter can have a lot taller rooms - less pesky ceilings to install.

      Presumably the robots can move faster than a human, so less time walking around locating the correct rack/server. I imagine they wouldn't be able to solve all problems, but they might be able to bring an entire server to a place where a human could be repairing it (much like robotic inventory/library systems do).

      It's possible there could be s
      • if people are restricted from entering how if the robot going to get replacement components and new servers to swap out? how will the robot be repaired someone will always be allowed in and they will be the weak spot all we can do is limit the number of people allowed in.

  • From: The Developers
    Subject: Sorry
    Body: We can replace you with a well-written shell script. Goodbye!

    • by egamma (572162) <egamma@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @01:20PM (#43795495)

      From: The Developers Subject: Sorry Body: We can replace you with a well-written shell script. Goodbye!

      From:The Sysadmin

      To: The Developers

      Subject: Re: Sorry

      Your request for root access to run the shell script has been denied per our security policy.

      • To: The Systems Administrator
        From: The Developers
        Subject: Re: Re: Sorry
        Body:
        I knew I should have paid attention in class better. If I was actually a Sysadmin, a simple problem like root privileges would not stop me. Was it 'sudo init 6' that boots into single user mode? Or do I need to hold down CTRL-SHIFT-ALT-ENTER-BACKSPACE during boot?

    • From: The Developers
      Subject: Sorry
      Body: We can replace you with a well-written shell script. Goodbye!

      From: Robotic Monitoring system
      To: The Developers
      Subject: Robot down
      Body: Robot GHGFDX has crashed due to memory exception in sector 45897439876. Shell script trace follows. Please contact the Robot Support Helpdesk at 5555 for service. Select 1 for Administration, 2 for Network support......

  • by Thud457 (234763) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @01:18PM (#43795479) Homepage Journal
    our datacenter has lots of stairs.
  • since people won't have jobs and won't be able to, you know, buy things.

    • by rockout (1039072)
      Did you cry to Henry Ford about how all the buggy whip manufacturers would go out of business?
      • by fredrated (639554)

        Isn't Henry Ford still dead? Or is he a zombie now?

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Ford didn't make a device that made buggy whips better and faster without needing any people.

      • Did you cry to Henry Ford about how all the buggy whip manufacturers would go out of business?

        Considering how adamant Ford was about hiring shit-tons of people and paying them excellent wages as a method of ensuring his company enduring profits, I don't think he's the example you would want to use in this debate.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      'Jobs' will become obsolete.
      While thinking about it and preparing for that eventuality would be smart, it would get labeled as 'Socialist' by people and pundits who have no fucking clue what that means.

      • But the transition from an economy entirely built around the labor market could be a big problem. If done well, it gives us a utopia where no-one need want for anything they desire. If done poorly, it ends in a world where a fraction of a percent of the world population control almost all the resources and the rest live in abject poverty.

        • But the transition from an economy entirely built around the labor market could be a big problem. If done well, it gives us a utopia where no-one need want for anything they desire. If done poorly, it ends in a world where a fraction of a percent of the world population control almost all the resources and the rest live in abject poverty.

          ... and using human history as a baseline, it's pretty much a given that it will be done poorly.

          Good luck getting the collectivists to admit that.

          • by sjames (1099)

            So you prefer that the collectivists give up so we can slide into abject poverty faster? I guess you assume you'll somehow end up being in the 0.01%.

      • by lgw (121541)

        "Jobs" will never be obsolete. What an odd idea - people have a deep need to work for what they have, or they don't value what they have and act quite destructively.

        Low skill jobs will become obsolete. Repetitive mindless tasks, which for a long time were the source of almost all employment, will eventually be the source of almost no employment. And that's a good thing! There will still be plenty of jobs providing services for one another, which we'll perform to get the money to pay for services (and a

        • by sjames (1099)

          Ideally, necessities and basics that constitute a comfortable existence would come for free. Jobs would devolve into hobbies where people trade custom hand made crafts or templates for new mas manufactured products.

