& more

Episode 62

Sustainability Beyond Servers

Compiler hero art

Episode 47

Legacies | Hardy Hardware


legacies hero art

Show Notes

Last year, we discussed the impact of data centers on the global power grid. We know open source technology can help us optimize our power consumption. But people are looking at sustainable energy usage beyond the server. 

How can technologists think about the balance between sustainability, business operations, and their customers’ needs?


00:02 — Kim Huang
Last year, we released an episode about sustainability. Specifically about Project Kepler, an open-source data initiative meant to monitor power usage within data centers. But in tech, people are starting to imagine conservation beyond the server. Dan Schnitzer is one of those people.

00:19 — Dan Schnitzer
I first realized that sustainability and working in the environment could be a career path when I graduated from business school and very early on, knew that I did not want to go into traditional business practices.

00:32 — Kim Huang
Dan is the program manager for workplace sustainability at Red Hat. Before his current job, he worked in the public school system. Why? Well, he had his degree in business, but his values stopped him from going down that path. At least at first.

00:49 — Dan Schnitzer
The route that a lot of my peers were going in just had no interest to me, and I'm the type that needs to be fully invested in the work that I do in order to do it well. And so I started to look at the education I had in business and tying that in with my passion for being outdoors and experiencing the natural cycles and the natural beauty of nature. And just from there, started to mold and develop a career path out of it.

01:17 — Kim Huang
Tech companies are looking more closely at their global impact. Everything from their own power consumption to supply chains, to how they talk to their customers about sustainability. And their focus is becoming more nuanced every day, something that is vital for change to happen.

01:34 — Dan Schnitzer
The environment doesn't care what things look like on paper, doesn't care what financing mechanisms are or not in place. It's a very specific and definable impact that either is or is not happening or is positive or is negative. And so the shift in focus on impact, I think is going to be a important one.

01:56 — Angela Andrews
This is Compiler, an original podcast from Red Hat. I'm Angela Andrews.

02:01 — Kim Huang
And I'm Kim Huang.

02:03 — Angela Andrews
We go beyond the buzzwords and jargon and simplify tech topics.

02:07 — Kim Huang
Today, we're checking in on sustainability efforts in tech. (02:17): Angela, when I was a kid, I was a very avid reader. I would read everything from newspapers to the encyclopedia. And one day, I read an article about global warming, and I just remember being terrified of what I was seeing. I had a science project at school a few weeks after that and I decided to take what I learned from that article. I got in front of my class, I was in elementary school, and I gave this presentation. And here I am standing in front of these kids talking about this really serious subject. And afterwards, they all just started laughing at me, not taking me seriously. It seemed like a movie, what I was describing. And I have a very deep appreciation for scientists that go in front of these large companies and governments and talk about what's happening in the world and have to deal with a very grown up version of what I had to deal with, where it's like people are not taking you seriously. It's like, "Do you hear what I'm saying? Do you understand what I'm saying to you?"

03:25 — Angela Andrews
People have this tunnel thing, like, "What do you mean global warming? That's not a thing." You might as well just replace it with, "What do you mean aliens? That's not a thing." You know what I mean? And I don't think a lot of us are thinking long-term because some folks say, "The weather's always changing. What do you mean by that?" But like you said, there are scientists who are dedicating their lives to understanding the impact of everything we do and what it's doing to our planet. And I don't want to discount them. And I love the fact that you didn't discount them at a very young age and had the fortitude to stand up in front of your class and present. But I feel you on that. "No, It's not a thing." No, it's a thing.

04:19 — Kim Huang
Right, and whenever you turn on the news now, it seems like there's a new report or something else.

04:24 — Angela Andrews
It's mainstream.

04:26 — Kim Huang
Yeah, it's mainstream. And maybe, definitely the terminology has changed. We don't say global warming anymore. We say sustainability or we say climate change or global climate crisis or something of that. That sounds even scarier. I don't even know when we started using that. It sounds worse. But yeah, it's just even in my lifetime, it's changed so much how we talk about the environment and what our impact is on the environment. So I want to bring Dan back because he is working on Red Hat's newest and largest sustainability project.

05:02 — Dan Schnitzer
Red Hat has set out a visionary 2030 net operational zero ambition statement, which looks to take our operational emissions. So everything from our actual running of a company, like what it takes to run this large company, down to zero. So one thing that's interesting as we start to peel back all of this is that we have to look at everything from different perspectives. That if we have a light bulb that runs on a hundred percent wind, clean wind energy that's on the roof of the building, the question is, "Do we really have to turn the light off when we leave the room?" So there are reasons to say yes. Eventually the light will burn out, you'll have to replace it. That's resources. But fundamentally, we have to stop thinking one dimensionally about, "Oh, the solution is recycling. The solution is energy efficiency."

