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Will Robots Take Over the Data Center?

Unknown Lamer posted about a year ago | from the screaming-in-digital dept.

Robotics 141

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."

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141 comments

No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795239)

We'll just store everything in the cloud instead.

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795517)

i think they are talking about software robutts

remote hands on (2)

alphatel (1450715) | about a year ago | (#43795301)

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

Re:remote hands on (4, Funny)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#43795379)

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.

Re:remote hands on (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43795445)

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.

Re:remote hands on (2)

Shotgun (30919) | about a year ago | (#43795823)

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!!

Re:remote hands on (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43796041)

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

Re:remote hands on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796419)

I looked at that too and thought "What a piece of crap". Data center temperatures were *never* about keeping people cool. You mistook the data center for the executive suite (where air conditioning is *solely* to keep people cool). No. If it came down to it, they would have people in data centers putting up with temperatures that people put up with in blast furnaces. When I studied Electronics Engineering, they described semiconductors and the physics behind it. I seem to recall a lot about engineering heat solutions to keep the semiconductors junctions cool as they fail prematurely if running at a high temperature. They are designed to usually run about 20C. Sure they can run up to 60C, and can be stored at temperatures as high as 85C, but they run best at 20C. Humans bedamned. New chip technology uses less power, and gives off less heat, meaning the cooling solutions can be less robust and still keep everything at about 20C. ...but it still all wants to be about 20C. I'm quite certain the physics of electrons moving around hasn't changed since when I studied it. Smaller gate size means less charge to make it switch, and smaller charge really means less current, and less heat. Right now this article is all about 'what if'. Its speculation by a youngster in a suit. Engineering hardware to be swappable by robots means mounting brackets, mounting rails, connectors, recepticles, power distribution, I/O connectors and cooling systems all accessable, automatable and fail proof when accessed by a robot. You might expect to pay $15-25 more per blade (in economies of scale). 100,000 blades is $2,500,000.-, and thats just for the blades. Installing the robot and having it run would cost a few million. When disaster happens, you still need someone to fix it (unless you just replace a blade for any problem at all, even very minor problems). It still requires a human to determine whether the $2000 blade can be put back into service with a 10c repair.

Re:remote hands on (2)

Penguinisto (415985) | about a year ago | (#43795661)

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

Re:remote hands on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795711)

We'll replace it with a backup robot and send this one to a robot service center where it will be repaired (by robots).

Just don't ask what happens when robot-repairing robot breaks.

Re:remote hands on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795833)

What happens?

Re:remote hands on (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year ago | (#43795901)

We'll replace it with a backup robot and send this one to the front of the line at the robot service center where it will be repaired (by robots).

Just don't ask what happens when the failure rate exceeds the repair rate.

Re:remote hands on (1)

MugenEJ8 (1788490) | about a year ago | (#43796027)

What happens?

Re:remote hands on (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about a year ago | (#43797565)

a order is sent to the robot manufacturers for a new robot/repair-bot where, the order processed billing you automatically and they then build it in a automated robotic factory send it to you by google driver-less delivery vehicle to your data or robot-repair center receptively.

its robotic turtles all the way down

Re:remote hands on (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#43795779)

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

Eventual a robot will fix it.

Re:remote hands on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795827)

I know that this is referencing a movie, but which one?

Re:remote hands on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796091)

I know that this is referencing a movie, but which one?

The Fifth Element.

Re:remote hands on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796301)

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've just shifted the problem from needing a human to swap a dead drive to needing a human to swap out a dead robot arm. The question becomes: how expensive is a robot arm that is as reliable as current drives and as easy to repair as swapping one drive for another. Hard drives benefit from huge economies of scale, and are dirt cheap for their complexity. Industrial robots do not have such cost advantages.

Re:remote hands on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796973)

Industrial robots do have the advantage of having been around for a very long time though, and that has resulted in very reliable and battle tested designs. There are robots that accumulate tens of thousands of service free hours of operation in extremely harsh environments. Much harsher than anything you'd find in the comparatively utopian environment of the data center. An average modern day industrial robot can operate 24/7 for nearly three years completely maintenance free. Depending on the duty cycle, it can go at least 8 years without needing any major components replaced. And they're not as expensive as you might think. Manufacturer's are the king of penny pinching. They won't even blink at an idea if it isn't going to quickly increase their profits. There wouldn't be a lot of robots getting sold if there weren't some cost advantages to it.

Re:remote hands on (2)

kasperd (592156) | about a year ago | (#43797625)

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, waiting for a human to come and repair it.

