Written by Mitch Fonseca, SVP & GM, Data Center Services, Cyxtera on September 14, 2020

Preparing for a Lights-Out Data Center

2020 has been an unprecedented year. The COVID-19 crisis and the need for long-term social distancing measures have forced enterprises to rethink how they access critical systems, like data centers. We’ve seen increased demand for solutions that address the new reality - options like flexible and scalable on-demand infrastructure, and reliable, secure remote access solutions that replace a traditional on-premises perimeter with a Software Defined Perimeter. But the pandemic has also forced organizations to begin planning for a lights-out data center - a data center managed entirely by automated systems. As IT leaders start to plan for the rest of 2020 and beyond, let's examine what they need to be thinking about to be prepared to be lights-out.

Operational improvement

Organizations need to start by focusing on continuous improvement for the design and operation of both the data center and the end user experience. Make sure operational planning aligns with end-user demands and needs. The  design and planning of the data center needs to be treated as a machine, with full-fault tolerance built into it. Technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) should definitely be incorporated for things like predicting equipment wear and tear, regulating temperatures, or predicting where human intervention may be required. It’s also important to consider things like Digital Camera Image (DCiM) toolsets and the resilience or fault-tolerance of these toolsets. Proactively schedule routine preventative maintenance checks and services. Get organized with detailed contingency planning, including automated response and resolution.

Human-less, not secure-less

As data centers become more and more lights-out, security should be a priority (and a benefit) of reduced human intervention. Humans are the biggest single cause of outages and issues within a data center. By reducing the number of human interactions, you automatically reduce the risk of human error. In addition to eliminating human-based errors, data center operators should be deploying remote, secure access controls like a software-defined perimeter (SDP). SDP provides the ability to enforce least privilege access to third party support and allows access to specific systems included in a contractor’s support agreement without giving them wide access to the network. For example, RF code wireless temperature/humidity sensors inside a data center are supported by specialized service providers. By implementing a SDP, you’re limiting the contractor’s access to those servers without opening up other building management system platforms. 

Centralized interconnection

Centralizing interconnection is also important as central interconnection areas can be accessed and managed quickly by minimal staff. Once basic networking is in place and all essential components of the facility or gear are connected, software defined controls can be layered in easily to allow for remote management. Additionally, data center development that does not include a software defined network component may need to look at vendors who offer hardware-based automated cross connect managers with remote access to change physical connections.

With centralized interconnection and improved operations, we may also see improvements in capacity management (more space of workload bearing equipment which can be built higher and tighter by limiting or eliminating human interaction), improved efficiency (cooling / humidity), improved safety, lower costs (eliminating human based support such as break rooms, offices, etc.) and improved uptime, all of which lead to improved end user experiences.

Conclusion

As robotics and AI advances make the elimination of full time staff more practical, companies will begin to embrace the lights-out data center. We still have people who like to tuck in their data centers at night, but with enhanced remote capabilities to manage outages, changes, and simple tasks, the long term cost benefits and efficiencies offered by these new technologies should encourage organizations to embrace the concept in full or in part based on their level of comfort. Technology is already here to enable a more lights out operation. There just needs to be a shift in the mindsets and culture of data center users.