Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in the Data Center

We all remember that magical scene in the film “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise – in his role as Chief John Anderton – performed a big data crime analysis on a huge interactive touchscreen by combining various pieces of crime scene data to solve a murder case. The Star Trek fans among us, meanwhile, are still envious of Captain Picard for his holodeck even to this day.

While the Star Trek series were always ahead of their time with the technologies they showed, they were never too unrealistic with respect to practicability. Even though beaming hasn’t become a reality up until today (and probably won’t in the future either), there are plenty of exciting technologies that can be used in a similar way nowadays. The holodeck could become a reality soon too. Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies are increasingly becoming marketable and are being put to everyday, practical use.

The phrase “virtual reality” is used to refer to the presentation and simultaneous perception of reality and its physical properties in an interactive virtual environment that is computer-generated in real time. While all the elements are computer-generated in virtual reality, “augmented reality” is used to refer to computer-assisted enhancements to how we perceive reality. Often, this involves the visual presentation of information – in other words, supplementing images or videos with computer-generated additional information or virtual objects using fade-in and overlay functions.

With new VR headsets being available from 2016 onwards and VR technology being inexpensive to access through Google Cardboard technology, for instance, market analysts are expecting 2016 to be the year that VR technologies achieve a real breakthrough. Particularly in the gaming segment, the hardware and software sales market is set to record strong growth due to new end-user VR devices, such as the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR or HTC Vive. Indeed, market researchers are forecasting growth of more than 100% – from roughly USD 2.5 billion to more than USD 5 billion worldwide – between the years 2015 and 2018.

Other analyses are even predicting growth totaling more than USD 25 billion for hardware and software by the year 2020.

Even though they’re slightly later, similar trends are emerging for the augmented reality market. Take Google, for example: it has already started its first tests with the Google Glass technology. Other manufacturers, meanwhile, have been waiting to find out about Google’s initial experiences and are now starting to tap into this market with their own technologies. Microsoft is well ahead of the game with its planned Microsoft HoloLens, which in the future will bring the idea of Captain Picard’s holodeck into every living room or even every workplace.

Accordingly, FNT has already analyzed what the potential applications are that are resulting from the growing acceptance and increased use of VR and AR technologies in professional contexts too.

In this regard, these technologies could be tremendously beneficial in the future, particularly in distributed data center planning and common data center processes.

Potential application scenarios for virtual reality technologies are:

  • Visualization and remote management of distributed data centers
  • Spatial data center tours with three-dimensional, real-time imaging to gain a virtual impression of the local circumstances
  • Three-dimensional, spatial visual device planning
  • Problems can be virtually visualized and monitored on devices with ease. Appropriate warnings can also be displayed directly on the causing device along with troubleshooting information
  • Consolidation of data that is normally only available in various sources or tools and visualization of this information in virtual space
  • Live data integration in the virtual world, enabling the display of a server’s status or the currently measured temperature and simulation of the climate situation
  • Within the context of installation planning, unoccupied rack units, overloaded racks and mains and electricity ports that are still free can be graphically identified by performing a VR analysis and the corresponding installation space can be selected
  • Signal paths for power and data networks can be monitored and virtually presented in the virtual environment – even for remote data centers or beyond data centers

Numerous application scenarios can be identified for practical use for the augmented reality segment too; it is expected that they will be extremely beneficial once the technology is rendered suitable for everyday use. In this regard, ideas for and examples of AR technologies in the data center include:

  • Location-dependent navigational support within a data center for a specific device – to identify an error-prone device or to install new devices, for example
  • Displaying notifications or alarm and warning messages on a device
  • Coloring devices to help with certain status messages or analyses
  • Showing temperature values or sensor data on certain devices or racks
  • Identifying devices using the integrated QR scanner and showing device-related information
  • Showing key data about the real devices, such as racks, servers or other devices in the data center. The weight, dimensions, consumption values, number, port usage and much more besides can thus be shown on the real device in an instant
  • Showing installation instructions one step at a time within the context of device installation
  • Live communication and work support using cameras while installing new components or moving existing devices. The remote planner can therefore carry out the work steps together with the installation engineer on site
  • Support within the context of the approval process or validation indicating that the installation process has been carried out according to plan. This can be easily implemented using augmented reality provided as live streams or image uploads

FNT presented its initial impressions of using virtual and augmented reality in the data center during the keynote speech at NetWork16 in Leipzig. A live example of VR in the data center can be monitored in the following video from minute 34 onwards:

All of these examples illustrate the huge potential hidden behind these new and promising technologies in the field of data center management. Relevant hardware and software applications are necessary to present visualization, navigation and functionalities in virtual and augmented reality and to make them available to users. But one thing is absolutely vital for the scenarios outlined above: all the relevant data must be collected and held available in a central data model. In turn, the necessary data for the VR and AR applications can be made available from this central database. This is precisely where FNT software – with the integrated FNT data model – is excellently positioned to turn virtual and augmented reality in the data center into true reality.

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