Augmented Reality Will Transform Data Center Management
Augmented reality will combine the data rich monitoring environment of modern data centers with their complex physical configurations, increasing efficiency and reliability.
Augmented reality is not a new idea, or even a new technology, but over the last couple of years, AR has become increasingly prominent, while the technology has advanced to the point at which it offers practical solutions both in the consumer space and in industry. With Apple’s release of ARKit, Google’s work on Tango, and the enthusiastic adoption of these platforms by developers, it’s fair to say that augmented reality will have an increasing impact over the next few years.
One area in which augmented reality will influence workflows is the data center. Data centers are a vital part of the modern economy. They are fast moving environments with stringent reliability and availability requirements. Data centers produce massive amounts of data from monitoring and security tools, and that data has to be processed and displayed in ways that are useful to data center managers, planners, engineers, and technicians.
The conceptual foundations of AR in the data center have already been laid by researchers. In 2012, Panduit Corp was granted a patent covering Augmented Reality Data Center Visualization that specifies the use of augmented reality for a system that presents up-to-date information to key personnel in a useful format. Suzy Deffeyes considered the utility and application of augmented reality in her paper Mobile augmented reality in the data center
Typically, data center visualization takes the form of dashboards, feeds, spreadsheets, or even old-fashioned but useful terminal output that must be interpreted and then contextualized in a complex physical environment that brings together servers and their components, elaborate software stacks, internal and external networking, and cooling and power systems.
There is ample scope for the introduction of a new interface paradigm capable of combining the digital output of monitoring and planning applications with the physical space of data centers.
Consider a simple example: a technician on the data center floor receives a notification that a server has developed a fault. The first problem is to find the server in question: augmented reality might provide directions and then overlay a graphic highlighting the server in question.
Additionally, the augmented reality environment might include graphics and information vital to diagnosing the cause of the issue, including server configuration, monitoring output, data and power information about the server and the rack it occupies, and so on. Currently, this information might be displayed on a tablet or smartphone, but augmented reality wearables could provide hands-free information displays that update in real time as the technician works.
It’s not just issue resolution that stands to benefit from augmented reality. Training, education, and process validation are also potential applications. Data centers are heterogeneous environments and mistakes made by technicians can cause security or availability problems if strict protocols aren’t followed. AR-displayed checklists and process documentation could be fed directly to technicians, minimizing the likelihood of error.
Augmented reality devices and applications are emerging technologies and it will be some time before they become as ubiquitous as their potential usefulness suggests they should be. But I have no doubt that over the next few years augmented reality will become an important component of efficient data center management.