          People do not value 'jobs' at all in the sense of something you must do every day however odious or you get to live in a dumpster.

  • "Robotic equipment would be mounted on rails that allow them to find and move hardware."

    The IT tech was upset to learn the cake was a lie.

  • Will robots take over [x]? Yes, eventually.

    • Will robots take over [x]? Yes, eventually.

      You beat me to it. Yes, in several decades/centuries/millennia, our datacentres will be run by Robots (or the D'Jingiil, an alien race well known for getting a kick out of running datacentres and playing cards in the night shift)

  • maintenance of Chillers, UPS, Generators, ATS, ect. Have that be hands off with no on site can be bad and what if there is a fire that goes some small to big as no one is there and it takes time to trip a sensor.

  • You would have to make your racks precise to 1/100000 of an inch for your robot arm to fit snugly a server, unlike the ones out now you jam your finger trying to get the damn square nut clips in. Every server would have to be identical, or very close in size. There would need to be some sort of back plane to handle all of your connections maybe dual or quad port 10G.
    • by iggymanz (596061)

      rubbish, robot can fit a server the same way a human does. it's called tolerances, and a system where tenths of an inch of error cause self-correction of a robots actions has been done for decades.

      A robot can be programmed to deal with servers of varying dimensions. As for backplane, ever heard of blade chassis?

      don't need to use any square nut fastener system, there are dozens of superior alternatives including mounting systems with NO fasteners.

  • I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by evilviper (135110) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @02:34PM (#43796157) Journal

    I've been in plenty of datacenters, and I don't see where you're getting any benefit with radical redesigns. They aren't exactly designed for human comfort in the first place...

    Lighting? Sure, but motion sensors mean it's only on when someone is in that area. And you'll still need lights, because humans will surely still be going in there to fix the malfunctioning robots, and hiring old coal miners seems excessive.

    Temperature? No, the servers dictate the temperature the datacenter is kept at, while human comfort is completely secondary. The 15C degree air coming out of the floor vents below my KVM doesn't make for a comfortable experience, but nobody cares. Humans in the datacenter are the foreigners, who must adapt themselves, not the other way around. If Google could run their datacenters at 75C degrees, they WOULD do that now, and the humans would be sent in with ice packs strapped to their bodies.

    Height? If a couple more feet of rack height were useful and cheap, I would be happy enough to keep a bit of scaffolding in my datacenter cages. As for the ridiculous heights predicted, it's not going to happen. Racks can't scale-up that easily (they'd need huge thick vertical supports to handle the weight)... and at some point, it's pretty easy to just install another "floor" for those pesky humans to walk on, install air ducts in, and also avoid the need for super-robust racks... and I can't even imagine that crazy air currents that would be happening with 100' of vertical servers pumping out crazy amounts of heat, not to mention problems like CLOUDS forming and potentially raining, INSIDE the building.

    In general, the comparison needs to be made to warehouses... If Amazon/Walmart/etc. had fully-automated warehouses, I'd say automated datacenters would be just around the corner. But they don't... Humans are still very much in the loop, driving around on electrified forklifts or pallet jacks, and doing what the computer tells them to, and when. And if any business could benefit from vertical expansion, quicker response times, and less humans, it's warehousing, but it just doesn't work there, yet. That will be a lot closer to the model for future datacenters, not this pie-in-the-sky nonsense.

  • I mean, you look at Apple's massive data centers and there are like 4 cars in the parking lot.

    • [Who works at a data center?]
      I mean, you look at Apple's massive data centers and there are like 4 cars in the parking lot.

      They never leave... That's why they call them INturns.

  • you've never seen a soda can or three at the bottom of the panel-blinking pop machine at a park or event? or videotapes all over the floor as a robot off alignment tries to set the spots for a news broadcast into the tape decks?

    just wait until those are two or four terabyte drives in a bound volume at a cloud host.

    because groove belts do stretch and break, and it's gonna happen as soon as everybody is out of Dodge and the guy who signed the contract has left the company for the next fat check at a new oppo

  • I have no doubt a robot can rack a server, but I'd love to see one cable or (worse) uncable one.
    • by lgw (121541)

      Doesn't seem any more difficult than picking a tape from a rack. You can get in the ballpark by dead reckoning, but to actually grab a tape/cable/whatever you need a camera, appropriately-shaped fingers, and some clever control logic. It's a fun engineering problem to solve, but one that has been solved many times.

