Category: Featured Posts

The coming together of the Internet of Things and Smart Grids

I was asked to speak at the recent SAP TechEd && d-code (yes, two ampersands, that’s the branding, not a typo) on the topic of the Internet of Things and Energy.

This is a curious space, because, while the Internet of Things is all the rage now in the consumer space, the New Black, as it were; this is relatively old hat in the utilities sector. Because utilities have expensive, critical infrastructure in the field (think large wind turbines, for example), they need to be able to monitor them remotely. These devices use Internet of Things technologies to report back to base. this is quite common on the high voltage part of the electrical grid.

On the medium voltage section, Internet of Things technologies aren’t as commonly deployed currently (no pun), but mv equipment suppliers are more and more adding sensors to their equipment so that they too can report back. In a recent meeting at Schneider Electric’s North American headquarters, CTO Pascal Brosset announced that Schneider were able to produce a System on a Chip (SoC) for $2, and as a consequence, Schneider were going to add one to all their equipment.

And then on the low voltage network, there are lots of innovations happening behind the smart meter. Nest thermostats, Smappee energy meters, and SmartThings energy apps are just a few of the many new IoT things being released recently.

Now if only we could connect them all up, then we could have a really smart grid.

The slides for this talk are available on SlideShare.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Big Data and analysis tools are facilitating huge advances in healthcare

SAP's Genomic Analyzer
As we noted recently here on GreenMonk, technology is revolutionising the healthcare industry, and the pace of change is astounding with new products and services being announced daily.

We were recently given a demonstration of two products currently being developed by SAP (Genomic Analyzer, and Medical Insights), and they are very impressive products.

The Genomic Analyzer (pictured above) can take large numbers of genomes and interrogate them for various traits. This may sound trivial, but this is a serious Big Data problem. In a talk at SAP’s Sapphirenow conference in June, Stanford’s Carlos Bustamante outlined the scale of the issue when he noted that in sample size of 2534 genomes takes up 1.2tb of RAM and consists of over 20bn records.

The industry standard for storing genomic data is in a variant call format (VCF) text file. This is then interrogated using either open source or some specialised commercial software analyse the genomic data. Researchers frequently have to write their own scripts to parse the data, and the parsing takes a considerable amount of time.

SAP's Genomic Analyzer results

On the other hand, SAP’s Genomic Analyzer, because it is based on SAP’s in-memory database technology, can take record sets of 2,500 genomes in its stride returning multi-variant results in seconds. This will allow previously impossible tests to be run on genomic datasets, which opens up the potential for disease biomarker identification, population genetics studies, and personalised medicine.

SAP are actively looking for research partners to work with them on the development of the Genomic Analyzer. Partners would typically be research institutions, and they would receive login access to the analyzer (it is cloud delivered), and the ability to create and run as many query sets as they wish.

SAP’s Medical Insights application again takes advantage of SAP’s Hana in-memory database to take in the vast swathes of medical data which would typically be housed in siloed data warehouses (EMR’s, scans, pathology reports, chemo info, radio info, biobank system, and so on). It can be used to quickly identify patients suitable for drug trials, for example or to surface new research when relevant to patients.

The medical Insights solution is currently being developed as part of a co-innovation project with a large cancer institute in Germany, but will ultimately be applicable to any hospital or medical institution with large disparate data banks it needs to consolidate and query.

SAP are far from alone in this field. As well as developing innovative medical applications themselves, many in their Startup Focus program are also furiously innovating in this field, as previously noted.

Outside of the SAP ecosystem, IBM’s Watson cognitive computing engine is also tackling important healthcare issues. And like SAP, IBM have turned Watson onto a platform, opening it up to external developers, crowdsourcing the innovation, to see what they will develop.

The main difference between IBM’s cognitive computing approach, and SAP’s Hana in-memory database is that Watson analyses and interprets the results on behalf of the researchers, whereas Hana delivers just the data, leaving the evaluation in the hands of the doctors.

And news out today shows that Google is launching its Google X project, Baseline Study so as not to be left out of the running in this space.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the advances these technologies are starting to unlock with change the healthcare industry irreversibly for the good.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Lack of emissions reporting from (some) cloud providers is a supply chain risk


We at GreenMonk spoke to Robert Francisco, President North America of FirstCarbon Solutions, last week. FirstCarbon solutions is an environmental sustainability company and the exclusive scoring partner of CDP‘s (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), supply chain program.

Robert pointed out on the call that there is a seed change happening and that interest in disclosure is on the rise. He noted that carbon scores are now not only showing up at board level, but are also being reported to insurance companies, and are appearing on Bloomberg and Google Finance. He put this down to a shift away from the traditional regulation led reporting, to a situation now where organisations are responding to pressure from investors, as well as a requirement to manage shareholder risk.