This is not even the most spectacular robot problem I have experienced. Four years of dealing with real robots in data centers have made me realize, what a long way to go we have before robots can take over jobs we let humans do today.

Re:remote hands on (1)

icebike (68054) | about a year ago | (#43795577)

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 (3, Informative)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#43795675)

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?

Re:remote hands on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796095)

Vacuums are actually pretty terrible at whisking away heat. Without the air, there isn't anything to carry the heat away (conduction, convection) and you would be left with radiating heat, which doesn't work all that well at 'low' temperatures.

Re:remote hands on (2)

evilviper (135110) | about a year ago | (#43796277)

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 by submerging the whole thing in Fluorinert or other (cheaper) non-conductive and non-corrosive fluid. The downside to that, being both that traditional hard drives will cease to function, and the weight of a building full of fluid will be astronomical, and would also require extremely tighter tolerances and far more horizontal support.

The only way I could see that working, would be a huge subterranean datacenter... Basically a huge hole in the ground, or perhaps the world's deepest in-ground pool.

Re:remote hands on (1)

DickBreath (207180) | about a year ago | (#43796715)

> 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!

Wait... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795339)

AOL still exists?!?

Re:Wait... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795435)

And they have a data center? How old is that data?

Re:Wait... (1)

scottbomb (1290580) | about a year ago | (#43795491)

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.

more malarky from the big players. (3, Funny)

nimbius (983462) | about a year ago | (#43795345)

typing this from the datacenter I work in, i can assure you robots will never replace 8rSta$O7qNO CARRIER

Re:more malarky from the big players. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795663)

But, the datacenter management may be able to get wage concessions from you and your coworkers by inducing the fear of becoming irrelevant and easily replaced by iRobots.

Re:more malarky from the big players. (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#43795797)

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.

Re:more malarky from the big players. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43797383)

The real problems will start when robots get smart enough to make us do their dirty work while they leisurely play.

WRONG...apk (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795867)

BIG players don't want you to know that world has TIME CUBE Four corners determines that HOSTS file are superior but corrupt lusers have penetrated the mods! Know that hypercube HOSTS will perform much better such that nobody can disproof my claims. Where's the evidence?

--

You should know that my HOSTS FILE solution is superior to any lame attempt on your part to slander me. True users agree with me many times and not ONCe has FOUR CORNERS been disproven.

--

To this point, HOSTS file is accurate. You cannot deny within your foolish flailing that TIMECUBE is dominant over all other systems of management, and in fact is required to function.

APK

P.S. => By the way, you have EXPOSED yourself to me. I can see your intention but it is not enough! Once again I fool the sad lusers penetrating me....

Re:more malarky from the big players. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about a year ago | (#43796607)

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.

AOL? How appropriate. (4, Funny)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about a year ago | (#43795359)

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

Re:AOL? How appropriate. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795589)

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

They have users. Robot users. Bot Got Mail!

how staff roles would evolve. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795361)

mgt: "Well, due to automation, we only need one of you. The rest of you are being let go and I recommend that you be "retrained" in something else. What that may be, I have no idea, but that's the line we give to you peasants."

What are the potential savings? (2)

Geste (527302) | about a year ago | (#43795363)

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?

Re:What are the potential savings? (1)

Ksevio (865461) | about a year ago | (#43796023)

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 some security savings. If people are restricted from entering at all, then there would be less need to secure servers individually.

Re:What are the potential savings? (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about a year ago | (#43797655)

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.

How about more difficult things (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795399)

Like replacing a bad cable? No? So you send in a person to do that and then the robot kills them. Then will come the classics.. "I thought you turned off the robot for sector-13"..

To: systems/network administrators (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#43795441)

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

Re:To: systems/network administrators (4, Funny)

egamma (572162) | about a year ago | (#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.

Re:To: systems/network administrators (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795567)

Mod parent up, PCI-compliant. :D

Re:To: systems/network administrators ROFLMAO (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795587)

As a developer,

Thank you for that reply it was one of the funniest I have seen in a long while, primarily because I have seen responses like that from SysAdmins

Re:To: systems/network administrators (1)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#43795691)

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?

Re:To: systems/network administrators (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795799)

See? That's why you're just a developer. It's SHIFT-CTRL-ALT-ENTER-BACKSPACE

noob

Re:To: systems/network administrators (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795993)

Hopefully the sysadmin was competent enough to put on a boot loader password, added the root password prompt to single user mode, removed virtual media for unprivileged users on the ILOM, and of course locked the server room to prevent physical access. Even if you had paid attention that should slow you down pretty well.