05:57 — Kim Huang
Dan and his team are tackling all the usual suspects, recycling, alternative energy. But energy efficiency is a unique challenge in our line of work. Dan already has some wins to share.

06:10 — Dan Schnitzer
A good success story around that is with our data center that is here in Raleigh, that takes place of our Westford lab. So instead of running the Westford lab, which was in-house, a huge energy consumer, something like 12 million kilowatt-hours a year and not done to maximum efficiency because that's not what the building was built for. That's not how the systems were designed. It got built out over time to somewhere that specializes in running a data center. We've maximized efficiency in terms of the actual energy it takes to run a comparable number of servers. We've reduced the number of servers because part of the clean out process enables us to decommission unused equipment.

06:56 — Kim Huang
All of that is really nice for Red Hat. But I wanted to know what can energy efficiency look like on a grander scale?

07:04 — Rimma Iontel
My name is Rimma Iontel. I'm a chief telco architect in our telco vertical. And one of the things that I'm working on right now is sustainability.

07:17 — Kim Huang
Rimma has worked in telecommunications for many years. Before Red Hat, she was at Verizon. She's seen firsthand how talk about sustainability and power consumption has shifted.

07:30 — Rimma Iontel
It was never before that much of a consideration in terms of how much each individual piece of equipment that I put in the network is consuming. We did care about it, but only from the terms of, "I have a central office or data center where I'm deploying something and it has just so much power because that's how much my power company is supplying. Do I have enough power for it?" And the solution before for not enough power was, "Okay, I'm paying the power company and they put in extra lines for me." So now it might be, "Okay, this piece of equipment is consuming this much power. Maybe I'm not going to put it in. Maybe I'm going to look at a competitor with a more efficient solution."

08:18 — Kim Huang
It sounds similar to the work that Dan has done in the Westford lab. But even with the increased attention given to the subject, Rimma says a lot of organizations still can't get beyond just monitoring their power consumption. Why? Because of the nature of their business.

08:37 — Rimma Iontel
If you look at the telco networks, the biggest power consumption from the research is shown in the radio access network, cell phone network. And that's within the actual towers and the equipment that's connected to those towers, the antennas. And a large portion of that power consumption is due to air conditioning because when you're deploying something in the field, sometimes it's called little huts, they all have to have air conditioning in them because you need air conditioning to cool down the equipment. It's not to keep people comfortable. It's to make sure your equipment doesn't burn out. And as the temperatures are going up pretty much universally, you need to have more air conditioning.

09:33 — Kim Huang
Load on a grid requires air conditioning to cool equipment, which requires more load on the same grid that powers the network. Then you have rising temperatures, which creates the need for what? More air conditioning, which requires more load on the grid. It's the negative feedback loop that nightmares are made of. Technologists looking to turn things into a new direction should think outside the box.

09:58 — Rimma Iontel
If you look at the business centers in the large cities that you have people during the day, but not very many people during the night and almost nobody on the weekends, you don't need the same cell coverage during those hours as you need during the busy hours. So if you scale down your network coverage for those hours, you can save tremendous amount of power. But for that, your network has to be able to automatically adjust itself. If all of a sudden something is actually happening in your business center because there's, I don't know, some parade going through it or a marathon running through it on the weekend, you don't want to leave all those people without service. So it has to be something that is learning and can detect those bursts of activity, but at all the other time, can scale it down.

10:57 — Angela Andrews
Sounds like data, sounds like machine learning.

11:01 — Kim Huang
It sure does.

11:02 — Angela Andrews
It sounds like this new buzz that we're hearing. So she said a lot of very interesting things, and I never thought of cell coverage being something that is expensive, electricity-wise, like on the grid. Because we're not plugging our phones in, in such a way. So there's a slight disconnect. But I understand when she's talking about these towers that are somewhere and they have a little hut attached to them and it needs air conditioning, things need to stay cool. Circuits, servers, systems cannot go into the 80, 90 degree range or they'll cook. I've seen it happen. So we're talking about just keeping things cool. We're basically talking about the temperature that it takes to keep this equipment cool. Being able to scale a cell network is ... I don't know if a lot of us think about that. Our cell phones are on 24/7, but of course we're not using them 24/7. (12:09): So maybe there's some sort of learning going on that looking at the trends that she just mentioned, on the weekend, do we need all of this? But of course, if something jumps off, we want to be able to give our customers the service that they are paying for and deserve. So there's a beautiful balance that needs to be struck and being able to monitor the data, take that data and make sense of it, learn from it, and then have your systems react accordingly. Does everybody think about this? It's interesting that if telco customers are thinking about it, but let's go across all the verticals. Are other industries thinking about just this thing? How much are we really consuming and the impact that it has? Food for thought.

