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The New Digital World: Are We Missing Something?




9068133_m.jpgby Richard L. Sawyer, Distinguished Technologist for HP Technology Services




I recently attended AFCOM* Data Center World, where it was my pleasure to meet with Scott Notebloom, a data center engineering strategist who has worked for Apple and Yahoo. He recently founded LitBit**, where he currently holds the position of CEO. He had just completed the keynote address “The Emerging Market Data Center Revolution” which offered an interesting perspective into where the data center world may be headed. As with any meeting, the “meeting after the meeting” was stimulating and thought-provoking. Scott met with the AFCOM Advisory Board , of which I am a member, to both offer and seek insight on where our industry might be headed and how AFCOM can serve its members proactively in an ever changing data center industry landscape.


Being a Strategist, Scott challenges you to think, and question your experienced based assumptions. One of the questions is “Where is the data center going?” which the AFCOM Board Members quickly weighed in on, to a person. My own thought process went to the disruptive level, since that seems to be the holy grail of most start-ups and industry leaders who pose the question How can technology disrupt the status quo in any industry to yield advantageous change for people, and make a ton of money in the process for the disruptors?


One of the fundamental questions about where the data center is going may be answered by how we perform basic computation in the future. The question is always “Is there a better way?” Frequently the answer is provided by nature and how it applies the laws of physics in an efficient, self-serving manner to support the most ever-changing variable: life itself. We see this in the evidence of evolution and the countless permutations of life forms. But what is life, really? By definition, something is alive if it can reproduce itself, in whatever form. Rocks can’t, but caterpillars can!


When you drill down, life as we know it, is essentially DNA, a molecule that can replicate, and thereby reproduce itself, and adjust its form to the myriad of challenges that nature and the physical world presents. When we look at the structure of DNA, we see that it has structure that can be termed, simplistically, as quadrilateral at its core, since it depends on the arrangement of four proteins: Adenine, Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine. These are represented in by the respective letters ACGT, and when these four proteins are arranged just right, in a complex helical structure having thousands of ACGT protein “bits”, they form the DNA molecule unique to a particular form of life.


Here’s the interesting part: it’s not binary! The question I posed in discussions with Scott was “What happens if we take a lesson from nature and instead of computing in binary manner we compute in a quadrilateral manner?” That is, instead of creating, transmitting, storing and using data in 1’s and 0’s, what would happen if we could add a couple of more dimensions to the physical way in which we process data?   All of a sudden, we could process at least 4 times more intelligence in a single state than we do now.   What would that do our IT “tools” (hardware, software) in the data center?


After the meeting, the technical side of me kicked in. What if….?   You see, currently our 1’s and 0’s are really small changes in electrical voltage where 1 is +5 volts (CMOS type of logic) and 0 is no volts. So it’s a means of using simple, detectable electrical changes to form the basis of our compute language. Given the constraints we have (that being limited to electrical physical states) how could we make each state quadrilateral instead of binary? The binary system has two constraints – 1) it has to be either +5, or 0 volts, and 2) the state, “1” or “0” has to be sustained for a sufficient length of time for the state to be recognizable by the device being used to read the state, introducing a time element, albeit not a very long time in the digital world!


What other states could we introduce that would transmit more intelligence in a single state than either 1 or 0? Well, in electricity we can not only vary the voltage, or pressure, of a momentary surge that means “1” but also the amount of electricity in that surge, or the current generated. So, in theory, the “high” state could have two components: a +5 volt state, but also, for argument sake, a 1 milliamp signature.   A different +5 volt state would have a 2 milliamp signature. And since there is a phase relationship between voltage and current that can be introduced, there is another variable that can be introduced: the difference between the real power of the state and the apparent power of the state. This is due to a manipulated phase relationship between current and voltage.   Since the +5 voltage state in the +5 volt “1” state is direct current, which typically has no phase relationship, any phase relationship that is introduced through an alternating current component would have intelligence. And since we are very rapidly introducing 1’s and 0’s, it could be argued there are alternating current components already present which could be leveraged.


Even with fiber optics, where we switch the laser light off to transmit the two states, there are other dimensions which can be introduced such as phase shifts in light that can represent different colors, and changes in the current that can be represented by intensity of the light. So there are physical tools nature has given us to replicate the quadrilateral model of information transmission we see in DNA. The question then becomes how to do it, rather than what needs to be done, to be truly disruptive.


Food for thought that was ignited by a question from a good strategist! Thank you, Scott.


Just sayin’…


For more information on HP’s approach to the data center management, please visit our website.


* What does the acronym AFCOM stand for? (From their webpage @ Originally, AFCOM was the acronym for the Association for Computer Operations Management. Now, however, it’s simply AFCOM. Over the years as the data center industry has evolved and the demands of data center and facilities management professionals have grown, the association expanded well beyond computer operations management. However, the AFCOM name is widely recognized as a trusted “brand” in the data center industry, which is why it is still employed today.


 ** About LitBit:  LitBit is an early stage company focused on developing and deploying next generation converged infrastructure solutions in emerging markets. To subscribe for updates regarding the development of LitBit, visit




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