Microsoft seeking robots to help automate datacenters

Redmond runs ad to hire fleshbag team manager to make the magic happen

Microsoft is on the hunt for a team manager with robotics experience to work on the automation of datacenter operations, just weeks after blaming an outage at its Australia facility on having insufficient staff available.

Broken cloud

Microsoft admits slim staff and broken automation contributed to Azure outage


Redmond-headquartered Microsoft listed the vacancy on its own site at the end of last week for a Hardware Automation Team Manager who is expected to play a pivotal role in "shaping the future of datacenter operations," the posting, spotted by DCD yesterday, states.

Highlighting the new role on a LinkedIn post, Microsoft's senior director of Datacenter Research Sean James revealed the company is creating a dedicated automation team. "Where are my automation people?" he asked, "I am creating a team dedicated to the automation of datacenter operations. We want our DCs to be safe and efficient!"

According to the listed requirements, the ideal candidate for team manager should have three or more years professional hands-on experience working on "automation and robotics for hardware equipment," in addition to the usual technical qualifications, experience in engineering or technical program management and in managing a team.

“This role demands not only a deep understanding of automation and robotics but also an astute sense of leadership, impeccable organizational skills, and exceptional communication prowess” the job listing states.

The role is notionally based at Microsoft’s Redmond site, but may be “up to 100 percent work from home”, according to the listing. The typical pay range for this role is given as $133,600 to $256,800, the company said, although San Francisco and New York are apparently special cases where the pay grade is $173,200 - $282,200 per year.

This latest interest in greater datacenter automation by Microsoft may or may not be related to an incident at the end of August in its antipodean site that took out its Australia East Azure cloud region for a while.

That outage was ultimately caused by problems with the power supply to the bit barn, but key infrastructure such as chiller units and storage at the site failed to come back online automatically, and Microsoft was forced to admit that it had too few people on site on the night of the outage.

Vlad Galabov, head of the Cloud and Data Center Research Practice at Omdia told us that datacenter operators have trialled the use of robots to assist in site management for years.

“We saw a proof-of-concept of robots for data hall inspection at a Telehouse datacenter in London years ago. I’m sure Microsoft have also been testing this for a while,” he said.

However, Galabov reckons that Omdia saw the topic of staffing cropping up as a concern in its annual survey of members of Afcom, the professional association for IT and datacenter professionals.

Personnel costs were particularly highlighted as a driver of increased opex by Afcom members during the last report, which is likely driven by demand for personnel exceeding supply, he added.

Microsoft isn’t the only company developing robotic automation for datcenter operations. As The Register has reported, attendees at the Open Compute Summit this week can see a prototype robotic server cart that is designed to move datacenter racks from location to location while they are still full of hardware.

In addition to datacenter automation, Microsoft is also looking to fill more exotic job roles. As reported last month, the company is seeking a “Principal Program Manager Nuclear Technology" to help it implement a strategy to power datacenters using small nuclear reactors.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to our request for more information on its plans for robotic automation in datacenters. ®

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