In other words the drivers for sustainability reporting now are the insurance companies, and Wall Street. Organisations are realising that buildings collapsing in Bangladesh can have an adverse effect on their brand, and ultimately their bottom line.

So transparency in business is the new black.

Unfortunately, not everyone has received the memo.

We’re written previously about this lack of transparency, even ranking some cloud computing providers, and the supply chain risk as a result of that lack of reporting. Amazon and SoftLayer being two prime examples of cloud computing platforms that fail to report on their emissions.

However, SoftLayer was purchased by IBM in 2013, and IBM has a reasonably good record on corporate reporting (although, as of July 2014, it has yet to publish its 2013 Corporate Responsibility report). Hopefully this means that SoftLayer will soon start publishing its energy and emissions data.

Amazon, on the other hand, has no history of any kind of environmental energy or emissions reporting. That lack of transparency has to be a concern for its investors, a risk for for its shareholders, and a worry for its customers who don’t know what is in their supply chain.

Image credit Roger

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Microsoft powering more of their Cloud from renewables

Wind Turbine

We’ve mentioned the issue of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with cloud computing once or twice in the past, and we’ve even ranked cloud computing companies based on their emissions. Obviously not all cloud companies report on their emissions (shame on you Amazon), and consequently those that don’t are at the bottom of the rankings.

In looking at cloud computing providers Microsoft ranked very highly. According to the EPA, Microsoft is the third highest user of renewable energy in the US (and Google is fifth).

We in GreenMonk, were delighted therefore to see Microsoft continue that commitment when they announced that they will purchase 175 megawatts of wind energy from the Pilot Hill Wind Project in Illinois, about 60 miles south of Chicago, as part of a 20-year agreement. This is the second wind power purchase agreement Microsoft has signed, and only one of their many emissions reductions projects.

Kudos to Microsoft for the far-sighted investment. As organisations are beginning to realise the risks associated with their cloud supply chain, opaque cloud suppliers like AWS and SoftLayer will be abandoned for more responsible, transparent, risk-free suppliers like Microsoft.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Ubiquitous computing, the Internet of Things, and the discovery of sound

Sounds of East Lansing photo

I had a really interesting, wide-ranging, conversation with SalesForce’s VP for Strategic Research, Peter Coffee the other day.

A lot of our conversation revolved around how recent changes in the Internet of Things space, in ubiquitous computing, and in Big Data and analytics area are enabling profound effects on how we interact with the world.

Peter had a superb analogy – that of sound travelling through air. When sound is generated, it is transmitted from the source to the surrounding air particles, which vibrate or collide and pass the sound energy along to our ears. Without any air particles to vibrate, we wouldn’t hear the sound (hence there is no sound in space).

As you enter our planet’s atmosphere from space you start to encounter molecules of air. The more molecules there are, the better they can interact and the more likely they are to transmit sound.

If you hadn’t experienced air before, you might not be aware of the existence of sound. It is unlikely you would even predict that there would be such a thing as sound.

In a similar way, in the late eighties, when very few people had mobile phones, it would have been nigh on impossible to predict the emergence of the mobile computing platforms we’re seeing now, and the advances they’ve brought to things like health, education and access to markets (and cat videos!).

And, we are just at the beginning of another period when massive change will be enabled. This time by pervasive connectivity. And not just the universal connectivity of people which mobile phones has enabled, but the connectivity of literally everything that is being created by low cost sensors and the Internet of Things.

We are already seeing massive data streams now coming from expensive pieces of equipment such as commercial jets, trains, and even wind turbines.

But with the drastic fall in the price of the technologies, devices such as cars, light bulbs, even toothbrushes that were never previously, are now being instrumented and connected to the Internet.

This proliferation of (typically cloud) connected devices will allow for massive shifts in our ability to generate, analyse, and act on, data sets that we just didn’t have before now.

When we look at the concept of the connected home, for example. Back in 2009 when we in GreenMonk were espousing the Electricity 2.0 vision, many of the technologies to make it happen, hadn’t even been invented. Now, however, not only are our devices at home increasingly becoming connected, but technology providers like Apple, Google, and Samsung are creating platforms to allow us better manage all our connected devices. The GreenMonk Electricity 2.0 vision is now a lot closer to becoming reality.

We are also starting to see the beginnings of what will be seismic upheavals in the areas of health, education, and transportation.

No-one knows for sure what the next few years will bring, but it is sure going to be an exciting ride as we metaphorically discover sound, again and again, and again.