Re:To: systems/network administrators (1)

David_Hart (1184661) | about a year ago | (#43795995)

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......

job security: (2)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#43795479)

our datacenter has lots of stairs.

Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (0)

fredrated (639554) | about a year ago | (#43795485)

since people won't have jobs and won't be able to, you know, buy things.

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (1)

rockout (1039072) | about a year ago | (#43795525)

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

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795747)

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

Henry Ford was relying on a labor force made of humans. Not robots. The buggy whip manufacturers could switch to making spark plug wires or whatever.
He is also famously known for saying he wanted to pay his human workers enough money so that they could buy the product they were making.
I don't know how you got to this bizarro retelling of the story.

The only company that would (almost) benefit would be the one that builds the tooling for and services the robots.
It turns out from personal experience that companies want to spend less on servicing robots than employing fellow humans. It's an impossible task, given that general management cannot be taught to think like a robot and don't understand their shortcomings or why they could jam up in such obvious situations (to a person) or why this part keeps breaking because of demands to operate so close to the point of failure. (make it as fast as possible!!!!)

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#43795809)

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

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795875)

Yes, yes, the same old argument for progress. No one can be against cars, right? So, it's a good example. But you aren't really thinking it all the way through. Most pretend to think it through by saying there will be new kinds of jobs, so no worries (except, of course, for those that will go hungry). But what happens when everything can be automated? Do you really think that the whole world should just stand around waiting for some rich robot owner (and there will only be two or three owners, period) to ask for a blowjob (from a real person)? What are we going to do when a few rich fuckers run the whole world?

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796683)

In a better world, automation means "Hey, cool, we can lower prices without lowering profits!" (sadly, in the real world it means "Hey, cool, we can raise profits without raising prices!"). Lost your jobs to robots? Sad. Can keep same standard of living with simpler and lower paying job because robots made things cheaper? Not so sad.

When everything's automated in that ideal world, humans can relax and do whatever they like, while robots grow wheat, build roads, mine ore and smelt iron to repair other robots as they break.

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#43795943)

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.

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#43795543)

'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.

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#43795811)

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.

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#43795971)

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.

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795893)

That's what the Japanese thought too, and look where it got them, a 20 year long financial crisis that they're only coming out of, and that's simply because the rest of the world was lowered to their level.

Robotics will make a lot things easier and cheaper, but they won't replace human labor anytime soon. Hilariously, it's cheaper to raise and educate a small village in a third world country, than to buy a single robot for a factory, and have them work for 50 years. Actually that's not hilarious at all.

Re:Let's hope the company makes things robots buy (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43796605)

"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 small percentage for all the food and manufactured goods we need, which will be taken for granted).

Fewer of the world's richest people will own manufacturing and transport companies, more will own fashion companies (already a significant portion).

predicting the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795493)

This could work if the data center is static. That is the same servers same drives same everything for the life of the data center. Thing is most data centers i've gone to have different servers, different generation of servers and different drives. I'm not saying it's impossible, just harder when there are so many unknown variables. What if servers tomorrow require more power? or actually get smaller? a different rack? these are things that are being worked out but I still see a lot of variety. The racks would have to have some sort of fiber channel built in. What happens if in the future you require 2 fibers instead of one? or 4? would you be able to use your robot in the future? I think the robots would be a good idea, but i see a lot of challenges to a people free environment. we are if nothing else adaptable. Robots are still not there. unless these robots can be used like robonaut. And the admin's are controlling him remotely. Then that's just cool!

Re:predicting the future FTFY (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795561)

"Thing is most data centers" RACKS "have different servers"

Re:predicting the future (1)

mlts (1038732) | about a year ago | (#43795895)

Maybe we will see a "unit" in data centers which are self-contained "pods", which both Oracle and Microsoft have been mentioning, where one has it hauled in, adds power and networking, and it essentially is completely autonomous. This wouldn't work with the racks that have various different appliances, but for the common SAN/racks/enclosures/switches/routers which are the mainstay of the data center, having a "data center in a box" which can automatically spit out cards, blades, drives, or other parts might be an idea.

Only downside -- volume. It is a lot easier to have a person walk up and replace a PSU than to purchase a complete robot system for the task. Robots are not like electronics -- economies of scale that apply to solid state tech don't apply. Were this the case, you would be seeing tape silos for home use as backup appliances as a commodity item.

Businesses also have different data center needs, and there is always the upgrade path. For example, Facebook has their Open Rack specification which is 21 inches. Some equipment might be 24 inches in width, such as some IBM stuff like the POWER 795 CECs. Other equipment is 23 inches in width.

