Does the Pandemic Signal a Transition to the Lights-Out Data Center?

There has been a longstanding debate in the IT industry about whether a “lights-out” data center is feasible or even desirable. Despite advances in remote monitoring and management tools, data centers have onsite staff to oversee operations and handle maintenance tasks. The Uptime Institute recommends that multiple qualified staff members remain onsite to ensure the highest levels of availability.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to maintain those best practices. Stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements have forced data center staff to find ways to do their jobs remotely. Many data centers have continued to operate with a skeleton crew or even no onsite staff at all.

Has the lights-out data center arrived? Not exactly. Most organizations plan to resume normal data center operations once the pandemic has abated. However, now is a good time to begin developing a strategy for moving toward the holy grail of the lights-out data center.

Benefits of the Lights-Out Data Center

From the early days of the mainframe, data centers have accommodated humans as well as IT equipment. The lights-out data center is designed for IT equipment only, eliminating the energy usage and environmental fluctuations associated with human access. Human IT resources can also be utilized more efficiently if they’re not spending their time babysitting equipment.

The lights-out data center offers other benefits as well. It minimizes the risk that someone will knock a power cord loose, unplug the wrong cable, or make some other mistake that causes downtime. With a fully locked-down data center, there’s little chance of theft or tampering with IT equipment. Insurance costs are lower due to reduced risk to both humans and machines.

Because humans don’t need access, the lights-out data center can be located anywhere. The site can be selected based upon climate, energy costs and other factors. The data center infrastructure can be optimized for robotics — aisle layouts and rack heights don’t have to be designed according to human scale.

Making the Transition

Given these benefits, why hasn’t the lights-out data center become the norm? For one thing, the tools needed for remote management, troubleshooting and maintenance have only recently become sophisticated enough to minimize the need for onsite staff. Few organizations have invested in these tools, and many business executives remain concerned that removing human responsibility will create operational risk.

To gain executive buy-in, IT teams should assess existing technologies and processes to identify gaps in tools or processes that would create roadblocks to a remotely managed data center. Any issues that have arisen during the pandemic would serve as a starting point for this analysis. Did remote IT staff have full visibility into data center operations while working remotely?

It’s also important to understand what’s realistic. The ideal lights-out data center has a standardized architecture, redundancy for all critical components and self-healing applications. It may be necessary to begin rearchitecting the data center before attempting to implement remote monitoring and automation. Migrating some workloads to the cloud or a co-location facility can help relieve some of the pressure on in-house IT teams.

How Technologent Can Help

Technologent has proven expertise in the design and implementation of IT automation solutions. We can help you evaluate tools for monitoring data center facilities, physical and virtual servers, network connectivity and more, and help you retool your processes to enable remote maintenance, management and troubleshooting. The true lights-out data center may be years away, but we can help you become better prepared for remote operations.

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