Photo credit Matt Katzenberger

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Technology in healthcare, a post-Sapphirenow update

As noted here recently, technology is completely revolutionising the healthcare industry.

And that was brought home to us forcefully when we attended SAP’s 2014 Sapphirenow conference last week. I had fifteen meetings scheduled at the event, and while there wasn’t much mention of healthcare during the keynotes, seven of my fifteen meetings were healthcare related. In previous Sapphirenow conferences, there might have been one.

The meetings were with a range of organisations. Some were larger organisations like MKI, Stanford University (specifically their Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics (CEHG)), and unsurprisingly SAP. MKI talked about their use of HANA, R, and Hadoop for genomic analysis. Stanford’s Carlos Bustamante talked about the research being done by the CEHG, in conjunction with SAP, on understanding different genomes and their health-related phenotypic consequences, while SAP discussed their Care Circles initiative, as well as their Genome Sciences projects.

One interesting data point that emerged from Prof Bustamante was that one dataset of 2534 individual genomes contained in excess of 20 billion records and it consumed 1.2 terabytes of RAM. This is big data. Especially when you consider you are interrogating it against matrices of other data points (such as age, nationality, gender, etc.).

CoreyMobile screen

Three of the companies I met were part of the SAP Startup Focus program. This is a program aimed at start-up companies with offerings in the big data, realtime or predictive analytics spaces. The program helps them develop their product on SAP’s in-memory HANA database platform, and also helps them with go to market strategies.

The three healthcare startups were Convergence CT, Phemi, and Core Mobile. ConvergenceCT makes software for hospitals which can take in data from multiple data sources (EMR systems, labs, radiology, etc.) and produce insights via predictive analytics, and reporting dashboards. Phemi, similarly takes in healthcare info from the various disparate hospital data sources, and then has a number of apps sitting on top of the data delivering results and outcomes. While Core Mobile has mobile apps for doctors, patients, and carers to help optimise care processes, and share patient information with authorised recipients.

So lots of interesting things happening in this sector right now and much of the innovation is down to SAP’s decisions to 1) turn it’s HANA database into a platform, and 2) to initiate the Startup Focus program. Now that IBM is going the platform route with it’s Watson cognitive computing engine, we’re likely to see a lot of healthcare innovation emerging there too.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Technology is completely revolutionising the healthcare industry

Healthcare is changing. Recent advances in technology are completely revolutionising how we approach the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness. And this is just the beginning of what will be a technological revolution in healthcare.

Smartphone use is growing at an enormous pace. They now account for 87% of the total mobile handsets in the US, for example. And with the smartphones has come hundreds of new apps related to health and fitness. These apps do everything from monitoring sleep and movement (steps), to keeping track of glucose levels, blood oxygen, and even ovulation.

Fitbit Dashboard

The relentless rise of wearable connected devices is also having a big effect on people tacking their health and fitness. These small devices (such as the Fitbit Force, the Jawbone Up, and the Withings Pulse) are light and easy to wear, and they communicate with apps on the smartphone to monitor and record health-related information.

The next evolution of wearables, where they are built-in to the clothes you wear, has already begun. If these devices become as ubiquitous as smartphones, they will help us make far better informed decisions about our health and fitness.

Then you have major players like Apple going on a hiring spree of medical technology executives to bolster its coming Healthbook application, as well as its rumoured iWatch wearable device. Samsung too have wearable fitness trackers and announced their own Healthcare platform “to track your every move” today.

Going further back the stack, and we see IBM using its artificial intelligence play Watson to make inroads into the health industry (see video above). IBM has been partnering with WellPoint Inc. and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to help clinicians better diagnose instances of cancer in patients.

And more recently IBM has announced that it is working with New York Genome Center to create a prototype that could suggest personalised treatment options for patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. From the announcement:

By analyzing gene sequence variations between normal and cancerous biopsies of brain tumors, Watson will then be used to review medical literature and clinical records to help clinicians consider a variety treatments options tailored to an individual’s specific type and personalized instance of the cancer.

And IBM aren’t stopping there. They announced last month that they were opening up Watson as a platform so developers can create apps that can utilise Watson’s cognitive computing engine to solve all kinds of difficult problems. And earlier this month IBM announced that several “powered by Watson” apps have been developed, including one to help dermatologists better diagnose skin cancer.

And IBM also announced the acquisition of Cognea. Cognea offers virtual assistants that relate to people using a wide variety of personalities—from suit-and-tie formal to kid-next-door friendly – think Siri, or better yet Cortana for Watson!

