Autonomous data centers—sometimes called self-driving data centers—are drawing interest from all corners of IT. Large-scale international corporations see potential in automating more of their workforce to increase profits. Smaller, entrepreneurial startups have their targets set on automation to establish their presence and to more easily compete.
For better or worse, the IT world is clearly embracing automation already. Given the considerable advancements in artificial intelligence, industrial robotics and device interconnectivity, it’s only a matter of time until we see automation throughout our daily lives. In some ways we’ve already reached that point.
Greater Interest Around the Globe
The Age of Automation is already upon us. Although no data centers are fully automated at the time of this writing, many different companies are expressing interest. Various automated systems and services exist today.
- Scheduling and monitoring: You can use current technology to easily automate calendar- and timeline-oriented tasks.
- Regulatory compliance: Many systems provide automated measures to ensure compliance with all applicable standards, procedures and guidelines.
- Software and hardware upgrades: The internal software and hardware of a data center—which provide the bulk of its capability—are typically maintained, patched and updated through an autonomous protocol.
- Device configurations: Many data centers use automated systems to monitor server nodes and their configurations.
As useful as these automated systems are, they mark only the beginning of full-scale data center automation.
How Soon Will Autonomous Data Centers Become Mainstream?
When will autonomous data centers be common? In one word: soon.
Nearly the entire IT sector—and any industry that relies heavily on IT—is pushing toward more automation. We see it in the modern production line with industrial robotics, automated customer-service desks and virtual chatbots that provide technical support to end users.
Modern data centers aren’t using automation for convenience or luxury; they’re using it out of necessity. Given the quick pace of IT development in this century, it’s impossible to keep up with all innovations manually.
As a solution, many are adapting to the idea of data center automation through various phases. The process is similar to self-driving cars: Level 0 describes a car (or, in this case, a data center) with no automation whatsoever. Humans control every aspect of the vehicle or facility. Level 1 automates basic functions, such as cruise control. Although this capability lets the vehicle maintain a specific speed, a human driver still must handle steering.
Levels 2, 3 and 4 each increase the amount of automation until we reach Level 5, which marks the most automation. In the case of a vehicle, the human is simply along for the ride—just another passenger. In the case of a data center, Level 5 automation gives full control of day-to-day operations to programmable AI-driven robotics and automated systems. Skilled IT developers and senior-level company officials are free to focus on future innovations and business plans.
Primary Benefits of Autonomous Data Centers
Those who support data center automation highlight its numerous benefits, including the following:
- Decreased staffing needs: Larger companies can increase profitability by reducing their workforce through automation. New business startups and entrepreneurs can use automated systems to fill roles that would have otherwise gone unfulfilled.
- Lower costs: An often-cited benefit of data center automation is the lower cost of doing business. With fewer staff members to keep on payroll and the ability to assign remaining employees to more-meaningful tasks, the potential for reducing day-to-day costs are tremendous.
- Reduced errors: Humans produce errors. Even the most skilled and diligent workers are bound to make a mistake now and again. Depending on the scenario, errors could be costly to the business. An automated system will only make a mistake if it’s been erroneously programmed—by a human—in the first place. One that’s been coded with 100-percent accuracy will complete its assignments with absolute perfection every single time.
- Real-time response: Skilled staff members regularly adapt to new situations and projects on the fly, but going from one task to another still takes time. Robots and AI-driven systems can multitask, assume new activities and halt completed operations much faster than their human counterparts and with minimal worker intervention.
- Greater data security: Automated security systems can minimize the impact of a data breach or similar incident. Currently, manual systems require a human response and solution to patch the problem. This process can take hours, days or even weeks. Automated systems address such issues immediately and work in real time to fix security holes.
Data center automation has the potential to transform the niche of data storage and processing in a positive and long-lasting way. But there are some drawbacks to consider before committing to full-scale automation.
Disadvantages to Consider
Opponents of increased automation have some valid points, a number of which stand in direct opposition to the benefits that supporters outline.
- Less opportunity for employment: Proponents of data center automation often cite a reduction in staffing needs, but it could mean IT professionals will face a tougher time finding opportunities in their area of expertise. This reality is especially true for those who are trying to start their career with a local data center, as robots are taking over many entry-level jobs.
- Lower consumer confidence: Although automation is catching on in all areas, including among mainstream consumers, there remains a general lack of confidence in technology as a whole. It will subside in the coming years—especially as younger generations become more prominent—but it remains a considerable roadblock to full-scale data center automation.
- Possible system failure: Just like skilled employees are bound to make mistakes, highly sophisticated machinery is prone to malfunction. It might be years or decades down the road. Some might never experience a serious hardware failure at all. But those who do will find themselves relying on their human staff—and human response time—to put the system back online.
As you can see, the idea of a fully automated data center is an abstract concept. Humans will always be needed—at least for some time—to monitor and manage these systems.
How Humans Can Embrace the Idea of Data Center Autonomy
Although IT employees—particularly those working in the data center—might be worried about their jobs as automation increases, humans can work alongside these systems. Some menial tasks will indeed fall by the wayside, but don’t worry: roles in programming, maintenance and supervision will always be available for those who specialize in AI, robotics and similar technologies.
About the Author
Kayla Matthews is a technology writer and reporter, contributing to websites such as VentureBeat, Vice, MakeUseOf and TechnoBuffalo. Visit ProductivityBytes.com to read more recent posts by Kayla.