Big Tech Taps AI to Advance Data Center Safety, Efficiency

Data centers can be hazardous to the workers that build and maintain them, with exposure to live electrical wires and dangerous chemicals part of the job. Now tech firms including Microsoft and Meta Platforms are exploring how artificial intelligence can be used to make data centers safer for employees. Microsoft is working on an AI system that triggers alerts to prevent or mitigate dangerous incidents, while Meta is also analyzing ways AI can optimize data centers operating under extreme environmental conditions in order to prevent safety hazards.

Meta tells TechCrunch “it has been developing physical models to simulate extreme conditions and introducing this data to the AI models responsible for optimizing power consumption, cooling, and airflow across its servers,” and is collecting “operational data from our data centers, in some areas at high frequency with built-in sensors in servers, racks, and in our data halls.”

In addition to its alert messaging, Microsoft also has “a complementary but related system” under development that seeks to “detect and predict impacts to data center construction schedules,” writes TechCrunch, quoting a Microsoft spokesperson saying both initiatives are “in early testing phases and are expected to begin expanding into our production environments later this year.”

“In June 2015, five people had to be taken to a hospital after a chlorine gas leak at an Apple data center in Maiden, North Carolina,” according to TechCrunch, reporting that subsequent to that incident steps had been taken industry-wide to make data centers “safer than they used to be.”

In addition to safety precautions, costly outages are another incentive to keep data centers operating optimally. As data centers become more complex, outages are “becoming more frequent,” writes TechCrunch, citing a 2020 study by consulting firm Uptime Institute that says “a third of data center owners and operators admitted to experiencing a major outage over the past 12 months,” with one in six claiming the outage ”cost them more than $1 million,” an increase over 2019.

“Meta has more than 20 data centers in operation around the world, including new projects in Texas and Missouri estimated to cost $1.6 billion combined. Microsoft, meanwhile, manages more than 200 data centers, and says it’s on pace to build between 50 to 100 new data centers each year for the foreseeable future,” TechCrunch says.

AI has also proven effective in reducing energy costs. In 2018, Google reported an average savings of about 30 percent by applying DeepMind AI to data center energy solutions.

Last week, Google Cloud announced it is updating its Google Distributed Cloud portfolio to allow customers to tap its selection of AI and machine learning services for use in their own data centers, as per ZDNet.