Project Title: Robotic Data Center

MicrosoftTeam 16035 Members:
Abdulrahman Alrashidi, industrial engineering
Daniel Bird, mechanical engineering
Jeni Dye, electrical and computer engineering
Dako Lesman, systems engineering
Marco Tipitto, mechanical engineering (team lead)

Sponsor: Microsoft

Design Program Experience Mixture of Internship, Job Interview

With a tool to justify the adoption of robotics and hardware automation, members of Team 16035 are helping make modern data centers truly modern while nailing down career options.

Modern data centers are massive complexes of multiple buildings containing hundreds of thousands of servers. A rack of 40 servers weighs in at 4,000 pounds. Each server includes a motherboard, power supplies and many hard drives, all of which require energy, cooling, monitoring, maintenance and repair.

Safety is difficult to ensure in a building generating 40 megawatts of heat and distributing 40 megawatts of electric power, where hundreds of disk drives fail each day and must be transported to shredders. Security is hard to guarantee in centers where each employee is surrounded by petabytes of customer data. And, in a business where accuracy is paramount yet focusing on the correct rack, server, disk drive or fiber optic cable can be mentally challenging, it’s easy to get the details wrong.

It’s no wonder the industry is under pressure to improve safety, security and accuracy while increasing cloud computing and data transmission speeds, advancements that typically call for robotics and hardware automation. But data centers have been slow to adopt these technologies.

Team 16035 is using Microsoft’s Power BI software to create a decision tool for incorporating robotics into data centers. The model compares cost and performance of various configurations to help Microsoft plan data centers with features such as robotic maintenance.

Users input requirements such as size and location, and the tool outputs optimal design specifications, projected costs and a 3-D SolidWorks representation of the data center. The model performs its calculations by retrieving official data from the internet and combining it with input and previously saved data.

With Design Day 2017 only weeks away, Team 16035 is putting finishing touches on the data center planning model, like adding a module that incorporates all 41,719 U.S. ZIP codes to use for obtaining climate information.

The quintet has had extensive contact with Microsoft, including a winter-break visit to company headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and a road trip to Quincy with collaborating employees during a six-hour snowstorm. The small town in central Washington is home to data centers operated by Microsoft, Intuit, Dell, Yahoo! and other tech giants, all drawn by abundant, low-cost renewable power and a high concentration of installed fiber optic.

“They’re really challenging us,” said team member Dako Lesman, adding that the project feels like “a combination job interview and internship.” Lesman and two teammates have Microsoft on their short lists of future employers.