Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show, and welcome back to Digital Leaders Number Seven, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. This is our quarterly event where we bring in an over the top technologist to interview in front of a live audience of technology people. And I’m very pleased to have as my guest today, John Frey, Sustainable Innovation Technologist. John, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
John: It’s a pleasure.
Russ: John is with Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and I want to start right there at the top. Tell us about HPE.
John: Yeah, HPE is one of the two companies that was created when Hewlett Packard Company split into two companies on November 1st of last year, and you might remember, Hewlett Packard had a lot of different products and technologies, and what we did as a company is we took our PC, our printing business, monitors, tablets, that side of the company, and formed a company called HP Incorporated; HP Inc. And then, all of our enterprise businesses went to a new company that was formed called Hewlett Packard Enterprise. And so the types of things that businesses would have in a data center that run their major operations and professional services and solutions all wrap into this new company we call Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Russ: Ok, impressive. You guys just kind of act like it was no big deal. You know, everybody just kind of reported into two, it had to be a huge deal. Or was it, already everybody knew, based upon sort of what they were working on at HP before the split.
John: Well, we had a little of both, actually. In many cases, they were in tact business units that logically went one direction or the other, and then you had corporate functions and support types of functions that we had to duplicate in both new companies, such as the organization I’m in. Both companies needed strong environmental and sustainability organizations, so we took the personnel that we had in the former company and pulled them in two different directions, and staffed up organizations in both.
Russ: Ok, and Meg Whitman is kind of involved in both, right?
John: Meg is. She is the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Chairman of the Board of HP Inc.
Russ: Ok, I remember my IBM days, and there were periods where one division, I mean, we didn’t split into two companies, but we would have divisions that would kind of sell some of the same products and it never seemed to work real well. Does this feel like it’s just going to work fine?
John: This was a really logical thing for us to do because there isn’t that duplication, and really how we even approach customers was a little different, so with the companies being separated, we’re really laser focused on our customers, the products and solutions that we offer to the customer, and it’s been a great thing.
Russ: Ok, I’ve been out to the campus a couple of times and I’m always blown away with the size and the number of people, but of course, the company has roots that go way back in Houston’s history, with Compaq Computer Corporation who’s been on the show many times. That was an incredible story there too. So, I mean, is the history even discussed now? Or, since you split in two it’s just about evaporated?
John: No, we actually describe, if you think of the HP Company legacy, Bill and Dave starting this company in a garage, what we say now is we have a two car garage; because the DNA, the legacy, the research and development, the commitment to environmental sustainability to our customers and being a good corporate citizen; those, that DNA actually survives in both new companies.
Russ: Ok, ok. So, sustainable innovation technologist. I mean, everybody here is kind of into technology. Everybody here appreciates and applauds, and maybe innovates sometimes too, but they don’t have that third word that you have right up front; sustainable. How does that work?
John: Well, that’s a great question, and one of the things that we find is as we use more and more technology, associated with that growth and technology is a need to also make sure that we’re using our technology wisely, and that we’re looking at the impacts on the globe. Because in this tie with the Paris Agreement just being ratified last week at the UN with commitments to reduce climate change, often that means that we take things and make them use less energy or have less carbon emissions. Yet, ICT or IT is growing pretty rapidly. It used to be about 5 years ago that 2% of the world’s electrical generation went to telecommunication or IT types of equipment. Well, now we’re up over 4% of the world’s electrical consumption, and by 2025, that’s expected to grow to 10%.
So, if technology is growing, the things that power y’alls businesses and make sure that you can interact with your customers to meet their needs, to make sure your customers’ needs are satisfied; If technology is growing to power all of that, then we’ve got to look and say, how do we make sure that when we generate carbon, either from the production of a technology product, or when we use it, or when our customers use it, how do we make sure we’re doing that in a sustainable way? And, the innovation piece comes in because many of those answers we still don’t know. So, we see the challenge, we start innovating and say, how do we solve this so that it meets the customer’s need. It solves their challenge, but it’s also the right thing for the environment.
Russ: Ok, well, you know, I’ve been in some of these big data centers of the last few years and I’m just blown away by the quantity of service in there, the hum that’s always going, the huge diesel generators that are required in case they go down; some of them being sell back electricity from the diesel generators. But it seems to be doing nothing but growing, and I just, I think it’s right that we’ve got to figure out a way that they don’t need that much power, but what can you actually do that reduces the amount of power required by computing?
