Earlier this summer, we announced our Open Data Hub – a resource meant to boost transparency, trust, and data availability to help researchers, industry, and society realize a sustainable digital economy. In the lead up to its launch, we are recruiting Ambassadors to help raise awareness about the initiative as well as galvanize support. In our new interview series #TransparencyNow, we sit down with our Ambassadors to explore why they signed up for the role and what greater transparency will mean for the digital infrastructure sector.
To kick start this series, our Director of Communications & External Relations, Michael J. Oghia, recently spoke to Harry Knopf, our first official Open Data Hub Ambassador and the General Manager of High Knowledge GmbH, an SDIA member. They spoke about how High Knowledge is helping to solve their part of the sustainability puzzle, why supporting the Open Data Hub is so important to them, and how greater transparency will impact the digital sector. It has been lightly edited for clarity. Scroll down if you want to read through the interview.
Michael: Thank you for joining me today, Harry! I'm really excited about the topic of today's interview, as it’s one of our latest initiatives: the SDIA Open Data Hub. It’s really a pleasure to welcome you, and we appreciate all that you're doing at High Knowledge, in support of the Open Data Hub and SDIA more generally. Before we dive into everything, tell us about yourself and how you got from where you began to where you are now?
Harry: My pleasure! I am an accredited data center planner with more than 20 years of professional experience in leading positions within the IT industry, including General Electric, Kyocera, Eaton, and other Fortune 500 companies, and I am the managing director and partner of the planning, consulting, and general contractor company High Knowledge. It is through this experience that I became familiar with various aspects of IT and IT infrastructure. So, taking a holistic view is not new to me, and is also what makes it so challenging. High Knowledge takes all disciplines into account when planning and building truly sustainable data centers, which requires a new look at the challenges of the coming years. From my point of view, we need to come up with new solutions, which is exactly what we are doing very successfully with our patented climate-neutral data centers, and net-zero, high-performance computing, AI, and edge computing concepts and solutions. Additionally, we have built Europe’s first data center marketplace, dcOrbis.com to bring transparency to the market and enable an easy comparison of colocation providers.
Michael: How did you get into this space then? How did you go from, let's say, being a student to where you are now?
Harry: I realized that I come from a different perspective in regard to digital infrastructure and data centers because I started more than 20 years ago in the classical IT sector. My first contact with a data center was really mainframe computing. I dealt with more of what is happening in the data center, rather than the infrastructure itself. The infrastructure part came later as I worked for Eaton, a company that is equipping data centers with components and so on. I realized that there is another side in regard to infrastructure that was new to me at the time, but I understood that bringing all things together is the only way to achieve real sustainability with the requirements of a world where a digital footprint is being measured – or should be anyway – and should be considered in every aspect of digital technology. When I think about what we are doing currently in the digital world, everything has an impact. And it’s not really discussed in the public; it's not visible to the user, for instance, when you're posting something on Instagram or doing something online. We definitely need to change that and ensure we have sustainable infrastructure.
Michael: You mentioned the need to measure digital footprints. Why is it so hard to get reliable information about the state of sustainability with the digital infrastructure sector?
Harry: The data center industry only developed within the last decades, and it was not really an industry from the very start. Companies built data centers, public authorities built data centers, but what the data center really is and is not was not even defined. So, even today, the data center industry is growing quite rapidly, year-by-year, but is not really a clearly defined industry. Beside that, even if it was, there is no consensus around the definition of what a data center is or what it is not, which makes it really hard to make it transparent at the end of the day. No one knows today, for instance, how many data centers we really have in Europe or what the situation is on site. We need to open up this sort of, let’s say, “black box data center” so that we all know what is really happening within a data center and that we understand more – where we need to improve things, and where things are sustainable. But it's opaque at the end of the day, and this needs to change.
Michael: It's interesting that you say that because I've been working in ICT sustainability, more holistically since 2016. And something I've said for years is that sustainability is a consideration that we should have been integrating into technological design at least 40 years ago. But here we are; now we're playing catch up in certain ways. Given the history of the sector, what is preventing the sector from becoming more transparent right now? In other words, what’s holding the sector back from making sustainability metrics public?