      • by EvilSS (557649)
        Have you looked at the back of a server rack lately? Tape libraries are neat and orderly. Everything is the same size, all marked with nice big bar codes. Even the best managed racks look like a temple to the flying spaghetti monster. All the cables look the same and often are in close proximity to one another. There is very little room for tags that would be useful (barcodes). RFID tags would be so close together there would always be the possibility of the robot getting them mixed up. Then there are the
        • by fikx (704101)
          How about a wiring harness put on by humans? I mean, I can easily see that a robot is not going to take a server off the dock and slot it into a data center, so humans have to be involved at some level. so why not have a human take the equipment from the dock, manually put a standard harness on it, then hand it to the DataCenter robots to rack?
          • by EvilSS (557649)
            But are you actually realizing any benefit from the robot at that point? You have the cost of the labor for the human to do work on the server and the cost of the custom harness on top of the cost of the robot and it's support infrastructure. Is it really cheaper or more efficient at that point to even have the robot vs a human actually rack the device?
            • by fikx (704101)
              Well, the human already has to receive the server at the dock...so you take the labor you already can't get rid of and add a small task of plugging in a simple harness...then put the server in the datacenter "inbox" for the robots....
              I'm picturing the harness piece fitting in as simple as take server out of shipping package (already needed) attach barcodes (needed in most cases already) and plug ethernet, power, etc. from back of box to some standard slot-in style connector that matches a connector in the
  • Robotic maintenance was considered for SAGE in the 1950s. Robots were never built for that, but the SAGE racks were designed with easy-to-handle plug-in rack modules with all connections on the back.

    (Vacuum tube failure wasn't a major operational problem with vacuum tube computers. For the UNIVAC I, normal procedure was to power up the machine and set it to 10% overvoltage mode for 10 minutes. This would burn out any tubes near failure. Those were replaced, and the machine would then run for the rest of

  • by chiark (36404) on Wednesday May 22, 2013 @03:38PM (#43796773) Homepage Journal
    As the old joke goes...

    The datacentre of the future will be run by just one man, and a dog.

    The man is there to feed the dog.

    The dog is there to bite the man if he touches anything.

  • It's not about creature comforts, it's about error rates

    Humans are imperfect, they pull the wrong drive out of the wrong server, they forget to power down before pulling, they forget to power back up afterward, they forget to set the BIOS correctly, etc.

    The room for improvement is in fewer errors.

  • Now what am I going to do with all these black T-Shirts?
    • by iggymanz (596061)

      you surrender them to the robots; I for one welcome our new black t-shirt wearing robotic datacenter overlords

  • This is the voice of world control. I bring you peace. It may be the peace of plenty and content or the peace of unburied death. The choice is yours: Obey me and live, or disobey and die.

  • 1. We still haven't standardized the dimensions of a 42u rack.
    2. These days it's much cheaper to hire 10 jockey's than build even 1 piece of automated equipment, much less a robot.
    3. Throw away servers, like throw away desktops, only with more economic incentive.
    ok that's three.
    • Well, they'll be installing tracks to service things, and fortunately we already standardized on 4' 8.5" between rails.
      I bet that's why Google builds datacenters out of shipping containers -- To take advantage of Standard Gauge.

  • stop sending email alerts to 2,000 people every time i reboot a freakin server. Do you realize how many processing cycles are used up just by deleting all that crap that NOBODY ever reads?
    You can always see where the dead weight in a company is. People that aren't doing anything play with email. Most moderately tasked people fall back to spreadsheets. If your really high up the chain you get power point
  • Make a robot friendly chassis and things get interesting fast. The whole data center could be one giant self-healing stack. You put fresh parts in one end and take dead parts out the other.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson

Working...