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IBM Uses Roomba Robots To Plot Data Center Heat

samzenpus posted about 10 months ago | from the temp-bots dept.

Robotics 57

judgecorp writes "IBM is using robots based on iRobot Create, a customizable version of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, to measure temperature and humidity in data centers. The robot looks for cold zones (where cold air may be going to waste instead of being directed to the servers) and hotspots (where the air circulation may be breaking down. IBM is putting the robots to commercial use at partners — while EMC is at an early stage on a strikingly similar project."

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57 comments

Roomba proves it (4, Funny)

DickBreath (207180) | about 10 months ago | (#43899985)

Roomba proves that robots can revolutionize domestic cat transportation.

Now they just need to provide a way for the cat to steer the darned thing and provide a more comfortable surface for the cat to sit on.

Re:Roomba proves it (4, Funny)

Mystakaphoros (2664209) | about 10 months ago | (#43900789)

Roomba proves that robots can revolutionize domestic cat transportation. Now they just need to provide a way for the cat to steer the darned thing and provide a more comfortable surface for the cat to sit on.

Allowing cats to steer robots is a sure fire way to doom us all.

Re:Roomba proves it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43908371)

I, for one...

Re:Roomba proves it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900791)

A more comfortable surface is easy, just make the Roomba big enough for their humans to sit on.

Temperature probes are pretty cheap (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#43900009)

I wonder how big a data center has to be before this is cheaper than just putting in a lot of temperature probes.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

spamchang (302052) | about 10 months ago | (#43900053)

It's probably the integration of the temp probes (and physical nature of temp probes) that gets to be a hassle. I mean, you need a separate probe for each point...so you need some way to daisy chain that data before you end up with a trunk-sized batch of insulated metal wire spaghetti.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (2)

spamchang (302052) | about 10 months ago | (#43900073)

But having said that, you only get the air temp on the floor. This does you no good w.r.t. 3D air flows where you could have bad heat traps above ground (hot air rises, yo).

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 10 months ago | (#43900103)

You can hang probes into racks. I do this already.

I just can't imagine that the roomba cost is much cheaper than the probes and their monitoring device, until you have a lot of them.

Pulling lots of cable is easy, already going to be doing that in a datacenter. Monitoring is dead easy, these things are built for that and nagios/$MONITORING_SOFTWARE_YOU_LIKE can alert as needed.

Imagine harder (5, Insightful)

oGMo (379) | about 10 months ago | (#43900387)

Why can't you imagine this? One of these costs $130, off-the-shelf. They have eleven total, all around the world, which is $1430, off-the-shelf. Add in some more for the sensor setup etc ... maybe even double or triple it, if you're feeling generous. I imagine one guy can write a program that takes care of all of these. How much do your rack probes per data center cost? How much to install all of them? How much does the monitoring device cost?

Then, how long and how many people does it take to test them all regularly after they're installed? And how hard are they to install on an existing data center, vs dropping one of these on the floor, slapping some RFID stickers around, and walking away?

I imagine this is a trial run and IBM could probably come up with an even cheaper bulk solution if they need to. But it sure sounds like a lot less overall .. just the installation and maintenance probably makes it worth it, even if the price is more (which I doubt).

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

ph0rk (118461) | about 10 months ago | (#43900675)

So, I haven't been in an IBM content hosting server room in around 13 years, but I think you far underestimate how large they can be.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

jon3k (691256) | about 10 months ago | (#43901165)

Imagine you had a couple hundred thousand square foot in a large datacenter. Now imagine how many probes you need.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900213)

TFA even has pictures for you, ya moron, it has an adjustable pole for the temp censor.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (5, Funny)

camperdave (969942) | about 10 months ago | (#43900333)

Is a temp censor one who only blocks out offensive material for a short time?

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (2)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | about 10 months ago | (#43900455)

Is a temp censor one who only blocks out offensive material for a short time?

I was thinking you could just censor heat and thereby save a bundle in cooling costs...

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900569)

No, offensive temperatures. Like Texas.

That's why Dell can't use them.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

Molochi (555357) | about 10 months ago | (#43900775)

Wouldn't using a temp censor make the datacenter all smokey and add heat to it?

