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‘One must seek ways to achieve a desired outcome in the most efficient way possible’

Chris Powell, Chief Marketing Officer, Commvault, speaks on the company’s role in the South Pole Energy Challenge, the first-ever expedition powered solely by clean energy technologies and why a smart data backup and recovery plan is one that conserves resources in the context of data centre efficiency. Excerpts from the interview with Hannah Jo Uy…

| | May 17, 2018 | 9:17 am
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Chris Powell

The South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) is reportedly the first-ever expedition powered solely by clean energy technologies. Could you elaborate on the use of renewable energy during critical aspects of the trip?
SPEC is the first polar expedition powered solely by renewable energy, including solar and shell advanced biofuels made out of woodchips and garbage. Solar was utilised to power equipment used to record the expedition. This included the first 360-degree camera taken on a polar expedition, as part of an initiative between the 2041 Foundation [Robert Swan] and the United Nations to create an interactive / virtual learning environment to raise awareness of the importance to protect Antarctica and its natural resources.

In addition, the team tested a solar “ice-melter” from NASA and Shell Bio-Fuels were used for the critical need for water to survive. On average – each person required approximately six litres of water daily; of course, the irony of being surrounded by ice is that water is only abundant if it can be converted from its solid form.

How did Commvault get involved in the South Pole Energy Challenge? From what we understand, the company is providing complete backup and data protection for the critical data captured during all of the 2041 Foundation’s history-making expeditions – including the SPEC, IAE Antarctica 2018 and the Trans America Cycle.
We first engaged Robert Swan for a rather simple need –as a speaker for Commvault’s Sales Kickoff Meeting in May of 2017. It did not take long after meeting for Robert to come to the conclusion that we could do much more together. Robert’s mission, much like all businesses today, is increasingly reliant on data. In the case of the expedition and the 2041 foundation, Commvault and Robert both saw the opportunity to partner to ensure the data was safe, could be recovered quickly if necessary, and was easily accessible to Robert and his team.

In brief, they needed help to assure their data was backed-up, and that was a natural fit for Commvault as the world’s leading software for data backup and recovery. It has been a privilege to take part in this expedition, and by providing the capability to record, document and securely preserve all the video, audio, and imagery being captured on the 600-mile expedition. We are in our own small way, contributing to a globally important narrative that started with the heroic polar expeditions of Scott and Amundsen back in the early 1900s and will hopefully continue long after 2041.

As the official Data Partner for the 2041 Foundation, Commvault is leveraging its data protection software to receive, index, store, and distribute the historically significant information, video, photographs and scientific data captured in Antarctica, while the SPEC expedition was underway. Commvault will provide data protection and access for all expedition data, preserving all business records and critical data for the 2041 Foundation for the next three years.

How is it doing so in line with the renewable energy parameters imposed by this particular expedition? What were the initial bottlenecks in ensuring the smooth operation of critical equipment in relation to this and how was the company able to address these issues?
Everything was supported and relied upon renewable energy – we had to keep the cameras and satellite phones charged up each day by solar panels to make this all possible. We were able to upload some data directly from the expedition via satellite on a daily basis. That data was ingested into our Commvault Data Platform, and then available for use over the 57-day expedition. Most of the data – for example, large video files – were simply too large for satellite transmission (due to speed); in this case, data was brought back to Punta Arenas in southern Chile to be uploaded directly. This was one reason for choosing Azure, as Microsoft has a cloud data centre in South America, which helped in this process.

Gleaning from the company’s experience, what aspects of the knowledge transfer and practices in relation to this expedition do you believe could have wider applications in urban settings and office practices?
While it is hard to draw direct comparisons between the cold, remoteness of the Antarctic and urban business, there is a common logic applied — a smart data backup and recovery plan is one that conserves resources. Here’s the thinking: There are two universally accepted truths about data. First, data is the “red-thread” that increasingly runs through all aspects of how companies and governments, operate; and two, the amount and variety of data is growing. These two facts are at the heart of digital transformation. Given this, companies must be vigilant stewards of the resources required to keep data safe, so it is there when you need it and you can also use the data, to get value from it. So whether on the ice in Antarctica or running an enterprise, one must seek ways to achieve a desired outcome in the most efficient way possible.

SPEC essentially calls to attention the viability of using renewable energy, proving that if it can be used in one of, if not the most, barren, wild and dangerous places in the globe, it can be applied by everyone, everywhere. What is your opinion on the issue of renewables in the field of data centre cooling, which traditionally consumes massive amounts of energy? Especially in today’s modern society, where most people are reliant on smart infrastructure?

This is a great question and at the heart of how the 2041 Foundation and Commvault share some common values and a vision. Robert Swan, through 2041.org is challenging individuals, companies, governments, and other institutions to think differently about how they operate and the energy they consume. One can look at this to find ways to protect the environment; or simply through the view that efficiently operating is a cornerstone of business, and not a revolutionary new idea. We believe the data centre is a place where many companies have an opportunity to reduce energy consumption to the benefit of the environment and also, if they are publically traded, to the benefit of shareholders and bottom line. Here, both objectives have a symbiotic relationship.

A more efficient data centre backup and recovery environment is intelligently managed by software. One that helps set-up and manage the most logical set-up of on-premises and public cloud infrastructure and services. Savings are found in a number of ways; three of the most common are: First, infrastructure — maintaining the fewest number of copies (so-called Copy Data Management) will ensure you are only using the infrastructure needed. Today, many companies are keeping multiple copies of the same data for different needs. These copies sit on expensive infrastructure that consumes energy in their production and use. Second, Data Movement Commvault helps reduce this with intelligent automation to move only the data that must be moved. And third, people – consolidating backup and recovery to a single solution, frees up highly skilled and hard-to-find people to focus on other IT-related work.

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