How Has Google Improved Its Data Center Management Through Artificial Intelligence


Historically, the staff at data centers adjusted the settings of the cooling systems to save energy costs. Times have changed, and this is the sweet age of AI where intelligent systems are on guard 24/7 and automatically adjust these settings to save costs.

Last year, a tornado watch prompted Google’s AI system to take control of its cooling plant in a data center and it modified the system settings. The staff at Google was initially perplexed because the changes did not make sense at the time. However, after a closer inspection, the AI system was found to be taking a course of action that reduced the energy consumption.

The increase and decrease in temperature, humidity levels, and atmospheric pressure force the change in weather conditions, and they can stir a storm. This weather data is used by Google’s AI to adjust the cooling system accordingly.

Joe Kava, Google’s Vice President of data centers, revealed Google’s use of AI for data centers back in 2014. At that time, Kava explained that the company designed a neural network to assess the data which is collected from its data centers and suggested a few strategies to enhance its processing. These suggestions were later utilized as a recommendation engine.

Kava explained that they had a single solution which would provide them with recommendations and suggestions. Afterward, the qualified staff at Google would begin modifying the pumps, heat exchangers, and chillers settings according to the results of AI-based recommendations. In the last four years, Google’s AI usage has evolved beyond Kava’s proposed vision.

Presently, Google is adopting a more aggressive approach. Instead of only dishing out recommendations to the human operators could act on them, the new system would itself go onto adjust the cooling settings. Jim Gao, a data engineer at Google, said that the previous system saved 20 percent energy costs and that the newer update would save up to 40 percent in energy consumption.

Little Adjustments

The tornado watch is only a single real-world instance of Google’s powerful AI and its impact on energy savings to an extent which was impossible with manual processes. While at first glance, the minor adjustments done by the AI-enabled system might not seem enough. However, the sum of each savings results in a huge total.

Kava explains that the detailing performed by the AI systems makes it matchless. For instance, if the temperature in the surroundings of the data center goes from 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 64 degree Fahrenheit while the wet-bulb temperature is unaffected, then an individual from the data center staff would not go think much about updating the settings of the cooling system. However, the AI-based system is not so negligent. Whether there is a difference of 4 degrees or 40 degrees, it keeps on going.

One interesting observation regarding the system was its noticeably improved performance during the launch of new data centers. Generally, new data centers are not efficient as they are unable to get the most of the available capacity.

From Semi to Full Automation

The transfer of critical tasks of the infrastructure to the AI system has its own implications and considerations.

With the increase of data and runtime, the AI system becomes more and more powerful and therefore, management also starts to have faith in the system, enough to give it some control. Kava explained that after some experimentation and results, slowly and gradually the semi-automated tools and equipment are replaced by fully automated tools and equipment.

Uniformity is the key to Google’s AI exploits; it is not possible to implement AI at such a massive scale without uniformity. All the data centers are designed to be distinct such that a single AI system is not possible to be integrated across all of them at the same time.

The cooling system of all the data centers are constructed for maximum optimization according to their geographical locations. Google has tasked its data engineering team to continuously look for any possible techniques for energy savings.

Additionally, ML-based models are trained according to their sites. The models have to be programmed to follow that site’s architecture. This process takes some time. However, Google is positive that this consumption of time would result in better results in the future.

The Fear of Automation

One major discussion point with this rapid AI automation and similar AI-based ventures is the future of “humans” or the replacement of the humans. Are the data center engineers from Google going to lose their jobs? This question contains one of mankind’s biggest fears regarding AI. As AI progresses, this uncertainty has crept into the minds of workers. However, Kava is not worried. Kava stated that Google still has staff at its disposal at data centers that is responsible for maintenance. While AI may have replaced some of their “chores”, the staff still has to perform corrective repairs and preventative maintenance.

Kava also shed some light on some of AI’s weaknesses. For instance, he explained that whenever the AI system finds itself in the midst of uncharted territory, it struggles to choose the best course of action. Therefore, it is unable to mimic the brilliance of humans in making astute observations. Kava concluded that it is recommended to use AI for cooling and other data center related tasks, though he cautioned that there must be some “human” presence to ensure that nothing goes amiss.

Final Thoughts

Google’s vision, planning, and execution of AI in its data centers are promising for other industries too. Gao’s model is believed to be applicable to manufacturing plants that also have similar setups like cooling and heating systems. Similarly, a chemical plant could also take advantage of AI and likewise, a petroleum refinery may use AI in the same way. The actual realization is that, in the end, such AI-based systems can be adopted by other companies to enhance their systems.

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