IT Sustainability – transforming conflict into opportunity

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Transformation and sustainability can be seen as competing priorities, but for HPE, the combination is an opportunity for change and growth.

Companies in Sweden, Europe and around the world face a similar challenge. They’re under pressure to accelerate their digital transformation; to scale up and build out IT infrastructure to meet the demands of a dynamic business landscape. Yet, at the same time, they’re in the midst of an energy crisis and doing their best to reach sustainability objectives; they can grow, but power consumption needs to be restrained. Is it possible to balance these competing requirements?

Dr John Frey, Chief Technologist for Sustainable Transformation, HPE

According to Dr John Frey, Chief Technologist for Sustainable Transformation at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes.’ He’s spent the last two decades helping HP then HPE customers to build and use their IT infrastructure more efficiently. Through that time, he’s seen space, power and cooling emerge as major issues for enterprise IT, and HPE meets the challenge through its products, services and guidance.

– We started looking and said “what are the key things we would recommend to customers that we’ve found to solve those problems?”, he explains.

– And by doing that drop costs significantly, drop power consumption significantly and drive up employee satisfaction. Part of this, for us is holistic, he adds. Yes, you might be driving power efficiency, but you get a whole lot of extra benefits with that.

Click here to learn more about HPE:s Sustainability Program

Four elements of sustainability

For Frey, those recommendations revolve around four elements of sustainability. The first is equipment efficiency. In his words, “if you have a piece of technology, have it do the most amount of work possible”. The average utilisation for an application running on bare metal for compute – which covers about 70 percent of overall datacentre power consumption – is around 10 to 20 percent. Where the workloads are virtualised or containerised, that might climb to about 30 percent. That, Frey points out, is a long way from the energy-efficient sweet spot of around 70 percent or more, and that’s without potentially 20 percent of the equipment in the average datacentre sitting doing nothing of value.

– We are not saying that you optimise for sustainability independently, says Frey, because part of the reason our customers overprovision is for resiliency, particularly in a containerised virtualised environment. But we have a lot of opportunity here. Virtualisation and containerisation at higher densities, making the most of today’s many-core, high-bandwidth AMD CPUs can help, while as a service offerings, such as HPE Greenlake, can also reduce the need to overprovision.

If you’re going to have a piece of technology equipment running, have it do the most work per watt.

Dr John Frey, Chief Technologist for Sustainable Transformation at Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

The second element is energy efficiency.

– If you’re going to have a piece of technology equipment running, says Frey, have it do the most work per watt.

This is where HPE’s partnership with AMD really comes to the fore.

– We had a product goal one generation ago, Frey explains, to improve performance per watt by 30x over a five-year period. AMD adopted that goal and said, “we want you to get there based on AMD technology”. AMD really doubled down both on the enterprise space and on performance per watt, and the HPE/AMD servers set several world records to that effect.

The result, Frey believes, is an infrastructure that enables you to do more work with fewer devices and either run a smaller, more efficient datacentre, or provide headroom to grow without increasing space, power or cooling requirements.

– These aren’t one-and-done levers, says Frey. They’re constant.

Learn more about how AMD EPYC processors help boost energy efficiency

Minimise energy waste

The third element is resource efficiency, minimising energy waste in power conversion and cooling. For Frey, a big part of the problem is that many datacentres have more cooling than they need and then use it inefficiently.

– The closer the temperature of the cold air going into the data center and the warm air coming out, the more inefficient that cooling will be, he says.

Better datacenter design can help, as can automation. HPE’s servers are equipped with thermal sensors, so customers can use HPE’s tools to monitor that hardware.

– We really help the customers look at the resources their IT requires, including people, Frey explains.

The newest element for Frey is software efficiency, by which he means two things. Firstly, using software to monitor your hardware and self-correct, harnessing the power of AI, ML and data to proactively predict issues and remediate them before they cause disruption. In some cases, software such as HPE InfoSight, can collect and analyze data from more than 100 000 systems worldwide, and uses that intelligence to make every system smarter and more self-sufficient.

Secondly, there’s growing evidence and research to show that how you develop applications makes a difference.

– It turns out there’s a huge variation in power efficiency, runtime efficiency and compiler efficiency amongst programming languages, Frey notes.

– If 70% of your applications don’t run in a cloud-like environment, and you want all your applications running in a cloud-like environment, then you’re going to rewrite those applications. All I’m suggesting is that, if you’re going to rewrite them anyhow, rewrite them in a more efficient language, such as Rust.

IT is key to achieve sustainability goals

Yet perhaps the most crucial thing companies can do to make their IT more sustainable is to have a clear and defined IT sustainability strategy. Many businesses have one sustainability strategy, but with no interaction between IT and the units concerned – a real issue when IT is such a key contributor to power consumption.

– Often we find ourselves introducing the customer’s sustainability team to their own IT team, says Frey, and translating in the middle to say “if your teams collaborated, you could really drive these programmes”.

With the right people on board and the right processes and objectives in place – plus the right metrics – businesses could be in a good place to operate more sustainably. What’s more, as Frey points out, this isn’t just good sense but business value. Sustainable IT can help them attract investment, grow their customer base and recruit and retain employees. If that’s not an opportunity, what is?

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