The increasingly damaged image of GAFAM in the eyes of the public is particularly linked to the awareness of the existence of gigantic, energy-intensive data centres.
With the democratisation of cloud services, this problem is now far from being the sole prerogative of multinationals. This is how Qarnot entered the market in 2010 with an innovative eco-design model. The challenge? Make the cloud part of a circular economic structure . The company also wishes to raise the profile of the local area by hosting its services mainly in France. Here is how the Qarnot company succeeded in meeting its ecological challenge in addition to offering a powerful cloud service.
Digital, not really ecological
The general public is increasingly aware of the environmental impact of digital technology. And for good reason, as reported by ADEME (Environment and Energy Management Agency), the share of digital technology in global greenhouse gas emissions is currently 4%. This figure is constantly increasing and could double by 2025. The contribution of data centres and network infrastructures (53%) is slightly higher than that resulting from the use by consumers of their equipment (47%).
The big data phenomenon, with the explosion in the amount of information to be stored, is one of the major sources of emissions, but also HPC (High Performance Computing) type computing centres. In the case of supercomputers, in addition to the energy required for the operation of the computing machines, there is also that linked to cooling. The tendency to concentrate computational resources further amplifies the problem with a considerable amount of heat to be permanently removed.
Qarnot’s challenge: including its computing services in the digital circular economy
It is to face the ecological challenge posed by supercomputers that Qarnot was created in 2010 in accordance with the emergence of Green Computing. The circular economy is an approach to the economy where waste from one sector of activity is recovered and serves as a resource for another sector of activity. In the approach initiated by Qarnot, the waste heat considered as supercomputer waste is used as a resource for directly heating buildings. Qarnot is therefore both a cloud service and an energy supplier. The two types of clientele are also quite distinct.
The other particularity of the Qarnot model is that its servers are not concentrated in the same place, as for a classic data centre, but dispersed in different buildings. The places where their machines are located are quite simply the customers who have chosen to use the waste heat of the cloud service as a heat source. These hosts are distributed throughout Europe, but mainly in France. Qarnot is therefore, ultimately, a collection of mini data centres and a service that is both delocalised (cloud side) and localised (energy supplier side).
Ecology as a driver of technological innovation
To meet its challenge and offer an energy supplier service up to the task, the Qarnot company had to innovate.
On the hardware side, Qarnot has developed the computer-radiator and the computer-boiler. As their names indicate, they are machines whose design is optimized to recover the waste heat resulting from the operation of calculation processors. These innovations ensure a heat recovery rate of 100% for the radiator-computer and 96% for the boiler-computer. In other words, the energy losses are minimal or even zero. The boiler can heat the water to 60°C, which is suitable for most domestic needs.
On the software side, Qarnot has specially developed a Q.WARE software layer to cope with variable heating demands. This solution quite simply makes it possible to increase or decrease the calculation load to adapt the heating power. In summer, when heating demand is limited, only the boilers are then supplied with calculation.
State-of-the-art HPC cloud services
The ecological design proposed by Qarnot should not obscure the quality of their cloud service. The company’s HPC service perfectly meets the requirements for all data and data processing projects (AI, machine learning, deep learning and big data), as well as for the deployment of business intelligence (BI) solutions. Qarnot offers the latest CPU processors (AMD Ryzen and Threadripper), but also the possibility of choosing GPU processors (NVIDIA RTX A6000).
In addition to the computing power offered, security is also an essential point for cloud services. On this side, Qarnot is incorporating into its services a number of solid measures to go in this direction. The data is end-to-end encrypted and is not persisted on the platform, there is a “one client per machine” policy and each core is rebooted after each client project. Finally, the services offered are currently the subject of an application for ISO 27001 and SecNumCloud certification. Proof that in this area Qarnot is up to the job is that well-known banking companies such as BNP Paribas, Société Générale and Natixis have already used their cloud service.
And on the price side?
We are well aware that ecology and economy do not necessarily go hand in hand. However, is the cloud service offered by Qarnot more expensive? The answer is no. On the contrary, the proposed rates would be more advantageous than some other well established suppliers in the market. This is due to the double activity of the company. The IT infrastructures deployed are in fact financed by customers who wish to heat their buildings. Compared to a classic cloud, Qarnot can therefore pass on the savings made on the infrastructure part for customers using computing services.
The investment cost for the purchase of boilers or radiators is however quite substantial at the start. However, it is amortised over several years by the savings made on the heating bill and in addition, Qarnot reimburses the electricity spent to operate its servers.
Qarnot: a French, ecological and efficient supercomputer
Qarnot’s particularly innovative model is based on the meeting of two markets, the cloud and heating. Far from having to make compromises, Qarnot succeeds in delivering an HPC cloud service that meets the industry’s performance and security requirements. In addition, since environmental standards are certainly bound to become ever more restrictive, Qarnot offers companies a solution to integrate their calculation needs into a CSR (corporate social responsibility) approach. Qarnot has also succeeded in a major challenge: combining local needs (heating) with delocalised needs (computer calculations), all delivered by a company that holds high the colours of our flag.