Microsoft is developing an AI system that analyzes data from a range of sources and generates alerts for data center and operations teams to prevent or mitigate the impact of safety incidents.
A complementary but related system, also in development, attempts to detect and predict impacts in data center build schedules.
Data centers, which run the apps, websites, and services that billions of people use every day, can be dangerous places for the workers who build and maintain them.
Workers sometimes have to handle data center electrical equipment while they work. They can be exposed to chemicals such as chlorine, which is used as a disinfecting agent for water circulating through liquid cooling systems for computers and servers.
In June 2015, five people had to be hospitalized after a chlorine gas leak at Apple’s data center in Maiden, North Carolina.
Although data centers are now more secure than they used to be. But in search of forward-looking solutions, some tech giants say they are exploring how artificial intelligence can be applied to prevent safety issues.
A Microsoft spokesperson said: These initiatives are in the early testing stages. It is expected to begin expanding into our production environments later this year.
Meta also claims to be looking at ways that AI can predict how its data centers will operate under harsh environmental conditions that may lead to unsafe working environments.
The company says it develops physical models to simulate extreme conditions and submits this data to AI models responsible for optimizing power consumption, cooling, and airflow across its servers.
A Meta spokesperson said: “We have important operational data from our data centers. There are sensors built into servers, racks, and data halls. Each server and network device takes on different workloads and consumes different amounts of power. It also generates different amounts of heat and creates different amounts of airflow in data centers.
He added, “Our infrastructure team collects all the data from each server and then develops AI models that can customize our servers and racks in data centers and send workloads to these servers to improve performance and efficiency.”
Microsoft joins Google and Meta
Companies have motivations beyond safety to ensure data centers stay in peak condition, as outages are expensive, and they are becoming more frequent.
- A third of data center owners and operators admitted that they experienced a significant outage in the past 12 months. One in six claimed that the interruption cost them more than $1 million.
- Meta has more than 20 data centers in operation around the world. Including new projects with a combined cost of $1.6 billion.
- Meanwhile, Microsoft operates more than 200 data centers. It says it is on track to build 50 to 100 new data centers each year for the foreseeable future.
AI also promises to create opportunities for energy – and thus cost savings – in the data center, which is another attractive aspect for businesses. Google claimed in 2018 that AI systems developed by its subsidiary DeepMind were able to save energy by an average of 30% compared to the previously recorded energy usage of its data centers.
Microsoft and Meta now use AI for similar power tuning purposes. In late 2021, Microsoft launched a method for measuring and mitigating unusual energy and water use events within the data center. This is done using telemetry data from electrical and mechanical devices.
The company also uses AI-based approaches to identify and fix power issues in the data center. You also use it for optimal server positioning to reduce wasted power, network, and cooling capacity.
Reducing the environmental footprint is an added advantage of energy-regulating AI systems. Data centers consumed about 1% of global electricity demand and contributed to 0.3% of total carbon dioxide emissions in 2020.
Microsoft previously stated that it plans to run all of its data centers using renewable energy by 2025. Meta claimed to have achieved this milestone in 2020.