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How Softiron used digital twins to reduce its carbon footprint

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A few years back, Softiron, which makes data center hardware for software-defined storage, turned to digital twins to help optimize its hardware, not just for cost and performance, but also to dramatically reduce its carbon footprint. A recent assessment by ESG investment firm Earth Capital found that these efforts are paying off.  

SoftIron’s latest products generate about 20% the heat of comparable enterprise storage products and consume as little as 20% of the power of comparable offerings. In total, Earth Capital estimates every 10 petabytes of storage installed translates to savings of about 6,656 tons of carbon, compared to industry norms. 

SoftIron’s COO Jason Van der Schyff detailed how the company has used digital twins to achieve such impressive gains in an exclusive interview with VentureBeat. The exec also explains how they brought environmental considerations into their design workflow for both the products and the factories that build and ship them. This helped them recognize that a focus on I/O rather than CPU performance could help them hit enterprise requirements and sustainability goals. 

VentureBeat: How do you go about building digital twins to optimize your carbon and energy footprint?

Jason Van der Schyff: At SoftIron, we use a variety of 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 entirely digitally modelled, from the foundational circuit boards to mechanical components and all internal active and passive components. This allows us to not only model the thermal performance but also analyze both indigenous and foreign influences, such as vibrations induced from harmonic oscillations caused by cooling fans – an innovation we were recently awarded a patent for. This type of analysis in a digital form allows us to adapt our designs to create less heat, use less cooling and therefore less energy, allowing us to provide our customers with some of the lowest power consumption in the market and aid them in their carbon reduction goals.

With respect to our manufacturing, digital twins provide efficiency in designing and deploying new manufacturing techniques. It enables us to model digitally the impact of design changes in the production workflow across our various manufacturing sites before it ever manifests in the real world – all without wasting materials. 

SoftIron’s factory digital twin enables innovation from our manufacturing center of excellence in Berlin. There we are able to model and control our global manufacturing footprint as a single global capability. While this modeling sometimes happen thousands of miles from where actual production is taking place, it means that the physical product can be manufactured close to the point of consumption and in a way is able to utilize local supply chains, all of which has a positive impact on both supply chain resilience and sustainability. Digital twinning underpins this strategy – which we call “Edge Manufacturing.”

VentureBeat: What kind of tools do you use to store the raw data and share it among different stakeholders in the process?

Van der Schyff: As a designer and manufacturer of enterprise storage, SoftIron chooses to deploy our digital twin on our own infrastructure in our facility in Berlin, with real-time resilience provided by geo-replication across our facilities in California and Sydney. A unified internal network allows all collaborators direct access in real-time to collaborate and contribute to the iteration of the digital twin designs.

VentureBeat: What is involved in identifying some of the biggest contributions to inefficiency and then mitigating these in the final products?

Van der Schyff: The bulk of inefficiencies is introduced through waste, be it wasted power, extraneous componentry or even manufacturing wasted time. By developing a digital twin throughout the development process, we’re able to model and analyze inefficiencies in the design and functionality of our products. This improves quality and minimizes rework. Our manufacturing floor is further modeled to provide accurate time and motion studies and utilize a variety of layouts to optimize efficiency before physical construction is completed to further mitigate inefficiencies.

VentureBeat: What have been some of your discoveries around the specific improvements or changes that led to the most significant impact?

Van der Schyff: Early in the history of the company, by modeling the performance and interaction between the hardware and software layer, we were able to determine that software-defined storage is primarily an I/O problem rather than a compute problem. This discovery informed the selection of components and the adoption of a low power ARM64 architecture to provide highly performant, yet economical storage appliances. These low-power appliances provide savings such that for every 10 PB of data storage shipped by SoftIron, an estimated 6,656 tons of CO2 are saved by reduced energy consumption alone in the customer 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. Through this collaboration, SoftIron can bring cross-functional expertise to each design, be it a product or a manufacturing process, to observe and mitigate inefficiencies and exploit opportunities to optimize our carbon and energy footprint. 

The significant supply chain disruptions we have seen over the last year or more have only highlighted the weaknesses in the way IT is currently produced. In this way, we believe that sustainability and resilience are inextricably linked. Manufacturing has historically placed all of its eggs in a few very large, low cost, baskets in the world – driving for every increased volume of smaller and smaller component variation in order to drive out costs.

Digital twinning is one enabling technology (along with the current generations of super flexible, efficient low-volume assembly line machinery) that helps to break the cost-to-volume equation apart. This fosters small, distributed manufacturing operations, opens up the supply chain to more local, perhaps lower volume suppliers and, over time, enables a more resilient, sustainable, global IT industry to emerge. SoftIron, we believe, is at the vanguard of this, but we expect this model to become more widespread over the coming decade.

VentureBeat: What’s next?

Van der Schyff: As SoftIron expands its Edge Manufacturing strategy, further opportunities will become available to optimize our carbon and energy footprint and implement further reductions by shortening supply chains, increasing local recycling opportunities and drastically reducing the amount of energy spent in delivering SoftIron’s low-energy appliances to its customers.

We believe what we are doing will serve as both a model and catalyst for others to follow. Over the last 12 months we have seen some major announcements regarding developing chip production in the U.S. and Europe and we hope that by the time these facilities come online, there will be a U.S. and European IT manufacturing economy, of which SoftIron is a leading part.

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AI

Data backup company Acronis secures $250M to expand datacenter footprint

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Data recovery startup Acronis today announced that it raised $250 million at a valuation of over $2.5 billion post-money. The funds bring Singapore- and Switzerland-based Acronis’ total raised to over $408 million, following angel, debt, and later-stage raises from March 2014 to September 2019. Founder and CEO Serguei Beloussov said the new funds will be used to acquire more companies, expand Acronis’ engineering team, and build over 111 datacenters around the globe.