Then, newer in-memory database technologies such as SAP’s HANA, are being used to crunch through datasets so large they were previously to big to query. For example, SAP announced today a partnership with the Stanford School of Medicine to “achieve a better understanding of global human genome variation and its implications in disease, particularly cardiovascular disease”. From the release SAP goes on to say:

Researchers have already leveraged SAP HANA to corroborate the results of a study that discovered that the genetic risk of Type II Diabetes varies between populations. The study looked at 12 genetic variants previously associated with Type II Diabetes across 49 individuals. With SAP HANA, researchers in Dr. Butte’s lab were able to simultaneously query all 125 genetic variants previously associated with Type II Diabetes across 629 individuals. Using traditional methods, this analysis on this amount of data would have taken an unreasonable amount of time.

So, the changes which technology are bringing to the healthcare industry now are nothing short of revolutionary. And with the likes of SAP’s HANA, and IBM’s Watson, set up as platforms for 3rd party developers, the stage is set for far more innovation in the coming months and years. Exciting times for healthcare practitioners, patients and patients to-be.


(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

Cloud computing meets supply chain transparency and risk

Supply chains? Yawn, right?

While supply chains may seem boring, they are of vital importance to organisations, and their proper management can make, or break companies.

Some recent examples of where poorly managed supply chains caused at best, serious reputational damage for companies include the Apple Computers child labour and workers suicide debacle; the Tesco horse meat scandal; and Nestlé’s palm oil problems.

What does this have to do with Cloud computing?

Well, last week, here in GreenMonk we published a ranking of cloud computing companies and their use of renewables. Greenqloud, Windows Azure, Google, SAP and Rackspace all come out of it quite well.

On the other hand, IBM and Oracle didn’t fare well in the study due to their poor commitment to renewables. But, at least they are reasonably transparent about it. Both organisations produce quite detailed corporate responsibility reports, and both report their emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project. So if you are sourcing your cloud infrastructure from Oracle or IBM, you can at least find out quite easily where the dirty energy powering your cloud is coming from.

Amazon however, does neither. It doesn’t produce any corporate responsibility reports and it doesn’t publish its emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project. This is particularly egregious given that Amazon is, by far the largest player in this market.

Amazon’s customers are taking a leap of faith by choosing Amazon to host their cloud. They have no idea where Amazon is sourcing the power to run their servers. Amazon could easily be powering their server farms using coal mined by Massey Energy, for example. Massey Energy, as well as having an appalling environmental record, is the company responsible for the 2010 West Virginia mining disaster which killed 29 miners, or Amazon could be using oil extracted from Tar sands. Or there could be worse in Amazon’s supply chain. We just don’t know, because Amazon won’t tell us.

This has got to be worrisome for Amazon’s significant customer base which includes names like Unilever, Nokia and Adobe, amongst many others. Imagine what could happen if Greenpeace found out… oh wait.

Just a couple of weeks ago US enterprise software company Infor announced at Amazon’s Summit that it plans to build it’s CloudSuite offerings entirely on Amazon’s AWS. As I tweeted last week, this is a very courageous move on Infor’s part

All the more brave given that Infor will be using Amazon to host the infrastructure of Infor’s own customer base. “Danger, Will Robinson!”

This lack of supply chain transparency is not sustainable. Amazon’s customers won’t tolerate the potential risk to their reputations and if Amazon are unwilling to be more transparent, there are plenty of other cloud providers who are.

This post was originally published by Tom Raftery on GreenMonk.

Image credits failing_angel

Cloud computing companies ranked by their use of renewable energy

Cloud provider Renewables percentage

Cloud computing is booming. Cloud providers are investing billions in infrastructure to build out their data centers, but just how clean is cloud?

Given that this is the week that the IPCC’s 5th assessment report was released, I decided to do some research of my own into cloud providers. The table above is a list of the cloud computing providers I looked into, and what I found.

It is a real mixed bag but from the table you can see that Icelandic cloud provider Greenqloud comes out on top because they are using the electricity from the 100% renewable Icelandic electricity grid to power their infrastructure.

On the Windows Azure front, Microsoft announced in May of 2012 that it was going to go carbon neutral for its facilities and travel. Microsoft are now, according to the EPA, the second largest purchaser of renewable energy in the US. In 2013 they purchased 2,300m kWh which accounted for 80% of their electricity consumption. They made up the other 20% with Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs). And according to Microsoft’s TJ DiCaprio, they plan to increase their renewable energy purchases from 80% to 100% in the financial year 2014.

Google claim to have been carbon neutral since 2007. Of Google’s electricity, 32% came from renewables, while the other 68% came from the purchase of RECs.

SAP purchased 391m kWh of renewable energy in 2013. This made up 43% of its total electricity consumption. SAP have since announced that they will go to powering 100% of its facilities from renewable energy in 2014.