John: Well, there’s a lot of things that are going on, and the first is, in many cases our mental model of how we design data centers and put equipment and use the equipment in data centers is 10 or 20 years old. So, for example, the old model was, if you had a need, you would get a server. So, if you needed an email server, for example, you would buy a piece of hardware, and that would be your email server. And then your company needed a website, so we would buy another server and put the website on that. And then if you needed web search or video content or something, you would buy another server and put it on that. And what we found over time is that, that meant you had a lot of equipment that wasn’t being fully utilized. In fact, let me use a mental model that everybody might be able to relate to. If you think about your business office 10 years ago, you probably had a landline phone, you might have had a desktop pc and a monitor.
You might have even had notebook if you traveled. If you had to take any training, you might have had a TV and a VCR, a DVD. Well, all of those pieces of electronics were very, very good at what they did, but for the 23 and a half hours a day that you might not be using them, that piece of technology probably had power to it, and that was what we call a stranded resource. You weren’t getting any value out of either that piece of equipment, nor the electricity feeding it. So, flash forward today; what we’re really doing is looking at technology in a different way and saying, how do we have a pool of assets that when we need them we use them, and as soon as we’re done with them we put them back. So, in my office today, for example, I have a notebook computer that, if I need to make a phone call, I open up Skype, put my headset in, and have a Skype conversation. If I need to have a video conference, instead of going to a video conferencing room, I can open up Skype to do that.
When I need to work on documents, I can work on them on that same piece of gear, and as soon as I’m finished with each of those jobs, those assets and those resources; the memory, the storage, the processing, all goes right back and can be used for something else. And so that’s how technology is really shifting. HPE is leading the way in that, and we call that our Synergy product, and it’s a product line where processing, storage, and network are all together, can be easily enabled by a single line of code in a couple seconds, but when you don’t need the resource, it’s released back to be used by something else.
Russ: Ok, well that does sound efficient, and it sounds like it might diminish the increase needed because, does anybody do a BTU per computer process measurement, and see? Because, I mean, all those things that you talked about now today, still call for a lot of processing.
John: They do, and so people do measure BTU. In fact, one of the common metrics you see in the IT industry is a metric called power utilization effectiveness, which is really a measure of how much power is your computing using, and how much power is everything else that it takes use that computing using. And so they try to get that ratio down. Typically, that, by the way, that overhead is cooling more than anything else because computing equipment gets really hot. And when it gets too hot it fails. And so, in IT you don’t want failure, you want reliability, you want up time, and so it’s balancing that. How do we do the least amount of cooling necessary to manage that IT? And so we really have to focus on both sides of that equation. How do you make the IT most efficient, and then how do you make the infrastructure required by the IT most efficient? Put them together, that’s how you move forward for the future.
Russ: Ok. I already mentioned that I took a visit out there several times, and one of them involved a tour of an unbelievable operation, a plant, and then a renewed part of it, too, that I want to talk about as well. But even in the plant, it wasn’t like, I mean, I took a tour of Compaq computer in probably 1989 and this was a little bit more upscale than that. They weren’t making computers, they were putting customers blade servers and customized racks using customized cables and certain colors of tags that the customer, and then you ship the rack out to do it. It just blew me away, and you guys were talking about like, yeah this happens all the day. We’re shipping these things out every day. It’s that kind of a demand, which is very impressive, but still, if we’re going to talk about sustainability, it seems like it’s part of the challenge as well.
John: Oh, it is, and one of the things that customers have told us time and time again, is they don’t necessarily want to be IT experts. They want to buy and consume IT from a company like Hewlett Packard Enterprise. So, for example, customers used to buy individual servers, and many still do, but what they would find is a server usually has redundant power sources. Well, as they were putting their own in the rack, if they got both of those power cords in the same side, they would think they had redundancy until they lost power, and then their servers go down and they can’t figure out why. So, the factory that you toured, our factory express location in Houston, does a great job of sorting through the types of things that customers mess up inadvertently, and making sure those types of things don’t occur.
So, we’re really great at making sure the equipment is in an optimal place in the rack, that we’ve got great airflow so the equipment can be cooled off with the least amount of cooling, so that it’s wired so that all the power is redundant, all the networking is the way it needs to be such that airflow can actually happen. And because of our strong quality programs as well, and our supply chain programs, what we’re able to do is deliver to the customer a rack that they can roll into place, literally plug in, and it’s going to work right the first time for them.
Russ: Wow, that doesn’t even happen with my home computer when I bring it home for the first time. That’s pretty cool. So, but talking about cooling, you know it’s obvious that the demand for cooling is huge, but you even talked about water cooled servers these days. Is that like a future thing or is it happening?
John: No it’s happening today. In fact, the paradigm, if you think about how we’ve cooled servers and other IT equipment in a data center, is sort of like if I took this cup of water, and set it on this table, and then just turned the air conditioner down in this room in the hopes of getting that glass of water cold. That’s not really efficient, and so what we find is that processers get more and more powerful as we can do lots more work with the same watt of electricity in IT equipment, those processors generate a whole lot of heat, and when they get too hot, they tend to fail. So, we’ve moved, in some cases, with our highest performing equipment, from air cooled, and that’s still very effective in a lot of circumstances, but for the highest processing for high performance computing, we switched to what we call our Apollo 8000 product, that we actually do liquid cooling.
