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HPE Tech Talk podcast - Delivering Sustainable, Circular and Low-Carbon Technologies, Episode 16

HPE made a bold pledge on Earth Day: to make key patents free & available to innovators to advance low-carbon technologies. HPE's John Frey, Chief Technologist for Sustainable Transformation, illuminates the importance of collective action in mitigating the climate crisis.

 

Also available on:   Spotify   /   Apple Podcasts   /   Other podcast apps

 

Transcript

 

Robert Christiansen:

[00:29] Welcome to the HPE Tech Talk. I'm your host, Robert Christiansen. On April 22nd, HPE announced the low-carbon patent pledge, an initiative led by our company to accelerate the development of lower carbon technology. Here to talk to us about this effort and how we are actively fighting climate change is HPE's John Frey, Chief Technologist for Sustainable Transformation. John, thank you for coming to the show and we're happy to have you.

John Frey:

[0:38] Yeah, it's great to be here with you this afternoon.

Robert:

[0:40] It's great to be here with you too.

[0:50] So, HPE's purpose is to advance the way people live and work, which is one of the things I love about being here. And we're always looking to be a force for good. And one of those most important topics for our team members, for our clients, and for our partners is the role that we play in sustainability and how we live. Can you talk to us a little bit more about your role here at HPE and how you're helping us drive to that purpose?

John:

[1:14] Absolutely. In my role, which is the first time, by the way, the company has ever had a chief technologist for sustainable transformation, I lead a small group of technologists who share our sustainability leadership with our customers. We advise them on their sustainable transformation journey, and we share best practices with them because this is a journey that HPE has been on for several decades. And yet our customers shouldn't have to make all the same mistakes that we did and learn all the same lessons we learned as they're getting better along their sustainability journey.

[1:49] We also work with stakeholders, governments, and customers to shape future technology related requirements. And finally, we collaborate with customers on innovation at the intersection of sustainability and technology.

Robert:

 [2:03] One of the things that you and I talked about when we were getting together prior to the show was, how do you measure sustainability? So, when you're talking with these government leaders and policymakers and stuff like that, so how do you get agreement on what sustainability is? That'd be number one. And two, how do you get over those big challenges then once you're trying to have profit objectives versus things that may not align with that if you're talking sustainability?

John:

[2:33] Yeah, it's a great question. And sustainability means so many things to so many people. First, it is in fact getting to a common definition. And we think about it in terms of social and environmental impact. But in an average conversation we could be having with a customer or even with a governmental official, we could move from the topic of efficient IT to next how do we prevent human trafficking in supply chains, then shift to algorithmic bias in AI applications, then move to climate change and how does that impact marginalized populations, all the way to a circular approach to consumption model.

[3:12] So, part of that common conversation is when we're having the conversation, what are we actually talking about? What are the aspects of sustainability that we want to focus on, and how do you measure then those implications? And as importantly, how do you avoid unintended consequences as you start to put programs in place?

Robert:

[3:33] So sustainability is a much more inclusive conversation. I know that the UN has, was it 17…

John:

[3:42] 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Robert:

[3:44] That's it. That's it. And they range in those topics that you were talking about. So, it's not just about environmental, if I'm correct.

John:

[3:50] Absolutely. Much broader it's access to clean drinking water; It's access to food; It's women empowerment, for example. So, the SDGs actually are a pretty broad spectrum of things that the UN says by 2030, we really need to make significant progress on to solve a lot of challenges that we face as a globe.

Robert:

[4:18] So for the purposes of this conversation, I think we want to narrow it down a little bit to the crisis around climate and how we see that portion of sustainability is applicable to what we're doing. And HPE is so instrumental in compute services that burn a lot of power, that you put GPUs inside computers and stuff like that and you have a lot of consumption of wattage. Can you open that up and pull that apart a little bit for us about how do we given these emerging trends where the number of data centers are actually increasing as you start looking around the globe, how do we really address that problem as we start talking to our clients?

John:

[5:00] Yeah. It is a challenge sometimes. And we know, for example, the technology can be a force multiplier for good, which means it can actually accelerate and scale very, very quickly. But we also know that it consumes a lot of resources, predominantly electricity, at the same time that the world needs to decarbonize. Yet, the global sustainability initiative, as one example, reported that technology returns a 10X value for the resources that are consumed. So that leads to some really interesting conversations when in many cases, government officials are trying to decarbonize industries and yet technology is growing.

[5:43] Now, the one nice thing about technology is although the use of technology is growing, we've fairly well held power of consumption in check because of our ability to do much more work with the same amount of power. So that then relates to some really interesting conversations with governmental officials about, well, how do you enable technology and technology growth while forcing the technology providers or asking the technology providers to demonstrate that additional value comes with the growth of technology?