The most recent data from IBM dates from 2012 when they purchased 764m kWh of renewable energy. This accounted for just 15% of their total consumption. In the meantime IBM have purchased cloud company Softlayer for whom no data is available, so it is unclear in what way this will have affected IBM’s position in these rankings.

The most up-to-date data on Oracle’s website is from 2011, but more recent data about their renewable energy is to be found in their 2012 disclosure to the Carbon Disclosure Project (registration required). This shows that Oracle purchased 5.4m kWh of renewable energy making up a mere 0.7% of their total consumption of 746.9m kWh in 2012.

Rackspace have no data available on their site, but in email communications with me yesterday they claim that 35% of their electricity globally is from renewable sources. They declined to say exactly how much that was (in kWh).

Amazon discloses no information whatsoever about its infrastructure apart from a claim that its Oregon and GovCloud regions are using 100% carbon free power. However, they don’t back up this claim with any evidence, they don’t disclose to the Carbon Disclosure Project, nor do they produce an annual Corporate Responsibility report.

The other three cloud providers in the list, Softlayer, GoGrid, and Bluelock have no information on their websites (that I could find), and they didn’t respond to written inquiries.

I’ll be writing a follow-up post to this in the next few days where I look into the supply chain risks of utilising cloud platforms where there is no transparency around power sourcing.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

SAP to power its cloud computing infrastructure from 100% renewable energy

Wind turbine

Cloud computing is often incorrectly touted as being a green, more environmentally-friendly, computing option. This confusion occurs because people forget that while cloud computing may be more energy efficient (may be), the environmental friendliness is determined by how much carbon is produced in the generation of that energy. If a data centre is primarily powered by coal, it doesn’t matter how energy efficient it it, it will never be green.

We have mentioned that very often here on GreenMonk, as well as regularly bringing it up with cloud providers when talking to them.

One such cloud provider is SAP. Like most other cloud vendors, they’re constantly increasing their portfolio of cloud products. This has presented them with some challenges when they have to consider their carbon footprint. In its recently released 2013 Annual Report SAP admits

Energy usage in our data centers contributed to 6% of our total emissions in 2013, compared with 5% in 2012

This is going the wrong direction for a company whose stated aim is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from their operations to levels of the year 2000 by 2020.

To counter this SAP have just announced

that it will power all its data centers and facilities globally with 100 percent renewable electricity starting in 2014

This is good for SAP, obviously, as they will be reducing their environmental footprint, and also good for customers of SAP’s cloud solutions who will also get the benefit of SAP’s green investments. How are SAP achieving this goal of 100 per cent renewable energy for its data centers and facilities? A combination of generating its own electricity using solar panels in Germany and Palo Alto (<1%), purchasing renewable energy and high quality renewable energy certificates, and a €3m investment in the Livlihoods Fund.

So, how does SAP’s green credentials stack up against some of its rivals in the cloud computing space?

Well, since yesterday’s pricing announcements from Google they definitely have to be considered a contender in this space. And what are their green credentials like? Well, Google have been carbon neutral since 2007, and they have invested over $1bn in renewable energy projects. So Google are definitely out in front on this one.

Who else is there?

Well, Microsoft with its recently branded Microsoft Azure cloud offerings are also a contender, so how do they fare? Quite well actually. In May 2012, Microsoft made a commitment

to make our operations carbon neutral: to achieve net zero emissions for our data centers, software development labs, offices, and employee business air travel in over 100 countries around the world.

So by doing this 2 years ahead of SAP and by including employee air travel, as well as facilities, you’d have to say that Microsoft come out ahead of SAP.

However, SAP does come in well ahead of other cloud companies such as IBM, who reported that renewable electricity made up a mere 15% of its consumption in 2012. IBM reported emissions of 2.2m tons of CO2 in 2012.

But, at least that’s better than Oracle. In Oracle’s 2012 report (reporting on the year 2011 – the most recent report available on their site), Oracle state that they don’t even account for their scope 3 emissions:

Scope 3 GHG emissions are typically defined as indirect emissions from operations outside the direct control of the company, such as employee commutes, business travel, and supply chain operations. Oracle does not report on Scope 3 emissions

And then there’s Amazon. Amazon doesn’t release any kind of information about the carbon footprint of its facilities. None.

So kudos to SAP for taking this step to green its cloud computing fleet. Looking at the competition I’d have to say SAP comes in around middle-of-the road in terms of its green cloud credentials. If it wants to improve its ranking, it may be time to revisit that 2020 goal.

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)

(Cross-posted @ GreenMonk: the blog)