So, we apply cooling directly to the thing that’s getting hot, we use liquid to pull that heat off, and then use that liquid for, that hot liquid for other purposes. So, for example, the National Renewable Energy lab in Golden, Colorado, uses all of the heat that they pull off their IT equipment to heat their buildings, melt all the snow on the campus, and actually do things like warm up the water that goes through the bathrooms handwashing and things. So, when heat used to be a waste, we’re actually capturing that as energy and using that for another purpose.
Russ: Ok. It just doesn’t seem logical though that water is running through the computer. I know this doesn’t happen anymore, but I still remember when my, like my radiator hose would bust and, you know, it seems like that might happen. Does that ever happen?
John: Well no. So, there’s a variety of technologies. One is, the cooling from the processor to the edge of the rack is a closed system, and then you have another water cooling system that comes to the edge of the racks, so what we have is dry disconnect, they’re called, a heat plate to a heat plate, to transfer that load so that we don’t actually have moving hot water through the IT equipment itself. It only gets through the rack, but we can still have the efficiency of liquid cooling. And, because customers, no great surprise, have this fear of water getting on IT equipment, which, statistics tell us almost never has happened historically, but that fear is still there in the industry. We found some innovative ways. The system is under vacuum, so if it became an open system actually, it would draw air in verses water coming out. So, there’s a variety of ways you solve that problem.
Russ: Ok. All right, so, before we finish this up, and staying on sustainability too, I know there’s a sort of economic life cycle of, actually, all computer equipment these days, and that was talked a lot on the tour when I was out there in the renew section and stuff. And then, we’re all blown away now when we see how much trouble you have to go to, to throw away old computers and old phones. I mean, I came from a family where we saved every wire and every little knob, and everything, and now we’re just throwing this stuff away. What’s the sustainable strategy for Hewlett Packard in that category?
John: Yeah, so that’s a great question, and one of the things that you’re going to start hearing about, if you haven’t already, is something about the circular economy. Which is, instead of being a linear flow where you design a product, you use it, and then you dispose of it, how do we take the output of that process and put it right back in at the beginning of the process again? And so we have a variety of programs in Hewlett Packard Enterprise that move us towards a circular economy. One that you saw, HPE Renew, is a process where we can take IT equipment that comes back from a customer, or from a loaner pool, or from a demo pool, and actually bring that equipment right back up to like new condition, with a like new warranty and support, and service, and yet offer that at a discount to the customer. So, that’s a very popular program, and it allows us to really do that mini circular economy before the product gets towards it’s end of life.
Now as the product gets further towards their end of life, the average customer keeps a computer server, for example, about 5 to 7 years, and so how do we handle that at the end of that life? Well, and actually, the similar type of process occurs there where we can take that back, refurbish that product, and there are secondary markets around the world that are still want that technology. Some of you might have an application in your infrastructure that was written for an old type of computer technology that’s not sold today. So, in many cases, we can take that older equipment and actually help you have that type of equipment for a hot site, or a disaster recovery site, or something along those lines. And finally, if that asset doesn’t have any value even through that end of life, then we take that and recycle all the commodities, because almost all the things that come out of that outflow are actually input commodities that go into new equipment.
And so, in that way we’re really starting to close that loop. We can demonstrate that circular economy and, quite frankly, all business are being challenged to start looking at, how do you really close that loop in the circular economy. So, we’ve got this variety of solutions that all factor into doing that.
Russ: Wow, there’s a U of H startup right now that does rare minerals mining through technology; pretty cool stuff. Now, there was something you told me about before, too, that the Europeans and all this stuff are kind of ahead of us.
John: Yeah, so the conversation, yeah, you know, actually when you look across our domain, the environmental sustainability domain, often you see pressure occurring first, or these conversations occurring first over across the pond; in the Nordic countries, European countries, they make their way to the United States. It doesn’t mean we don’t innovate quicker than they do to start solving these challenges, in many cases. But, so the circular economy conversation is occurring more and more. We’re hearing it here in the United States but we’re seeing more customers start asking us, well how is Hewlett Packard Enterprise dealing with this concern, more out of the European market, but very quickly coming into the United States market as well.
Russ: Really good. Well, John, I really appreciate you sharing your perspective with us. I think all of us learned quite a bit. Let’s hear it for John Frey. Thank you very much. And that wraps up this interview with John Frey, Sustainable Innovation Technologist, and this is The BusinessMakers Show.
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