[6:18] And then we start having conversations around, okay, well, what are the efficiency requirements of the technology that you're using? How do we get better power performance, or what we like to call “energy effectiveness,” doing more with the same watt of power? How do we set expectations around data center cooling, for example, or what do you do with waste heat? So there's a variety of conversations. And at the same time, we have government officials that are trying to help reduce carbon emissions, but they hear commonly that industry or companies won't go along with that.

[6:57] So, part of our role from an HPE perspective is to be very, very public about our climate commitments. In fact, we were the first ICT company to set science-based targets across our entire value chain, to hold our hand up and say, "We are all for carbon reduction and we can play a key role there." And not only that, but then show them how we've been able to help our customers along that journey as well. And that changes the conversation with many government officials around the world.

Robert:

[7:30] It certainly would. I wanted to just touch on a comment that you said earlier, higher value of compute out of the same wattage. And it reminds me of a client that we just were working with, where we were able to collapse the compute stack for the client. And they were able to get the same job done with about a third fewer nodes or pizza boxes if you would inside the rack. And that was because of the way the software was orchestrating the applications. So you really, I mean, you really kind of got me thinking there about how, when software is applied the right way, you could actually absolutely affect the physical layout of infrastructure and the wattage that's consumed. Am I correct in thinking that?

John:

[8:20] Yeah, absolutely. In fact, when we think about IT efficiency, we actually think about four elements. One is equipment efficiency. So, if you're going to have a piece of equipment doing work, have it do the most work possible. And we know from data center surveys around the world, as an example, that 25% of the gears in data centers around the world is powered on and doing no useful work. And then for the rest of the compute equipment in the data centers, the utilization rates are at about 10% for a non-virtualized workload and slightly under 30% for a virtualized workload. Plenty of opportunity there.

[8:58] Then we think about energy efficiency. And this is that energy effectiveness conversation that we have, is how do you do the most work with the least amount of energy? So how do you have purpose-built equipment for example, or how do you re-architect the equipment to be more efficient. Then the resource side of it? And that's everything from cooling in a data center. And we know the average data center has two and a half times the cooling it needs for example, because we know that when the equipment gets too warm, it fails. But so many customers have no idea where the equipment is in their infrastructure, how warm it is, how close to critical temperature.

[9:40] And those were the three elements traditionally. And then you've brought up a great point, and I really appreciated the conversation you were having with your daughter a few weeks ago, this software efficiency piece. How do we write more efficient code? How do we write code that can actually do self-diagnosis due to load balancing, which is so critical when you're talking about renewable power sources.

[10:05] But one of the things, a challenge to me, is as I talk to computer science and computer engineering students at universities around the world, and I ask, did software efficiency come up in any of your conversations, were you taught to write more efficient code or code that needed less compute cycles? The answer has universally been no.

Robert:

[10:24] No. It's always been no. I have to say as an ex C++ programmer for a lot of years, and then going into compute. And then with the ... if you could think about the "infinite" availability of compute resources in the public cloud side, the mindset is not there for that. It is consume it and there'll be more later, right?

[11:02] I consider that about this conversation that we're having around training people to think about what to do with compute, the software can have the advantages of changing how we see sustainability, how we write code. What do you think John going into the future here is going to be some of the higher points, not so much challenges, but these emerging technologies that you think we can take advantage of?

John:

[11:25] Yeah. So, one of them is, as we see the technology sector go to more and more use of renewable energy or carbon neutral energy, one of the things that we often remind customers, and this is going to be increasingly important go-forward as more and more of this is regulated, is you've got to drive the efficiency first, then get your electrical consumption as low as possible, first, through all the efficiencies that we talked about. Then and only then consider the power source for your technology stack.

[12:00] I think about: How do we think of IT as a utility? Cloud-like global access all around the globe, how do we scale it up and down for peaks? How do we think about technology and IT and cloud availability in terms of carbon neutrality optimized through the entire lifecycle with clear measurements and transparent impact reporting against environmental and social expectations?

[12:27] So often we'll see data center owners talk about, "Well, we're carbon neutral because we use renewable energy," but they'll say nothing about the efficiency of their IT stack. They'll say nothing about how long they keep that equipment in use and how do they make lifecycle decisions based on power effectiveness. Uptime Institute and others have found time and time again, that so much of our capability, often over 50% in data centers, is equipment that's over five years old, and it's only doing about 7% of the work that new equipment could do because the processors are so outdated and so inefficient.

[13:10] So there's all sorts of ways that we could make progress there: Solution in design, not hardware out design. How do we make it be able to adapt to varying power availability? One of the challenges of moving to renewable energy sources is the wind's not always blowing and the sun's not always shining. So how do you shift workloads to match power availability or renewable power availability?