12:58 — Kim Huang
Absolutely. I've seen these little huts that she's talking about in the wild, and I didn't even know what they were. But it makes perfect sense to me. And what you're saying, Angela about different people across verticals, across different industries and disciplines thinking about this problem, I think that they are. I think there's a lot of monitoring without action because the technology that we would use, obviously this is automation and AI where we're talking about, the use of it is just in that way is just so new. Because before, as Rimma said, we were just monitoring devices to see how much they were using. And then if we needed more juice, we just went to the company and asked for more juice. And that's becoming less and less of a thing. And now, there's a movement to optimize devices and optimize the way that we imagine these devices operating.

13:51 — Rimma Iontel
With artificial intelligence, you can even make more finely grained decisions. Because you can say, "Okay, it's lunchtime in New York and Midtown." Everybody's out at lunch, they're sitting there staring at their phones, catching up, looking at some YouTube videos or whatever. But then during work hours, mostly they're not going to be doing it. Or even if they're doing it, they might be connected to wi-fi instead of being outside on the street connected to a cell network. So that's how you combine sustainability and artificial intelligence.

14:27 — Kim Huang
That's so smart and so savvy.

14:29 — Angela Andrews
It is.

14:30 — Kim Huang
And she's absolutely right about New York Midtown at lunch. It's impossible to get a seat anywhere.

14:38 — Angela Andrews
And they're listening to Compiler, getting it done on their lunch break.

14:41 — Kim Huang
I hope so. So AI is a big buzzword right now. People are thinking about it in the ways of generative AI. They're thinking about the very kind of mainstream ways that we're imagining how AI can affect code and creating new things.

14:58 — Angela Andrews
Yes. This is not that.

14:59 — Kim Huang
What about this type of implementation? What do you think of this?

15:02 — Angela Andrews
I think it's interesting because like you said, it's just data. And being able to build those types of models that look at those patterns and find the smarts, find the trends, find the things that are happening within them, and then to be able to maybe automate how your systems are running, when your systems are running, when you're providing full power, 90%, 100. Understanding those levels and being able to say, "Well, we can react when we need to. But because it is two o'clock in the afternoon and everyone has returned from lunch, well, let's take this down a little bit. We don't need as much power as we need it in these cell towers at this particular moment." (15:52): How power is consumed, it is not an infinite source. Or so we seem to think that it is, but there's something fueling said power. And how are we thinking about its sustainability and the impact on the globe and things like that? So it's interesting that we're hearing this more. 20 years ago, I don't think I've ever heard this conversation. It was just make sure the data center stays cool. Close the door on your way out. Don't leave the door open, watch the temperature or whatever. And you just ran with it. Things are different now. Things are much smarter and much more intentional.

16:36 — Kim Huang
Right. Sustainability is a tricky subject for IT companies. But the tides are shifting and there's more pressure to get things from concept to reality. We'll talk about those pressures after the break. (16:57): Let's get back to Dan. He says back in 2022, Red Hat started tracking requests from customers about sustainability. They wanted to know what Red Hat was doing in that space. A year later, there were a lot of requests.

17:15 — Dan Schnitzer
We had over 110 independent requests for varying levels of information from, "Do you have a goal?", to 50 question surveys that got real deep into the very specifics of our waste streams or what our targets mean or how we're going to achieve them. And we are seeing that for some companies, this is just informational, just asking. Whether they intend to go further in the future, we don't know. And others who are saying that this is mandatory. If you don't have a goal yet, you need to have it in the next two years. So we're seeing a whole variety of approaches. But it's signaling to us and to the market as a whole that everyone needs to get on board. And what's exciting for me to see, and this is the approach we take when we engage our supply chain, is there seems to be an increase in interest in impact, and not just in the paperwork sustainability. Not just checking the box you have, you don't have. But what really is the impact that you're having.

18:25 — Kim Huang
Red Hat is a software company. It's not something you think of when you're talking about carbon footprints. But Dan says the obligation is still there.

