Rube Goldberg Meets the Data Center

Rube Goldberg Meets the Data CenterI never cease to be amazed at people’s ability to look at a familiar object and see a whole new use for it. For most people the best, albeit fictional, example of this is Dr. Emmett Brown’s repurposing of a DeLorean into a time machine to take Marty back to the future so he could experience a few awkward moments with his future mother and hook his parents up. For you more culturally savvy readers, these solutions also bring to mind the cartoons of Rube Goldberg where simple tasks were accomplished using incredibly complex combinations of various machines. I was reminded of this type of ingenuity when I read that IBM was using Roombas—you know those little robot vacuum cleaners that freak the average dog right out—in their data centers.

At first I thought that they might be using these as a cheaper alternative to a cleaning crew to keep the lobby nice and spiffy, but what the guys at Big Blue have done is redesign these little scourges of dust bunnies to include video monitors and sensors. In making these modifications they use these little self propelled bathroom scale lookalikes to capture data that enables them to map out the facility to identify hot spots or areas of inefficient cooling. While I don’t know if this opens up new markets for the vacuum cleaner industry—Dyson is rumored to be working on a competitive model featuring their “ball” technology. I’m not sure what that is but Mrs. Crosby swears by it—it does make you wonder how they came up with the idea in the first place.

Legend has it that Euripades discovered the ability to measure things via water displacement when he sat down in his tub and saw the water rise. Upon making his discovery, he leapt from his tub and ran naked down the street yelling, “Eureka, I have found it”. I’m not sure who at IBM had the Eureka moment while watching a vacuum cleaner commercial, but I‘m guessing it involved a lot less nudity. Whatever its origins, the Roomba data center monitor is probably just the first, but not the last technological repurposing that we see in the industry.

As Microsoft has endeavored to demonstrate, renewable energy sources are not limited to wind orsolar, but biomass (also known as sewage treatment) or whatever else might strike your fancy. We are only limited by our imagination. Even items that are commonly found in today’s data centers are often used for purposes other than those originally intended. Monitors used to keep track of operational functions via BMS systems and DCiM are probably just as often used to catch the highlights on SportsCenter; and doesn’t a hot aisle offer an alternative means of re-heating last night’s tuna noodle casserole for the hungry technician? Back before TC 9.9 when we had “precision cooling”, who didn’t keep a six-pack under the raised floor?

This repurposing strategy can even work in reverse. Take pre-fabricated data centers for instance. Remove a UPS or two, add a couch and a couple area rugs and you’ve got a product that immediately threatens the manufactured housing industry. I’m not saying that this opens up new kinds of opportunities to the pre-fab industry, but it might be worth considering if business already slows down. Really isn’t repurposing just the realization of the old bromide about making lemonade if life gives you lemons?

Seeing one thing and envisioning another is a skill that we have long embraced. The folks at IBM’s foray into the world of robot vacuum cleaners is emblematic of the can do attitude that has made this country great. I look forward to what other uses for common home appliances can be of benefit to our industry. Here at Compass, for example, we’ve been able to accomplish some amazing things with our margarita machine. In the future that roof mounted DX machine may also be able to supply the drinks at the company Christmas party.