Data Center robotics can help us understand innovation a little better. We’ve already asked this question many times. What is innovation? What does it mean to build/sell/buy something “new”. And inevitably, as we ask this question, we leave a door open to interpretation. “innovation is in the eye of the beholder” I sometimes add. What seems obvious with consumer products however, is also true of technological products for businesses ; sometimes, “new” means “only better/faster” and it doesn’t have to be bad … this should make you think next time you shrug you shoulders while hearing “incremental innovation”.
What innovation really means: the data center robotics example
What prompted this blog post is a piece found at datacenterknowledge.com which describes the IT of tomorrow. Or rather, it was some of the comments underneath (sometimes rather harsh) about whether that was or wasn’t new.
The bone of contention was the following: while the author contends that future datacenters will be fully automated, the illustration of the Google datacenter he chose was dismissed by one of the readers as not being that new. True enough, I delved into Youtube and found quite a few old videos describing fully automated storage robots like this one:
And fully automated IT centers aren’t to be seen in the future, they are already up and running as in Amazon glacier’s example. In this instance, backup and retrieval is performed by Amazon using a robotic tape library: “when you make a retrieval request, a robotic arm grabs the tape with your data in, slots the tape into a drive, and then your data will be transferred to a hard drive ready for you to access”. All is done in a 3-5 hour window and the principle is that you pay for data retrieval, while data storage is dirt cheap.
Yet, what Bill Kleyman describes is something entirely different. Instead of small robotised data storage room, he believes that whole IT centers could be robotised on a massive scale, therefore making it possible for vertical as opposed to horizontal expansion. This is a new revolution. Well… maybe.
I first visited Whirlpool’s washing machine automated vertical storage warehouse in … 1986! Robots were moving up and down the alleys at breakneck speed and were able to store products and parts anywhere and very fast indeed. Whether you can apply this to an IT center makes no doubt to me, and is certainly a step forward in better and faster IT management. Once again, innovation isn’t always about disruption, it is often about making things better.
Innovation in the data center: how robotics is changing the game
The Robot-Driven Data Center of Tomorrow Tape libraries, like this one at Google, provide an example of the use of robotics to manage data centers. Robotic arms (visible at the end of the aisle) can load and unload tapes. There is an evolution happening within the modern data center. Huge data center operators like Google and Amazon are quietly redefining the future of the data center. This includes the integration of robotics to create a lights-out, fully automated data center environment. Let’s draw some parallels. There’s a lot of similarity between the modern warehouse center and a state-of-the-art data center. There is an organized structure, a lot of automation, and the entire floor plan is built to be as efficient as possible. Large organizations like Amazon are already using highly advanced control technologies – which include robotics – to automate and control their warehouses.