All and all, a backend robot can work with the "podular" design, but in a regular data center, it isn't that feasible/economical with today's technology. Hiring someone for $8/hour to "rack 'em and stack 'em" is pretty cheap.

I've seen this before. (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | about a year ago | (#43795521)

"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.

Re: I've seen this before. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795857)

And so it begins... Thanks, Steam for Linux!

Automation Already In Place (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795579)

So your question presumes that a crontab job starting/stopping timed processes in a bash shell (or other suitable shell) is not a robot.

Re:Automation Already In Place (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#43796145)

No presumption about it. A crontab job starting/stopping timed processes in a bash shell (or other suitable shell) is not a robot. A robot needs to have at least three degrees of motion [ISO 8373]. A crontab job has none.

Great idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43795583)

Instead of managing servers and a network, I can just manage the robots who will manage the servers and the network. :D

maintenance of Chillers, UPS, Generators, ATS, ect (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#43795769)

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.

not unless machining gets more exact (0)

who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) | about a year ago | (#43796005)

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.

Re:not unless machining gets more exact (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796547)

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.

You sir have never actually worked with robotics in any form of another. There are hundreds of cheap easy mechanical ways around this type of problem.

If you fire everyone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796051)

You have an unmanned data center. Well done AOL!

I don't get it (4, Insightful)

evilviper (135110) | about a year ago | (#43796157)

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.

Re:I don't get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43797135)

Amazon has the Kiva system (which has done wonders to reduce mistakes and theft. They love it so much they bought the company and plan to implement it in all of their warehouses.) and Walmart has fully automated palletizers that load trucks as efficiently as possible to reduce fuel spending. And that's not even the entirety of it, but rather the most newsworthy automation efforts of those two companies in particular. Make no mistake, those two are looking for every possible automation opportunity they can, and that includes fully automated warehouses. And if you think that isn't possible, I've got some Japanese factories I'd love to show you.

Personally, I think it's moot to even talk about whether or not it's worth the effort. Apparently some big companies have already considered that much and think that it is at least worth some research. If any of the rack monkeys on slashdot have some sort of insight that those guys don't, I'd be surprised. I think the benefit can be found in reduced downtime (and subsequently reduced redundancy), fewer mistakes and better process control. Whether or not it results in fewer jobs remains to be seen, really.

who cleans up when the robots drop stuff (1)

swschrad (312009) | about a year ago | (#43796337)

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 opportunity.

One word: cables (1)

EvilSS (557649) | about a year ago | (#43796427)

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

Re:One word: cables (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#43796667)

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.

Re:One word: cables (1)

EvilSS (557649) | about a year ago | (#43797115)

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 connectors. RJ45 connectors are difficult with human fingers. SFPs are easier to handle, but also easier to not seat properly. There is also the problem of orientation of the jacks on different equipment. Then you have to teach the robot to deal with your servers models, switch models, interconnects, etc. That's a lot of learning.

While I agree it would be a fun engineering problem to solve (for someone else!) I don't think it's been solved already. In reality it would require changes to all the hardware going in to make it robot friendly. Places like Google, who already design their own standardized hardware and have massive numbers of virtually identical servers could do it (and it might make sense for them to) but for most enterprise datacenters it would be almost impossible today. Hardware vendors would have to adapt and start to standardize on things that would make their gear robot friendly first.

Re:One word: cables (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43797005)

the task of cabling becomes remarkably easy if you consider having the cable and connectors adapt to the robot instead of the other way around.

Re:One word: cables (1)

EvilSS (557649) | about a year ago | (#43797657)

But then you end up with an economic chicken & egg problem. "We need you to change all of the industry standard cables to support our robots, which are not being sold yet because we can't work with the industry standard cables. Wait, why are you laughing? It's sure to be the next big thing! We just need you to refit an entire industry to our robots first! Promise!"

Considered for SAGE (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#43796685)

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 the day without another tube problem. Since the machine had a dual CPU for self-checking, any problem would cause an immediate stop.)

Just need 1 man, and a dog. (3, Funny)

chiark (36404) | about a year ago | (#43796773)

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.

tape silos (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43796779)

Tape silos are already automated and robotic. I imagine that future designs would look like them.

error rates (1)

FranTaylor (164577) | about a year ago | (#43796849)

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.

But we've had them for years (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43797469)

"Robotics are beginning to be integrated into data center management"

Beginning? We've had an ATL attached to our mainframe for decades. It's been so long that the technology is now moving into obsolescence. We just decomissioned the mainframe ATL. We still have an ATL attached to a Unix system for an imaging system, but I'm wondering how much longer that will last.

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