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (2)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 10 months ago | (#43900399)

But having said that, you only get the air temp on the floor. This does you no good w.r.t. 3D air flows where you could have bad heat traps above ground (hot air rises, yo).

How do you do it right now? I mean, if you only have one probe, it can only probe the location.

Oh right, you use multiple probes. Guess what? Roomba can have multiple probes as well - like putting them up on a pole and having and getting the temperature vs. height.

The only real difference is that Roomba can only get current temperature where it's at - everywhere else is historical temperature.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900799)

If folks RTFA, it has a pole with arrayed temperature sensors.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

swb (14022) | about 10 months ago | (#43904651)

I think the principal value of fixed probes over these is that you get a picture of the entire data center's heating and cooling environment at once.

It's a lot easier to forecast the weather if you have N weather stations with simultaneous reporting than one guy driving around taking measurements.

I would imagine a real-time whole-datacenter heat map could be used along with automatic HVAC management to allow colder sections to warm and cool warmer sections with less overall power than a more manual fixed temperature system.

The robot idea I think is worthwhile as an adjunct, sanity checking existing sensors and possibly even providing real-time video and audio monitoring.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43901589)

RTFA Did you see the images where there is a 2 m high stick on top of the roomba covered in sensors? Capturing 3d airflows.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43903017)

...it's on a pole.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (2)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about 10 months ago | (#43901225)

You can get i2c digital temperature sensors which lets you put a whole mess on a single bus. But... if you can put 64 of them on an 8' pole and run it around on a Roomba, you can create a 3D temperature map. You can even get all crazy and have 3D grid of sensors on the Roomba and review the impact of air disruption as you move around!

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

Z00L00K (682162) | about 10 months ago | (#43902203)

Just add a pile of Dallas DS18B20 [maximintegrated.com] 1-wire sensors.

But if you want to measure other things too, or want a method which doesn't require much effort to apply then the Roomba way is interesting since you can just set it up in the area you want to monitor in a few minutes, leave it for a week and then come back to a well-swept room with a decent amount of data.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 10 months ago | (#43900181)

You can move the roomba data center to data center though as a fleet. With temperature probes you have to factor in the labor cost as well in installing them and configuring the reporting software.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900183)

Probably not very big if you want to do things like asset tracking as well. And it sweeps as it goes :)

Setup time could be a big issue too. You can drop one of these in a room and it is done. Or spend weeks planing out a wire mesh to get it just right then to have to tear it all up and do it again when you move your racks around 3 years from now. Then on top of that you could in theory build a '3d' model. For example maybe the vent is cool but near the floor it is warm (indicating low airflow).

Automation almost always beats out manual every time. They were pushing a cart around... It is now consistent and automatic. Meaning they can even make trend charts out of it (perhaps in the middle of the day something is heating up). So instead of 1-2 days between runs they can have it roving around all the time...

You are looking at maybe 500-1000 bucks worth of kit there. It would be easy to blow that with 2-3 contractors pulling wire plus materials.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (0)

camperdave (969942) | about 10 months ago | (#43900329)

The "temperature probe" could be an IR camera pointing up. As the Roomba moves around the room, it would be scanning a floor to ceiling vertical column, so it will detect the whole room, more or less.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 10 months ago | (#43900497)

How would an IR camera pointing up be able to tell you the vertical position of a hot or cold spot? Wouldn't it just register the average temperature of the column?*

*please note these are not rhetorical questions designed to belittle your idea. I worry I have to point this out.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (2)

PRMan (959735) | about 10 months ago | (#43900295)

But the Roomba's guarantee a wire-free floor and that all the tiles are in place... :)

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900493)

Not to mention a clean floor.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

tompaulco (629533) | about 10 months ago | (#43904685)

I wonder how big a data center has to be before this is cheaper than just putting in a lot of temperature probes.

I would estimate for any data center larger than zero square feet it would be two orders of magnitude cheaper to put in temperature probes.