There are few catastrophes more disruptive to an enterprise than data loss, and the causes are unfortunately myriad. In a recent survey of IT professionals, about a third pegged the blame on hardware or system failure, while 29% said their companies lost data because of human error or ransomware. It’s estimated that upwards of 93% of organizations that lose servers for 10 days or more during a disaster filed for bankruptcy within the next 12 months, with 43% never reopening. Those statistics are more alarming in light of high-profile outages like that of OVHCloud earlier this year, which took down 3.6 million websites ranging from government agencies to financial institutions to computer gaming companies.

Acronis

Acronis traces its origins to Parallels’ corporate parent SWsoft, where Beloussov, Ilya Zubarev, Stanislav Protassov, and Max Tsyplyaev founded it as a separate division in 2001. Acronis spun out in 2003, after which it pivoted focus from disk partitioning and bootloader utilities to backup and disaster recovery software based on disk imaging technology. Over the next decade or so, it acquired three firms — BackupAgent (specializing in cloud backup), nScaled (disaster recovery), and GroupLogic (enterprise data transformation and storage) — and launched a global partner program, prior to which Acronis started an R&D wing in Acronis Labs.

Acronis’ largest revenue drivers are backup, disaster recovery, secure file access, sync and share, and partitioning, with clients ranging from single-license home users to large enterprises. True Image, the backup software for which Acronis is perhaps best known, uses virtualization and machine learning techniques to mirror images, clone disks, provide blockchain data notarization, and scan for malware in copied files. As for the Acronis Cloud platform, it encompasses backups, disaster recovery, and file synchronization with a selected set of cloud apps curated by service providers.

Acronis Backup and Acronis Backup Advanced, two additional products in Acronis’ disk-based backup and recovery suite, protect files from modification and encryption while minimizing process disruption to a few seconds. Through a centralized management dashboard, admins can back up to cloud storage providers and convert backups into a set of virtual machine files that can run on hypervisors.

Aside from backup software, Acronis also offers Disk Director, a shareware app that partitions machines and allows them to run multiple operating systems. Disk Director joins Acronis Snap Deploy, which creates a standard machine configuration that can be deployed across up to hundreds of live Windows computers simultaneously. Acronis Files Advanced secures access to files that are synced between devices. And Acronis Access Connect enables Mac users to connect to and mount directories on a Windows file server just as native Apple Filing Protocol volumes.

Big market for data backup and recovery

Acronis occupies a data backup and recovery market anticipated to be worth $11.59 billion by 2022, according to Markets and Markets. It competes to a degree with San Francisco-based Rubrik, which has raised hundreds of million in venture capital to date for its live data access and recovery offerings. There’s also Cohesity, which has raised over $650 million, and Clumio, which raked in $186 million so far for its cloud-hosted backup and recovery tools, as well as data recovery companies Veeam and HYCU.

But Beloussov claims that Acronis has rivals beat when it comes to install base. The company now counts over 5.5 million consumers and 500,000 businesses among its client roster, including 80% of the Fortune 1000 companies.

Since its previous funding round, Acronis has made a string of acquisitions including of consultancy CyberLynx, cloud management startup 5nine, distributor Synapsys, and endpoint data loss prevention firm DeviceLock. The company also launched cloud datacenters in Canada and Brazil and launched a new, no-cost version of its Cyber Protect Cloud service provider solution.

Acronis has more than 1,300 employees in 18 countries, the bulk of whom are based in Singapore, Bulgaria, and Arizona. Acronis Labs is based in the U.S. and Singapore.

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Categories
AI

Cloud data analytics service Phocas raises $34 million to grow AI, global footprint

Phocas Software‘s cloud data analytics tools might be best known in Australia, where they’re used by Thermo Fisher Scientific, Fiskars Royal Doulton, and Burson Automotive to streamline employee access to key financial data, but the company is planning to become more aggressive globally in 2021. Today, Phocas announced that it raised $34 million to bolster its AI capabilities and reach new customers across the world, while expanding its data tools to reach new verticals.

With the new capital, Phocas plans to “supercharge” its outreach to American and UK companies while increasing its tools’ use of AI to extract value from data. Developed to enable businesses to run operations without cross-referencing spreadsheets, Phocas’ tools enable employees to easily track KPIs and similar metrics specific to their roles, using industry-customized data reports that can be accessed from corporate or home offices.

Phocas’ expansion is significant to technical decision makers because it reflects growing competition in and segmentation of the enterprise data technology arena. The company’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) data analytics tools have historically targeted medium-size enterprises rather than small or large businesses, notably including medical, scientific, manufacturing, and automotive companies in Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Over 1,900 “mid-market” customers already use Phocas, including American Metal Supply and Dixie Plywood in the U.S. and various retail, hospitality, and equipment vendors in the UK; these types of businesses will continue to be Phocas’ focus, but it will also use its new funding to expand to unspecified new industries.

The company’s core business intelligence tools are largely made for sales, purchasing, finance, and executive teams, enabling daily rather than monthly tracking of data across an enterprise. With support for over 20 global ERP partners — notably including Epicor — Phocas’ cloud-based tool can connect to enterprise ERP, CRM, and AP/AR systems, as well as other data sources.

Australia’s Ellerston Capital led the funding round with a $27 million equity investment, while earlier investor OneVentures added $7 million in equity financing, increasing its stake after four years to accelerate Phocas’ place in the SaaS market. The company continues to be led by cofounder and CEO Myles Glashier.

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