Will Extinction Rebellion be coming for your data?
14 October 2019
In recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been touted as a powerful technology that will revolutionise the industrial manufacturing space. It is an amalgam of various uses at different phases of manufacturing, including generative design in product development, production forecasting in inventory management, and machine vision, defect inspection, production optimisation, and predictive maintenance in the production phase.
Research, a global tech market advisory firm, forecasts that the total installed base of AI-enabled devices in industrial manufacturing will reach 15.4 million in 2024.
Predictive maintenance and equipment monitoring are the most commercially implemented so far, due to the maturity of associated AI models. Another commercial use gaining momentum is defect inspection, where emerging deep learning technologies open the possibility of expanded capabilities and flexibility. These algorithms can pick up unexpected product abnormalities or defects.
Manufacturers are facing enormous competition in building and training in-house data science teams for AI implementation. “AI in industrial manufacturing is a story of edge implementation,” says Lian Jye Su, Principal Analyst at ABI Research. “Since manufacturers are not comfortable having their data transferred to a public cloud, nearly all industrial AI training and inference workloads happen at the edge, namely on device, gateways and on-premise servers.”
And herein lies another challenge. As I write, Extinction Rebellion (XR) is protesting at various sites around London.
However, one area with environmental consequences that are rarely considered is data storage. Is there a conflict building between storing data on-premise in the edge and using cloud storage? Data storage is rapidly rising in the league tables as a major source of carbon. Cloud storage can be a much more sustainable approach than traditional on-premises storage. Providers tend to use newer technology and have an incentive to become as energy efficient as possible and reduce what is one of the largest operational expenses.
“Storing and using data consumes a lot of energy, and many businesses have been able to remove this energy consumption from their sustainability books by using outsourced cloud providers," comments Annalisa O’Rourke, Chief Operations Officer at Memset, a managed services provider offering dedicated hosting, virtual private servers and IaaS for scalable cloud. "But shifting the problem to a supplier is not taking responsibility. Organisations need to not only develop sustainable policies for themselves, but to also include their whole network of suppliers in their strategies.”
However, as storing data becomes more efficient and costs reduce, businesses are able to provide services for less, thereby encouraging an increase in consumption. The result is that even though data has been stored in highly energy efficient ways, we are still using ever more energy. Ultimately, the only sustainable course of action is to use renewable energy sources and to put in place carbon neutral policies.
Memset claims to have completed a decade of being carbon neutral, proving that SME cloud providers are more than able to meet the challenge. The company became the UK's first Carbon Neutral Web host in 2006 and uses a mix of mains and solar power energy. Where possible, the company reuses and reallocates servers to reduce waste; but only if they pass stringent quality checks.
“Regardless of what you think about the methods and rhetoric of extinction rebellion, the direction of climate change and the need for more sustainable processes is clear," O’Rourke continues. "Businesses have a duty to consider cloud suppliers for their commitment to environmental sustainability. The danger is that by failing to do so, they will make themselves a target for campaigners, risk reputational damage, and make their other CSR efforts seem just cosmetic.”