Re:Temperature probes are pretty cheap (1)

canturk (2940925) | about 10 months ago | (#43906489)

There are a lot of great answers related to this post, and maybe I can share a bit of first-hand info on this as well--I am one of the folks behind this robotic data center monitoring project, and it is nice to see some of the key challenges and opportunities highlighted in the comments. We use static sensors as well for data centers, and there is trade off among the temporal/spatial density you get with static sensors, the cost of deployment, maintenance and measurement reliability. The robot can give you a full body scan of the data center by sampling at every tile (at several verticals), however, it obviously cannot be everywhere at once. Then, if you decide for finer spatial/temporal granularity, you can think of deploying static sensor based solutions. There are many cool technologies that also help with this approach. Some challenges with sensors are, the cost, maintenance and measurement reliability as the scales go up. One important point to make with the robot is, you can set it down and let it run, w/o any prior installation, as it discovers the data center layout and performs the measurements as it moves along, by navigating the tile structure.

I for one welcome our new robot.... (3, Funny)

cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | about 10 months ago | (#43900043)

Ahhh, nevermind.. .anyone with a new robot meme? Bite my shiny metal.....

Re:I for one welcome our new robot.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900165)

Ahhh, nevermind.. .anyone with a new robot meme? Bite my shiny metal.....

How about robots with bees up their butts and when they fart they shoot bees at you?

Re:I for one welcome our new robot.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43901423)

How about robots with bees up their butts and when they fart they shoot bees at you?

I have mod points right now. The only problem is I can't find (Score:0 Wait, what?)

Re:I for one welcome our new robot.... (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 10 months ago | (#43900563)

and then they started attacking humans. Soon, FloorNet had us on the run. That's when we built a time machine to send someone back to kill the inventor of the Roomba.

Re:I for one welcome our new robot.... (2)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 10 months ago | (#43901357)

and then they started attacking humans. Soon, FloorNet had us on the run. That's when we built a time machine to send someone back to kill the inventor of the Roomba.

Well iRobot, [irobot.com] the company that makes Roomba, does make most of its money from defense contracts.

In other news (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900375)

In other news, IBM just fired 1000 janitors. When asked why, they stated "there was just no roomba for them."

Re:In other news (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 10 months ago | (#43900505)

That sucked.

Re:In other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900915)

Of course it sucked. We're talking iRobot here, not Microsoft.

Re:In other news (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43901131)

Yes, the only product Microsoft makes that doesn't suck is their vacuum robot.

Did they not already know? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900525)

Did they not already know where the heat comes from in a data center?

Re:Did they not already know? (1)

Another, completely (812244) | about 10 months ago | (#43902797)

Did they not already know where the heat comes from in a data center?

No. And cooling what doesn't need it is expensive.

Generally, where the exhaust goes gets hot, and where the intakes are doesn't get so hot, but beyond that there are a lot of variables. If you can put the right amount of cooling in the right place, you can save energy and maybe even increase the life expectancy of your chillers.

Just add spinning blades... security ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43900883)

Security against intruders. ... must ... protect ... the ... machines... beep... ... must ... protect ... the ... machines...

Data rate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#43901537)

Suppose one Roomba per 100^2 meter space. Moving 1 m/s and with perfect coverage (yeah, right -- with a Riomba?), that's 10,000 sec = 3 hrs to cover the space on a 1x1m grid. Is that enough? Or does it only move on gradients -- and if so, how does it cover the space?

Re:Data rate (1)

canturk (2940925) | about 10 months ago | (#43906601)

The robot makes use of the tiled raised floor of the data center and navigates tile-by-tile during initial layout discovery. It uses a frontier-based navigation, instead of the standard navigation from the device. It completes a fuil run once there is no visitable tiles left. You can find some of the details on the speed, which are not bad, from the ICRA and the ICAC papers.

Nice computer you've got there (1)

scdeimos (632778) | about 10 months ago | (#43902673)

I see the computer sitting on top of the Roomba in the photo is an Acer. What a shame IBM sold all of its consumer compute equipment off to Lenovo.

Trending? (1)

tompaulco (629533) | about 10 months ago | (#43904783)

Does IBM not care about trending? If a certain area over the last five to minutes has started getting warmer, it is time to direct air over there. Unfortunately, a roomba can't make it around the whole data center to collect this kind of data every minute or every 30 seconds, so you can't collect trending data.
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