Harry: I think different aspects have to be considered here. On the one hand, the sale of electricity for many data center operators – let’s say for the colocation providers – is an integral part of their business model. In addition, key figures for energy efficiencies, such as PUE, have become something that it was never actually intended for. It's very often used as a sales and marketing instrument. That means we are calling or talking about a design PUE rather than measuring realistic values in the data centers or opening up the black box to compare realistic scenarios with each other. And until now, there was no trustworthy, transparent, and promising approach to collect data neutrally and make it accessible to others. Now, though, we have the Open Data Hub, which is definitely a right step in this direction. It’s saying, “Okay, we’re opening up this black box of data center opacity, we're making it transparent.” And at the end of the day, we will see that new companies will, in turn, approach this market and develop new things with new ideas. For me personally, the data center market is a very closed market. It’s a market that is not really being opened up. We definitely need to open it, but my wish is that a data center 20 years from now looks completely different from the data center of today, and even further from the data center of 20 years ago. This is where we definitely need such an initiative as the Open Data Hub, to have a basis in which to establish new things.
Michael: Thank you so much Harry for your insight there. How do you think that a trustworthy, independent reporting body such as what SDIA has proposed with the Open Data Hub might change this? How might it actually challenge that lack of sustainability?
Harry: For me, the question is why. What’s the reason why the SDIA in particular will be able to change it? The answer is precisely because such an approach, which is trustworthy and independent, has not yet existed. This is the truth; no one did it before. There was no honest, trustworthy instance that created something like this. We have other industries, where we have open data hubs, but not the data center or IT infrastructure industry. So, establishing an ecosystem is really important. The Open Data hub will be the first of a kind to do so, one that can also attract companies that are not traditionally dealing with data centers. With the data the Open Data Hub can provide, you can put your solutions, your AI concept, or whatever you are offering to the market to make this industry better with regards to sustainability. And I think this is really a game changer, as it will invite new concepts, new solutions, new players, and new opportunities.
Michael: I couldn’t agree more Harry! What then is motivating you to advocate for transparency and support our Open Data Hub as an Ambassador?
Harry: Around the world, we can see that climate change is actually happening – here and now; it’s coming closer and closer to nearly everyone. In order to achieve the 1.5-degree Celsius target outlined in the Paris Agreement, we need to know where and how much carbon dioxide emissions are being released into the atmosphere and how we can change it and optimize our systems. At the end of the day, digital information growth can only be handled when we establish a digital footprint that is more than a mere marketing instrument, but is actually a realistic reflection of what is happening within the data center. We need to open up to achieve that.
Michael: I really appreciate that you're essentially saying that we are part of the problem and therefore need to be part of the solution. Innovation is going to be embedded within the lifeblood of the kind of change necessary, so what do you think will be the impact on innovation in the sector when more information concerning environmental performance and energy and resource consumption are actually publicly available?
Harry: I think we will see new and completely different approaches to deal with this challenge in the data center market. And I think that transparency will become standard, which is actually not currently the case. And that pure protection of current investments is no longer the leading issue. I totally agree that data centers are part of the problem and also part of the solution, especially when we think about integrating digital infrastructure in existing networks or in heat and energy infrastructure, for example. On the one hand, we are saving on emissions when we have a video conference, rather than flying or driving to a place to have a face-to-face meeting.
But on the other hand, we are not aware of the digital footprint stemming from what we’re really doing in the digital world. And this is, at the end of the day, along with climate change, the 1.5 degree C target, and the energy transition, are the biggest challenges that we are facing within the coming years. The Open Data hub is the only way, in my point of view, to go one step further, bringing things together, opening up the black box, establishing an industry that is much more transparent, and laying the foundation for additional development on top of it.
Michael: I think that you've hit on everything that's important there. And I think it's very much in-line with our Roadmap, how you describe that in terms of the honesty that's needed, to recognize what’s the problem, and then how to actually address those problems with real solutions.
That leads me to my final question: what do you think will be the first area within digital infrastructure that will radically change if, say, energy consumption is reported publicly?
Harry: The Open Data Hub will lead us to a holistic view of the change we need within IT infrastructure as a result of understanding how to better use available resources. By infrastructure, I don’t just mean data center infrastructure, but also the surrounding supply infrastructure, such as energy and heating networks. And data centers will become no longer just a solitary structure, but an integral and necessary part of our infrastructure. This is the smartest way to deal with critical and digital infrastructure in the near future.
Michael: I couldn't have said it better myself. All of the insights that you've provided are so appreciated, and they resonate deeply. I really can't thank you enough for your time, it has been a pleasure. We truly appreciate your support, and we're honored to have you as an Ambassador for Open Data Hub. We hope that the launch of the Open Data Hub can bring the industry all the value that you mentioned, and we are grateful for your and High Knowledge’s support on that journey to a sustainable digital economy. Thank you very much, Harry.
Harry: You're welcome. And we and my whole team, we are proud to be part of the Alliance!