How Colo Data Centers Provide a ‘Lights Out’ Experience

A day may come when data centers are autonomous enough that humans no longer need to set foot inside of them.

A day may come when data centers are autonomous enough that humans no longer need to set foot inside of them.   

But for now, the fully automated data center is a pipe dream for the vast majority of modern enterprises. So when we talk about “lights-out” data centers, what we really mean is any data center that minimizes the involvement of on-site staff.  

This is not the same as outsourcing compute and storage to a cloud provider. After all, not every business cares to forfeit ownership of its IT equipment—whether for security and compliance reasons, or just because they prefer to have a greater level of control over certain assets. 

Colocation data centers provide a desirable middle ground, enabling businesses to circumvent the upfront costs of building a data center from scratch and avoid the additional expenses of setting up and managing power, connectivity, space, cooling and other aspects of a data center facility. They still get what essentially amounts to an on-premises data center but at a much lower total cost of ownership.  

Just as importantly, businesses get the closest thing currently in existence to a lights-out data center in the form of remote hands and data center operators who remove the need to deploy onsite IT staff.

What is a lights-out data center?

A lights-out data center is a data center that is optimized for remote management. The name comes from the idea that you can “keep the lights out” since most of the management happens off-site. More simply, who needs lights when no one’s home? 

In some people’s mind, this translates to a machine-operated data center, or what some industry spectators have come to call “Data Center as a Machine.” Realistically, though, the overwhelming majority of data centers still require human intervention on a daily basis. The dexterous robotics that would be needed to fully automate data center tasks are still prohibitively expensive, and the risks of not having operational staff within proximity of the “dark” data center are too great.

What a lights-out data center really looks like

Currently, the best example of a functional lights-out data center is the colocation data center. In addition to space, power, connectivity, cooling and an operations (or “facilities”) team that manages and maintains these amenities, colocation tenants can also work with “remote hands.” This team of on-site IT staff works for the colocation facility on behalf of the tenant. 

In other words, remote hands can perform basic IT tasks, including, but not limited to: 

  • Rebooting devices.
  • Swapping out hard drives. 
  • Replacing failed power supplies.
  • Installing new hardware for the tenant.

Remote hands in the colocation data center can also perform virtual IT troubleshooting so that tenants don’t have to deploy someone to the site when something goes wrong. Onsite technicians can get on the phone, or video chat, and work with a tenant’s remote IT experts to solve problems. 

Technically, onsite staff is not eliminated. As we previously stated, data center as a machine is still more concept than reality. Nevertheless, colocation facilities achieve a similar effect to an automated data center in the sense that tenants are not needed onsite to manage facilities or IT functions. Data Center infrastructure management (DCIM) and Data Center Management as a service (DMaaS) have made remote monitoring easier than ever. Meanwhile, remote hands provide around-the-clock support to handle any necessary onsite tasks for tenants as they arise.

Flexibility is key in the colocation data center

This isn’t to suggest that colocation data centers prohibit tenants from coming on site. Colocation data center management can be as hands-on or hands-off as the tenant desires. 

For example, some of Sabey Data Center’s customers rely exclusively on their own IT teams present at the colocation facility. This is particularly true of our facilities in central Washington, which are conveniently located just a few hours from Seattle and the surrounding suburbs. Other tenants prefer a “hybrid” approach; they rely partly on some of their on-site team members (perhaps during regular business hours) and partly on remote hands.

From sourcing cabinets for tenants to installing rack servers and carefully labeling every piece of equipment for each tenant, remote hands can offer end-to-end onsite support for tenants—or none at all, if that’s the preference. It may not be as futuristic as having highly intelligent robots do all the onsite work for you, but it’s just as convenient.

For more information about how Sabey Data Centers optimizes remote data center management for its tenants, get in touch with one of our experts today.

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