18:36 — Dan Schnitzer
Quite frankly, Red Hat has a pretty small footprint compared to our size because of the nature of our work. But that doesn't mean we're exempt from making a difference. It's the minorities that make up the majority,

18:46 — Kim Huang
That obligation and the demands that come under those obligations, they can vary according to where companies operate.

18:56 — Rimma Iontel
If you look at North America, we are aware of how important it is to be sustainability conscious. But there is no regulatory pressure in terms of the regulations that asking the companies now to report. Europe has a very different regulatory pressure on them, to first be aware of what their sustainability footprint is. And that includes their power footprint. They understand that they need to monitor it very closely. And then they need to show improvement, say year over year, as they're reporting it. And then when you're looking at Asia, especially Japan, they have a different type of concern because they're literally running out of power. They have to start up some of the nuclear stations that they turned down previously because they don't have enough power. So all of these different types of consideration all add up to the companies becoming interested in sustainability, whether because they actually care or because they care about the bottom line.

20:06 — Kim Huang
So yeah, the situation is not the same across the board. Depending on where you live, depending on where your company is located, your energy consumption and the concerns you have around it could be completely different. Obviously, legislation and things that are coming down from governmental organizations, those also have an impact.

20:28 — Dan Schnitzer
Legislation has had a huge impact in what companies are required to do, where environmental and ESG data has gone from a nice to have footnote in an annual report, to having to be auditable and submitted annually in certain countries and across certain regions, even if the legislation's not in place. And so they're trying to get ahead of it. And so they're trying to have more audit-ready data, a little less touchy-feely, and a lot more quantitative.

21:04 — Angela Andrews
So they want teeth in these reports. They want data behind it. They want to see the needle moving. And if you're serious about making any change year over year and being able to chart your improvement, then you have to actually do something. There has to be some sort of change. Especially if it comes from the government telling you this is what you need to do. It is definitely less of a, "We just want this little sticker", to more, "We need to be able to report back on our progress to see how we're doing." It's much more concrete now.

21:40 — Kim Huang
Yeah. But the most fascinating thing about this for me is this is a societal problem and we are all trying to approach it in our own ways. Whether you're trying to be more mindful of your own individual consumption of energy, where that energy comes from. Whether you're a company who's trying to understand the vendors that you use and your supply chain and how those things impact the globe and what your carbon footprint is. And then you have even higher than that, these countries that have this concern. We're all concerned about energy usage. And it's an existential question of do we as technologists, do we need to sacrifice in order to conserve what we have and conserve the globe and protect the environment? But we also have an obligation to customers, and you can't necessarily scale down operations or scale down services, especially when those services are vital. Not just for people to look on YouTube, but hospitals and emergency services. Those also depend on the grid. So with the demand for services increasing, how do we approach this responsibly?

22:58 — Angela Andrews
Someone's going to be creative and have to get creative.

23:01 — Kim Huang

23:01 — Angela Andrews
Using some sort of technology. I think that's where this is going. It has to be some sort of technical solution behind it. I don't know if I'm giving anything away, but it has to be. Because we can't just, like you just said, well, we can't just turn things off.

23:20 — Kim Huang
That's right.

23:20 — Angela Andrews
There has to be a better way.

23:22 — Kim Huang
That's where this takes a hopeful turn. Sustainability and efforts behind sustainability also attract talent. You have young people who want to work for companies who are more intentional and conscious of their impact.

23:37 — Rimma Iontel
Young people are looking at those types of reports now, strangely enough, because they want to buy from companies that are climate change conscious, that are good corporate citizens.

23:52 — Dan Schnitzer
The younger generation entering the workforce now, and even more so in tech than most other fields, care deeply about environmental issues and look for employers that meet their values. Especially with the increase in remote work, values matching with a company is more important now than ever. So the ability to not only attract the best talent by leading with these values, to being open to these ideas of folks who see things differently than those of us who've been in the workforce longer, is going to be a tremendous asset to making change.

24:27 — Kim Huang
Younger generations, they've been able to see the effects of climate change and the effects of power consumption without responsible action being taken. I think that they're more galvanized to do things and use their talents, whether that's conservation talents or working in code or working in the data center or working in cloud computing. They're more dialed in and more galvanized and more energized to do the work of imagining what these solutions can be, as it pertains to how we can use power responsibly.

25:06 — Angela Andrews
They're not just choosing where to work and where to target their work. They're also taking into account their dollar and they're spending power. And they're choosing to spend their money with companies that are making a difference.

