Dispelling Data Center Automation Myths

With a global pandemic underway and so many of us doing jobs, learning, gaming, and streaming entertainment from home, a lot of attention is being paid to data centers and the need for more of them. High demand will drive growth; growth will demand innovation. All signs point to that innovation coming in the form of advanced data center automation.

Analyst firm IDC recently surveyed 400 data center professionals. About one-third of respondents said they are investing in automation tools to address equipment and application challenges*. Logically, investments in tools like data center infrastructure management (DCIM) and technology asset management (TAM) software would follow a decade of heavy investment in hardware. Taking it to the next level, we’re in the early stages of layering on automation and artificial intelligence to support more remote monitoring, improved performance, and more uptime.

Despite these benefits, the words « automation » and « artificial intelligence » set off mental alarm bells for a lot of people. They shouldn’t. An automated data center isn’t a new concept, it’s just evolving to cover more aspects of the data center environment. Here’s what to expect and why « automation » is not a thing to be feared, but actually something to embrace.

Myth #1: Automation and artificial intelligence will eliminate jobs.

Automation doesn’t mean robots are taking over anytime soon. People aren’t going anywhere. Jobs won’t be eliminated, though a fundamental shift will occur in how data center folks perform their functions and in management solutions. Data center automation has the potential to make existing jobs more focused, meaningful, and free of tedium and stress over potential, small missteps, or missed opportunities. Automating the boring, repetitive functions so server admins are free to work on more challenging tasks has a lot of upsides.

Advancing technology applied to data centers is most likely going to create more jobs. You still need engineers, technicians, and consultants, and quite possibly more of them, to design the logic, build and install the systems, train operators, fine-tune the programs and, well into the future, service the systems.

Myth #2: We need automation to make up for the dearth of talented people to staff data centers.

Even with automation, we will still need people. (See Myth #1.) And with automation, we have more attractive jobs to offer and new management solutions and applications. Data center automation has the potential to be a huge draw and attract a more diverse group of prospects to jobs that have predominately been filled by men.

The more automation, machine learning, and AI become fundamental tools used in data center careers, the more attractive the industry becomes to young graduates. The same IDC survey of 400 data center IT and facilities professionals found most data center operators (about 35%) are hiring additional IT staff to manage new equipment and application challenges…not the other way around. Advanced technology can be parlayed into a recruiting advantage.

Myth #3: Automation is imminent.

The largest, most competitive players are dipping their toes into the data center automation arena now. These well-funded trendsetters will rely more quickly and more heavily on automation and AI to bring new, hyperscale facilities online and staff them efficiently. Through these deployments, technology will be delivered and tested. Adoption of these data center tools in smaller centers will roll out over 5 to 10 years. This process won’t happen overnight. It will take time.

The road ahead

Automation and AI applied to data centers is an exciting prospect with a lot of upsides and potential to improve the way we run data centers today. The pandemic definitely prompted the industry to re-evaluate operational processes and procedures in search of ways to streamline or extend teams to service other functions or facilities, as well as data center management. It has fast-tracked conversations on and adoption of data center automation tools to service more capacity and opened the door to what’s next, a future full of expansion with the tools to make it work

* IDC’s 2019 Datacenter Operational Survey: Key Findings and Implications for Multitenant and Colocation Datacenter Providers

Sudhir Kalra

SVP of Global Operations

Sudhir Kala Compass Datacenters leadershipSudhir Kalra serves as Compass’ SVP of Global Operations. Prior to joining Compass, Mr. Kalra served as Executive Director, Global Head of Enterprise Data Centers for Morgan Stanley. Prior to Morgan Stanley, Sudhir was Director, Corporate Real Estate and Services – Global Head of Engineering and Critical Systems at Deutsche Bank where he was responsible for mission-critical support of a real estate portfolio comprised of over 30 million square feet. Mr. Kalra began his career in technical roles at Securities Industry Automation Corporation supporting mission-critical operations for the NYSE and American Stock Exchange. Sudhir holds a BEEE from City University of NY and an MSEE from NYU-Poly University.