One of the unexpected silver linings of the coronavirus pandemic has been recognition of the role data centres have played in keeping our communities functioning during global lockdowns. Organisations scrambled to get their employees up and running in a work from home environment. Sadly, many realised their data center infrastructure was not up to the challenge.
Many businesses are recognising the potential and importance of colocation data centre facilities. Prior to the pandemic, colocation was a key – often growing – element in their overall IT operations; complementing or even replacing on-premise data center facilities and cloud-based services alike. In the last six months, the major hyperscalers - who have their own vast facilities - have turned to colocation facilities to quickly ramp capacity needs as the world turned online practically overnight.
Would a robot suit the role of a personal stylist? Whilst the latest vogue changes each month, the fashion industry wreaks environmental havoc. It's a huge culprit of overproduction, making it the 2nd largest water polluter in the world and also responsible for 300 million tonnes of waste each year. As ever, technology has an answer to this dilemma. Developing AI promises a brighter future for the fashion industry: one of invariably popular clothing lines and a personalised customer experience. Already, the current political climate has seen shoppers becoming more eco-conscious, and naturally, clothing brands are responding to this marketing incentive with environmentally-friendly changes. A new system, empowered by technology, could change fashion’s sustainability game for good... and all without being at the expense of a nice outfit.
As with all tradeshow events this year, ISC High Performance 2020 took on a very different look and feel. Overall, the event received high praise for adapting to a virtual environment, and the news coinciding with the event continued to generate headlines. One of the more interesting announcements was from NVIDIA and Mercedes Benz launching software-defined, intelligent vehicles using end-to-end NVIDIA technology.
In April of this year, Google announced that it is taking the next step in making its data centers greener and cleaner. The company indicates that it has been carbon-neutral since 2007, and it has covered its energy consumption with 100% renewables since 2017.
Many large corporations have undertaken similar commitments, covering the equivalent of their total electricity use with renewable energy from Power Purchase Agreements (PPSa). These PPAs match their total electricity consumption to the output of a new “additional” renewable facility built on their behalf. However, only the total volumes match, not the actual physical flows of power. For example, if a company were to offset its 100 megawatthours (MWh) of consumption with 100 MWh produced by a solar facility, then at times unused surplus solar would be sold into the market while at other moments (nights, for example) the company would be buying system power from the grid at whatever carbon intensity the grid was offering at that moment.
Clear canals in Venice and blue skies in Delhi: around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown is cleansing our planet of its usual levels of pollution and bringing us instead time to appreciate nature closeby. Thanks to new restrictions’ severe limitations on travel and industrial activity, our daily carbon emissions are seen to have fallen by 17% during the peak of confinement measures in early April, when compared to that of mean levels seen in 2019. Though these statistics bear a false sense of security, we must avoid being distracted from the pressing circumstances of today’s environmental crisis in which wider changes need to be made. As elements of lockdown ease and we prepare for a return to ‘business as usual’, the pressure to revive the economy risks accelerating at the expense of positive change made so far. Making green decisions remains as, if not more crucial. Environmental accountability is an essential selling point for any business or organisation in the modern-day, and a field Verne Global is committed to.
NVIDIA’s GTC going virtual in February was the main attraction for the rest of the HPC show industry. My industry event calendar has been replaced by an endless stream of Zoom-like briefings and webinars. Three months after Covid-19 disrupted the HPC industry some patterns are emerging. Businesses with a remote working, gaming, telemedicine, home delivery or drug discovery component are booming. My neighbor sells a cloud-based telemedicine solution and he’s been glued in his home office twelve hours a day, 6 days a week attempting to keep abreast of the demand.
I recently revisited Bristol, UK for an AI and HPC Meetup hosted at Graphcore’s HQ where they design the wicked powerful IPU CPU accelerator. There were three excellent presentations and the one by Helen Byrne, AI Research Engineer at Graphcore, about their 2020 research focus reiterated that my mathematics skills were well and truly rusty.
As a late sign-up for the recent HPC & AI Meetup in Bristol, I was feeling relaxed coming in without a speaking slot and only the objective of meeting some colleagues and hearing a few lightning talks. Well, all that changed with two minutes from the start when our MC for the night, Verne Global's fabulous Simone Warren, told me that I had just been awarded the honour of giving the closing remarks. Her rationale was sound - it was a technical meeting - perhaps the CTO should give the exit speech. Logical indeed, and while I do in fact enjoy a bit of public speaking, I will admit that I do like to over-prepare myself for any speaking role and I knew I was in for a new type of challenge. My mind had to focus in and quit thinking about that Banksy I was looking forward to seeing around the corner from the venue. Little did I know that he was stealthily working in the background on a Valentine's Day surprise.
I was recently in attendance for a rare event in my busy life - a book discussion. Our family is fortunate that our three boys are attending a school that not only challenges its students mentally and physically, but also promotes the engagement of the entire family unit. Our school’s headmaster led an engaging discussion on a book that will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year: Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude Steele who currently serves as Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.
Perhaps it is because I returned from my last business trip of 2019 to a flooded house, but more likely it’s all the wicked cool water-cooled equipment that I encountered at SC-19 that I’m in a watery mood!
In my previous blog, which you can check out here, I explored how AI has emerged as a brilliant accessory for environmental conservation. Ultimately, it's the energy resources we choose and the efficiency of their usage that affect our ecosystems. So how can AI tackle the root of the problem? I've been looking into some specific ways AI is strengthening our fight against global warming, as well as how AI consumers can ensure that the maintenance of their technology is as green as it can be.
SC19 was red hot this year as the race to exascale computing got into top gear. Not even the snow on the last afternoon damped the collective ‘exascale enthusiasm’. SC19 is our industry’s exhibition pinnacle and as normal, the weekend before the show opens on Monday evening is packed full of training sessions, briefings, industry updates, etc. that cover everything from the latest HPC and AI product releases and tools, to tours of nearby supercomputing centers.
As I’ve recently discussed in my latest blog post, artificial intelligence operates most efficiently when it is commoditising intelligence and decision making. Simple and repetitive tasks, and later complex and repetitive tasks, will be ‘solved’ through artificial intelligence. While we are starting to see real proof of the scientific and business benefits that come from this streamlining and processing of data, there are moral and ethical discussions beginning to take place.