[13:43] How do we even make data center symbiotic? There's a great example with our work with the National Renewable Energy Lab, where we were doing some work with high performance compute with liquid cooling, and they use that warm water coming off the high performance compute to melt snow on their roadways and heat their buildings. But when we started spinning up some fuel cell research as well, what we recognized is, “Wow, you can actually drive up fuel cell efficiency by warming up the fuel cell with the warm water coming off the high performance compute.” And because of power intermittencies and our renewable world and battery banks not being as large as they need to be, what if you banked hydrogen instead and used the fuel cell as the primary power source for the IT?

[14:29] So, it was a really interesting symbiotic relationship that the liquid cooling made the fuel cell more efficient. The fuel cell ran hotter, got the water hotter. And then you could use that for other uses, including with any amount of cooling, you could use with a really hot water to generate cool air to cool the remaining IT equipment that's still needed air cooling. So those are the types of things that I think we think about how do we optimize through the lifecycle and how do we have agile and adaptable IT go forward.

Robert:

[15:16]  So, as I mentioned at the top of the show, HPE is announcing a low-carbon patent pledge with partners like Facebook and Microsoft. Would you take a minute and explain the purpose of the pledge and why it's so important?

John:

[15:28] Yeah, absolutely. One of the things we know about climate change is it's one of our greatest threats to our common future. And yet, the world doesn't have the technology solutions necessary to achieve even the carbon reduction targets that the scientific community tells us we need to meet. And as we were thinking about that, we thought, "Well, how do we accelerate that innovation? Because that needs to happen. How do we achieve net zero emissions in the coming decades?" Many cases this will be from technologies that don't exist yet.

[16:02] And there's a great sculpture in the neighborhood that I live in, that I drive by on a regular basis. And it's a dad with his son on his shoulders. And it's got this great quote from Sir Isaac Newton that says, "If I can see further, it was by standing on the shoulders of giants." And in so many ways what this patent pledge is, is HPE and our partners saying, "Here's the innovation that we already have. How can you leverage this innovation either in the way we intended it, or even in other ways to accelerate low-carbon solutions and carbon avoidance solutions across the global community?"

[16:43] And one of the cool things about that is even though we're going to initially launch with about 400 patents, it's so exciting to see what innovators around the world will do with free access to those patents to accelerate. And then, as they start to collaborate with one another, the acceleration speeds up.

[17:03] We like to say that partnership is leadership, and this is one of those great examples. And if I think about some of the patents that HPE is bringing to the table, including how do you look at the environmental impact of cloud computing? How do you optimize controllers based on a constraint? For example, if you're using renewable energy and your energy availability is set, how do you optimize other things around it? How do you look at some of the decisions you make in products and minimize the impact if you're focused on the environmental impact of products? Which as an aside, we already have customers asking us about the embodied carbon in a piece of hardware that they're going to buy from us, or customers that say to us, "Can you move that product from the dock in Rotterdam, for example, using an electric vehicle when you bring it to us versus a diesel vehicle because we're worried about the difference in carbon impact."

[18:01] So, looking at the patents that have been brought to the table and the opportunities for innovators to take those patents, to use them in a variety of new ways, we think that contributes to these accelerated innovation cycles that are absolutely necessary to make a difference on this problem.

Robert:

[18:24] That's really interesting. I think that it's a great, bold move by HPE, specifically living our values. It's one thing to talk the talk, but you've got to walk it, John. And I think walking the walk is doing something that's giving back and making sure that people know that we are committed to this. I really appreciate your time here to go over that.

John:

[18:46] Yeah, absolutely. And that's for me as well. It's so exciting to see what can happen when we bring a bunch of technologists from across the company and beyond that all say, "Hey, we want to make a difference and we want to collaborate to make a difference." It's been really exciting to see all of the patents that have been brought to the table from an HPE perspective and look at the potential impact of all of those patents. We're really excited to see the innovation that comes out, while at the same time, and this deserves to be said, while we're innovating ourselves within HPE.

Robert:

[19:56] John, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.

John:

It's been my pleasure.

Robert:

[22:04] These efforts and partnerships are so critical for making a real dent in carbon emissions. I know I speak for many of us at HPE who appreciate you leading this charge. To our listeners, I hope you enjoy the conversation and leave feeling hopeful about the opportunities we have. Looking ahead, you can expect to hear much more about HPE Discover, our virtual event taking place June 22nd through the 24th. And finally, don't forget to subscribe and tell a colleague about the show. And if you really enjoy it, please leave feedback and let us know what more you want to hear about. Thanks for tuning in and we'll catch you next time. Bye-bye.

 


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