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a few years back, soft iron, which makes data center hardware for software-defined storage, turned to digital twins to help optimize the hardware not only for cost and performance, but also to dramatically reduce its environmental footprint. A recent rating by ESG investment firm Earth Capital found that these efforts are bearing fruit.
SoftIron’s latest products generate about 20% of the heat of comparable business storage products and consume only 20% of the power of comparable products. In total, Earth Capital estimates that every 10 petabytes of installed storage space translates into savings of approximately 6,656 tons of carbon, compared to industry standards.
Jason Van der Schyff, COO of SoftIron, told VentureBeat in an exclusive interview how the company has used digital twins to achieve such impressive results. The director also explains how they have incorporated environmental considerations into their design workflow for both the products and the factories they build and ship. This helped them see that a focus on I/O rather than CPU performance could help them meet business requirements and sustainability goals.
VentureBeat: How do you go about building a digital twin to optimize your carbon and energy footprint?
Jason van der Schyff: At SoftIron, we use various digital twinning strategies across our physical products and our facilities and supply chain to determine and analyze our carbon and energy footprint. Our products are fully digitally modeled, from the fundamental printed circuit boards to mechanical components and all internal active and passive components. This allows us not only to model the thermal performance, but also to analyze both native and foreign influences, such as vibrations caused by harmonic oscillations caused by cooling fans – an innovation for which we recently obtained a patent. This type of analysis in digital form allows us to adapt our designs to create less heat, use less cooling and therefore use less energy, providing our customers with the lowest energy consumption on the market and helping them reduce of their CO2 emissions targets.
With regard to our manufacturing, digital twins provide efficiency in designing and implementing new manufacturing techniques. It allows us to digitally model the impact of design changes in the production workflow across our various production sites before it ever manifests itself in the real world – all without wasting materials.
SoftIron’s digital twin brother powers innovation from our manufacturing center of excellence in Berlin. There we are able to model and manage our global manufacturing footprint as a single global capability. While this modeling is sometimes thousands of miles away from where the actual production takes place, it means that the physical product can be manufactured close to the point of consumption and in some way make use of local supply chains, all of which have a positive impact. on both the resilience and sustainability of the supply chain. Digital twinning supports this strategy, which we call ‘Edge Manufacturing’.
VentureBeat: What kind of tools do you use to store the raw data and share it with different stakeholders in the process?
Van der Schyff: As a designer and manufacturer of enterprise storage, SoftIron chooses to deploy our digital twins on our own infrastructure at our Berlin facility, with real-time resiliency through geo-replication at our California and Sydney facilities. A unified internal network gives all employees direct access in real time to collaborate and contribute to the iteration of the digital twin designs.
VentureBeat: What goes into identifying some of the biggest contributors to inefficiency and reducing it in the end products?
Van der Schyff: Most of the inefficiencies are caused by waste, be it wasted energy, external components or even wasted production time. Developing a digital twin throughout the development process allows us to model and analyze inefficiencies in the design and functionality of our products. This improves quality and minimizes post-processing. Our production floor has been further modeled to provide accurate time and motion studies and use a variety of layouts to optimize efficiency before physical construction is completed to further reduce inefficiencies.
VentureBeat: What are some of your discoveries about the specific improvements or changes that led to the greatest impact?
Van der Schyff: By modeling the performance and interaction between the hardware and software layers, we were able to identify early in the company’s history that software-defined storage is primarily an I/O problem rather than a computational problem. This discovery was the basis for component selection and the adoption of an energy-efficient ARM64 architecture to provide high-performance, yet cost-effective storage devices. These low-power devices deliver savings such that for every 10 PB of data storage shipped by SoftIron, an estimated 6,656 tons of CO2 is saved through reduced energy consumption in the customer’s data center over its lifetime.
VentureBeat: How Do Digital Twins Fit Into This Process?
Van der Schyff: Digital twins provide open access to all data in one place, increasing cross-border and asynchronous collaboration. This partnership allows SoftIron to bring cross-functional expertise to any design, whether a product or a manufacturing process, to observe and reduce inefficiencies and seize opportunities to optimize our carbon and energy footprint.
The significant supply chain disruptions we’ve seen over the past year or more have only exposed the weaknesses in the way IT is currently produced. We believe that sustainability and resilience are inextricably linked. Manufacturing has traditionally placed all its eggs in a few very large, inexpensive baskets in the world – for each greater volume of smaller and smaller component variations to reduce costs.
Digital twinning is a technology that (along with current generations of super-flexible, efficient, small-volume assembly line machines) helps break the cost-to-volume equation. This promotes small, distributed manufacturing operations, opens up the supply chain to more local, perhaps smaller suppliers, and over time creates a more resilient, sustainable, global IT industry. We believe that SoftIron is at the forefront of this, but we expect this model to become more widespread in the next decade.
VentureBeat: Now What?
Van der Schyff: As SoftIron expands its Edge Manufacturing strategy, more opportunities will become available to optimize our carbon and energy footprint and make further reductions by shortening supply chains, increasing local recycling options and increasing the amount of energy spent delivering of SoftIron’s energy-efficient appliances to its customers.
We believe that what we do will serve as both a model and a catalyst for others to follow. In the past 12 months we have seen some significant announcements regarding the development of chip manufacturing in the US and Europe and we hope that by the time these facilities come online, there will be a US and European IT manufacturing economy, of which SoftIron is a leading component .
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