New data architectures will require new power options

More renewables will be employed at the edge to meet demands of data deluge, says HPE chief sustainability officer
HPE chief sustainability officer, Chris Wellise

31 January 2020

The changes in enterprise architectures to meet future data demands will require new ways of generating power, which provide opportunities to improve efficiency and sustainability, according to HPE. 

Chris Wellise, chief sustainability officer, HPE Corporate Affairs, speaking to TechPro at the recent Discover More event in Munich, said that far from incremental improvements, “we are going to need massive disruptions within IT to really handle the data deluge that we are experiencing”.

Wellise cites estimates of 2.5 quintillion bytes of data now generated on a daily basis, a quintillion being a 1 with 18 zeros.




Current global IT infrastructure consumes about 10% of the world electricity, said Wellise, and that is growing rapidly. He added the situation in Ireland typifies the global situation, where estimates are that data centre consumption by 2030 may account for up to a third of national generative capacity. 

“One of the way ways we are dealing with that at HPE,” said Wellise, “is that we know that by 2025, 75% of the data is expected to be generated at the edge. We know that it also takes approximately an order of magnitude more energy to move data to the compute, than it does to move the compute to where the data is.

“One of the ways that we really see our ability to handle this increased requirement around energy and compute is just that, moving compute out to the edge. That is one of the key strategies that will help us meet demand.”

However, there are fears that greater edge computing adoption will simply put pressure on power grids where it is least sophisticated, or capable.

Wellise argues that this may not be the case. He suggests that the nature of edge computing solutions is such that they can be powered differently to current, centralised systems.

“That is the beauty of them,” he said, “they require so much less energy, but also that they could potentially tap into or harvest lower grade forms of energy.

“Perhaps it could be located out near a dairy farm, where there was access to an anaerobic digester, or something along those lines. You don’t need the massive amounts of cooling infrastructure that you see in a traditional data centre. You can farm, or use, lower grade forms of energy, which are more distributed in nature, tapping into microgrids, different forms of renewable. This is going to be the compute of the future.”

While the capabilities of edge solutions to take greater advantage of more sustainable forms of energy is encouraging, growth in data centres is also accelerating, prompting the concern that sustainability may be out of balance with demand.

“When we at HPE think about sustainability in terms of IT, we think of IT efficiency in three separate buckets,” said Wellise, “equipment and efficiency; how do you use the least amount of material necessary and use that capacity in the most efficient way possible. And the second is energy efficiency; how do you maximise the amount of compute that can be conducted for a certain unit of energy. And then resource efficiency is the third bucket; how do you do all of that for the least amount of resources, including human resources.

“We know in the traditional data centre environment over-provisioning occurs at a scale of about 59%. Most enterprises are provisioning for that peak moment in time and for the rest of the time have idle infrastructure. We also know that about 30% of servers in DC environments are comatose – not doing any work but consuming energy.

“One of the things we do is focus on utilisation of software to enable tools where you can look across your environment to determine what your utilisation rates are, but I think it’s going to require even greater disruption.

“You are hearing about that today, which is the shift to everything as-a-service. When you are able to make that shift, you can provide that near real-time metering and monitoring that a customer needs, and you can provision up or provision down and customers are using what the need and only paying for that they use, we know that you are immediately able to reduce that over-provisioning by as much as 30% with that new model.

“It is going to require completely rethinking business models, employing things like a full as-a-service model in order to really address some of these changing and emerging energy demands.”

When challenged on this point, with the fact that the industry has been talking about this for years now, Wellise explains that the focus has not always been on sustainability over efficiency, and that tools too may have been deficient.

“The tools aren’t necessarily available to uncover all of that,” he argues. “We have sustainability and IT efficiency workshops, where we engage with those who are really diligent about increasing efficiency and reducing their footprint and increasing sustainability. Some of the results from those workshops are really remarkable, and we highlight some of the tools that are currently available, and some are shocked at what they find.

“Many are focused on the runtime environment and running applications to meet the need of the enterprise, they are not necessarily focused on the sustainability aspect. Now we are starting to see that intersection of sustainability and IT management. Everyone is looking to see what they can do to help,” he asserts.

“The more we have those conversations, the more organisations are seeing that there is something they can do to advance the sustainability-driven agenda.

“It is a matter of connecting with sustainability teams and driving that conversation in a new way,” said Wellise. 

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