NetApp: A Quest to Unleash the Power of Sustainable AI

Paul van der Lingen spoke at Sustainability LIVE: Net Zero, our latest event managed by our sister publication, Sustainability Magazine
With insights from NetApp's Paul van der Lingen, we explore how the company is seeking to capitalise on AI technology in order to maximise innovation

With the era of digital transformation intensifying energy demands and environmental concern, businesses are keen to actualise sustainable solutions.

Currently, AI requires huge amounts of power, data and water for cooling, with McKinsey estimating in 2024 that power needs of US data centres alone will jump from 17GW (2022) to 35GW by 2030. Likewise, AI graphic processing units (GPUs) consume four times as much power as servers used for cloud applications.

Paul van der Lingen, Solutions Architects Director at NetApp, spoke at our sister publication event, Sustainability LIVE: Net Zero, about the importance of sustainable data management and how the future of AI looks within the corporate world.

Paul van der Lingen (right) speaking at Sustainability LIVE: Net Zero

Technology as a sustainable ‘enabler’

NetApp is a data management and storage company that provides unified data storage, integrated data services and cloud operations solutions to enterprise customers. 

Despite being huge consumers of energy and electricity currently, van der Lingen states that his role within the businesses is to change that for both the organisation and its customers - making sure that their operations are more sustainable moving forward.

“I believe technology is and can be a superb enabler,” he says. “Even if it's “just neutral” but delivers amazing things such as medical breakthroughs or ways to improve the human condition. 

“But the shocking thing about our role – as technologists – in this subject is just how much digital waste we create.”

He explains that, according to a Bloomberg study, 68% of the data that is created, specifically corporate data, is never used, referenced, or indexed, which he refers to as a “gulf of waste”. This often includes AI and, because it is unknown, no one will delete it.

“Orphan data still needs power, CPUs are still running integrity checks on it; it’s still part of a security posture, so its being managed and assessed; people are still needed to manage space and allocations. These associated activities – just around this never used data – generate more GHG than the aviation industry does,” he adds.

“There are things that we can do, however. Imagine what we can do if we cleaned up that 68% of data.”

The power of sustainable AI

AI holds great power to drive sustainability initiatives and address environmental challenges.

NetApp has been continually committed to driving AI solutions, having recently debuted its autonomous ransomware detection capabilities. Certified by NVIDIA, this intelligent data infrastructure encourages greater cyber resilience, which includes embedding AI and machine learning technology in storage to tackle ransomware threats.

Customers can now take their AI projects to the next level by combining NetApp’s data infrastructure with high-performance compute, networking and software from NVIDIA.

With this in mind, van der Lingen highlights how AI, in the short-term, is acting like a “gold rush” for businesses. They are very keen to invest, but they are unsure of long-term strategies or development goals. 

“Technology is always paying attention,” van der Lingen says in his interview.

He cites collaboration as the key to long-term success with AI. As part of this, NetApp is striving to help people clean up their data and ensure they are utilising data in a much more sustainable way.

When it comes to sustainable technology, the message, as van der Lingen explains, is: “clean up after yourself.”

He says: “We need to clean up what we already have – and this will be the hardest because if it’s more than 10 minutes old we’ve (collectively) probably forgotten if it’s needed, or sensitive or maybe valuable. Doing this will take deliberate action from people who are probably massively busy doing stuff that their managers want to drive their business forward.

“Imagine the impact of not having to buy that next round of tech because, hey, you have it already. It's right there in your data centre, but it's doing something entirely pointless. 

“We survived the energy price crisis of 2023, but now we have the next level of that – being able to get energy at all.”

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Paul van der Lingen spoke at Sustainability LIVE: Net Zero, our latest event managed by our sister publication, Sustainability Magazine, which you can watch above.

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