25:21 — Kim Huang
Absolutely. Rimma has a lot of experience working for telecommunications and working in the data center. I asked her before we parted ways, how can technologists get more involved in sustainability?

25:35 — Rimma Iontel
So if you're a developer and you have interest in sustainability, so you have an opportunity to contribute to open source project, especially if those projects are connected to important things like sustainability to climate change. Just see where you can individually can do something. Don't wait for your company or for somebody else to do it for you.

25:59 — Kim Huang
Dan talked about how in the beginning of his career, he shied away from working for private companies. He thought that they were part of the problem. Now, his thinking has changed.

26:10 — Dan Schnitzer
I came, again, to this work from the public sector with a lot of skepticism and anger towards private industry, seemingly only caring about profits and the bottom line and being the largest contributors to climate change. And I think there's still some bad actors out there that approach it that way. But I'm really actually proud to say that the reason I decided to work for Red Hat and give it a try was because they seemed different and they seemed truly authentic about wanting to make a positive difference. And I think we're doing that and we're pushing towards that. And we're super unsatisfied with where we are right now in that, in a very healthy way. That we want to push more and do more to positively impact the environment, do more to reduce the negative impact. We're in this to save health for humanity and for all living beings and for our future. And so those that come after us can enjoy the same pleasures and luxuries that we have because the people before us stewarded a healthy life as much as possible.

27:22 — Angela Andrews
I don't think this is at the front of our minds as much as it should be. We make decisions based off of a myriad of things. But to put it in the perspective of what is our global impact? What is it doing for our entire globe? What type of sustainability is around it? How much power is being consumed by said behavior? And we are not always thinking about keeping the power in a server room. It's bigger than that, and we're hearing that from our guests. (27:58): I think it gives us something all to really consider and think about because this is only our only globe that we have to live on. So what are we and the companies we deal with and the products we use? And it has to be this very holistic thing. And if we think about it that way, then we can start making those very intentional movements about, "This is what I'm going to do for myself and my family and in my day-to-day to make a difference." And hopefully it trickles out because it all starts somewhere and it usually has to start with us and our behaviors. Kudos to companies like ours and others who are really taking this sustainability effort to where it needs to be. So I like it. I like the impact that we're having.

28:52 — Kim Huang
Yeah, we're having a positive impact, not just on Red Hatters or just on-

28:56 — Angela Andrews

28:57 — Kim Huang
People who are in our communities. But also we're having an impact on the way that our customers are thinking about sustainability, which I think is really impressive and just it's really is a reflection of our culture, and I really like that.

29:11 — Angela Andrews

29:12 — Kim Huang
Yeah. (29:14): If you want to know more about Red Hat's work around sustainability, you can visit and check out our section on our social impact.

29:23 — Angela Andrews
Tell us what you've learned about sustainability, what you are doing, what your company's doing. We want to hear about the impact that our listeners and where they work is having on global climate change. Hit us up on our socials at Red Hat, always using the hashtag #Compilerpodcast. We want to know who else out there is fighting the good fight? We'd love to hear it. (29:50): And that does it for this episode of Compiler.

29:53 — Kim Huang
Today's episode was produced by Johan Philippine, Caroline Creaghead, and me Kim Huang. A big thank you to our guests, Rimma Iontel and Dan Schnitzer.

30:04 — Angela Andrews
Victoria Lawton doesn't care about what things look like on paper. She cares about impact and doing the right thing.

30:11 — Kim Huang
Special thanks to Britt Duggan. Our audio engineer is Robyn Edgar. Our theme song was composed by Mary Ancheta.

30:18 — Angela Andrews
Our audio team includes Brent Simoneaux, Leigh Day, Stephanie Wonderlick, Mike Esser, Nick Burns, Aaron Williamson, Karen King, Jared Oates, Rachel Ertel, Devin Pope, Mike Compton, Ocean Matthews, Paige Johnson, Alex Traboulsi, and the mindful Mira Cyril.

30:40 — Kim Huang
If you like today's episode, don't keep it to yourself. Please follow the show, rate the show, leave a review on your platform of choice and share it with someone you know because it really helps us out. And if you didn't like the episode, hey, let me know. Seriously.

30:53 — Angela Andrews
All feedback is good feedback.

30:55 — Kim Huang
That's right.

30:57 — Angela Andrews
Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

30:59 — Kim Huang
Bye, everyone.


Featured guests

Dan Schnitzer
Rimma Iontel

re-role graphic


This limited series features technologists sharing what they do and how their roles fit into a growing organization.

Explore Re:Role

Keep Listening