Meet the Research Team

Techbuyer’s Knowledge Transfer Project (KTP) wrapped up in July and received an “Outstanding” rating. With the wind in our sales, Techbuyer has established a dedicated research team. Dr Stephen Clement and Dr Kat Burdett join us from the Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF), working alongside Nour Rteil (who became a full-time developer and researcher following the end of the KTP), Rich Kenny, and myself. The aim is to further knowledge on energy efficiency for servers that incorporates environmental factors. The team explains this below in their own words.  

Why did we open a research department? 

RICH: Techbuyer has always been interested in being the best we can be in our sector, whether this is through proving our quality, security, or processes with accreditations and audits or by taking on technically challenging projects and equipment. 

The research team is very much a continuation of this desire. It allows us to look at the “Why” and the “What” of our equipment rather than just taking for granted how it works – allowing us to understand rather than learn by rote. It’s why we’re so passionate about contributing to ongoing research and knowledge, to know more and challenge the current information out there. 

The FLF fit beautifully with our initial research we did through our KTP with the University of East London. We had already made great progress in the area of understanding performance and reliability, so it just made sense to look at the other environmental factors. 

What is the FLF and what is the focus the research associated with this? 

STEVE: The FLF is an UKRI funding scheme that aims to develop researchers and innovation leaders within academia and industry across the UK. There are lots of researchers and projects being funded for 4 years in various disciplines. My project is all about reducing the climate impact of data centres by investigating ways of making them more efficient. We’re looking to understand how the different parts of the data centre interact with each other and whether there are new strategies available when you take a holistic view of the data centre. To do this, we’re going to build a data centre digital-twin that encompasses the software-layer, servers, cooling, and power systems.  

Why did you think Techbuyer was a good company fit for the research?  

STEVE: Two reasons: the company’s ethos and its resources. Techbuyer is dedicated to providing sustainable IT solutions, so the aims of the FLF project align well with the company’s goals, and it has already had experience commercialising research with Interact. Being an established IT provider, Techbuyer has a large variety of servers and components in stock that we can test and profile to understand how changing hardware choices or even BIOS settings can propagate through the data centre and impact its efficiency.  

What is phase one of the research focused on?  

STEVE: Phase 1 is dedicated to profiling servers using industry standard benchmarks to build a picture of how the server specification and the data centre environmental conditions (pressurisation and temperature set-point) interact to affect the server’s efficiency.  

We’re hoping that our research will allow data centres to be more sustainable by using their existing equipment in a more efficient way. Where it’s no longer sustainable to operate older equipment efficiently, we’ll be able to provide directed guidance on options for replacing hardware. This includes choosing components that are tailored for the expected workload and conditions they’ll experience. 

RICH: I think if we look at the whole data centre as a living organism, we will understand more how best to provide to its needs. This includes temperature, pressure, performance, and energy use. We need to look at the big picture not just our piece in it. 

Why is this particularly important for the data centre sector?  

STEVE: The data centre sector is projected to grow substantially in the coming years, and already it’s impact on the climate is almost on par with the airline industry. Traditionally, the different parts of a data centre were treated entirely separately with few initiatives to understand how efficient a data centre is as whole. That is changing, but data centre behaviour and the interactions between the different infrastructure systems is both complex and not steady state. This makes understanding how efficient a particular data centre is at any one moment an ongoing challenge. So, it’s difficult to improve when we’re not all in agreement which metrics best demonstrate improvement.  

Additionally, the sector seems to rely on continual deployment of iteratively more efficient systems to improve efficiency. However, all of these new systems have an embodied environmental cost that can easily forgotten, so if we can prolong the life of existing servers by using them more efficiently, then the sector as a whole will benefit.  

What is the background of the people in the team?  

STEVE: There are three full-time researchers on the project: Nour Rteil, Dr Kat Burdett, and me. Nour is an established member of the Techbuyer research team; she developed the Interact tool as part of her KTP project at Techbuyer so is well versed in server efficiency. Kat has a background in mechanical engineering, and her PhD investigated some of the effects ambient temperature can have on server hardware. My background is in distributed systems and simulation. Kat and I have joined Techbuyer for this project from a University of Leeds spin-out company where we were developing energy-aware scheduling services for data centres. 

How does this build on previous research carried out by Techbuyer? 

NOUR: Our previous research focused on modelling the energy efficiency of servers based on their hardware configuration, without considering their BIOS power profile and environmental conditions (such as temperature and pressure). This new research will help us understand and determine the impact the latter has on power and performance in an aim to further improve the modelling of energy efficiency and better represent servers in a real data centre environment. 

RICH: It builds beautifully on the KTP. It takes the “outstanding” (KTN’s words not mine!)

work we already did and widens the scope! 

What do you hope it will achieve for the sector and the world?   

STEVE: I’m hoping this research will lead to more efficient and sustainable data centres. The world is relying on the software run in data centres more than ever. They’re the backbone of modern civilisation, and increasingly we’re looking to software solutions to help improve the environmental sustainability of other aspects of our lives; whether that’s using video conferencing instead of business travel or smart IoT devices on the electricity grids. Even as countries begin to decarbonise their electricity supply, the data centre sector has a responsibility to ensure that they continue to improve efficiency too. 

RICH: I’m hoping it leads to significant change in the way we provision the data centre. I’m hoping it brings the IT equipment and its potential costs, benefits, and impacts to the fore of the conversation so that we can achieve more for less and decrease the impact IT has on our planet, communities, and people. 

In Conversation with Techbuyer | What Does Innovation Really Look Like?