Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist
This year, for the first time, HP Labs will be a major presence at HP’s Discover conference. The 2012 event features a 4,000 ft2 HP Labs Pavilion and a CIO Summit keynote address from interim Labs director and HP Senior Fellow Chandrakant Patel.
We checked in with Chandrakant for a preview of what he’ll be saying and to hear more about how HP Labs research is driving innovation aimed at benefiting the whole planet.
Q: Why is HP Labs making the trip to Discover this year?
Patel: Well, we’re HP’s main research arm and Discover is very much about sharing the technologies and solutions that make HP a great company to work with. Our job at Labs is to team with our business unit partners to keep that innovation pipeline full – and so we’re showing off some of the projects that we’ve been working on together and that we think have particular promise.
Q: Can you pick out anything that people should be sure to see?
Patel: We’ve got some exciting work to share on building Net-Zero Energy Data Centers and innovations in photonics that will massively improve the data center’s core performance. We’ll also be demonstrating new research in information analytics and displays, and several new solutions that help customers better manage security and risk.
Q: What’s the broader vision that lies behind the innovations you’re sharing?
Patel: Here’s how I like to think of it: imagine a world where useful IT services are delivered to the entire population of the planet. HP can make that happen. And we should, because we’re a company that does things that matter and because this is a huge opportunity for us, both socially and in terms of expanding our business.
Now, imagine a vehicle called the IT bus. Currently, 70% of the world’s population has yet to get on board. In fact, the people who need IT the most aren’t on it yet. They don’t have a way to do simple transactions, like buying a train ticket or banking, that currently require them to expend valuable time and resources. So we need to help them board that bus.
For that to happen we need to reduce the cost of IT infrastructure. That starts with a PC or mobile device and perhaps ends with a display or a printer, and we need to design all of those devices to be reliable and cheap. But it’s also about the processing that happens in between. Therefore data costs must be reduced as well. Thinking this way tells us what the Cloud of tomorrow needs to look like. It needs to be the lowest cost cloud that consumes the least energy. That’s where our Net-Zero Energy Data Center comes in.
Q: We hear a lot about cyber-physical systems these days, too. How do they fit into this?
Patel: They’re essential. If the 19th century was about the steam engine, and the 20th century was the information age, the 21st century will be about cyber-physical systems.
Think of it this way: at the same time as we’re helping everybody get on the IT bus, we’re making it possible to put everything on the bus as well. Objects and mechanisms of all kinds – packages, pumps, medicines, air conditioners, parking meters and street lights – can all be managed using IT with dynamic scheduling and routing and even a dynamic payment system. That’s a huge opportunity but a huge challenge as well. These connected physical systems will produce a deluge of information that we’ll need to analyze. So at HP Labs we’re asking, how do we analyze the millions of data points coming from these physical systems so that we can run them more efficiently?
Doing that will also drive us to improve core performance, and further reduce cost. Our work on photonics and nanostores is addressing performance. The Net-Zero Data Center tackles a major source of cost. And projects like Live Analytics, Sensing Solutions and Compass that we’ll be demoing at Discover show how we can reap value by properly analyzing and optimizing this deluge of information.
Q: Discover’s four main themes are the converged cloud, information optimization, people’s ability to ‘create, consume, and share’ and then security and risk. How do that last pair, security and risk, fit into your vision?
Patel: Well, if you think security is hard when only people are on the metaphorical IT bus, imagine the challenge when objects are on it too. If you ever thought you could just have a central security function for IT systems, that won’t work at all in the future. Instead, security has to be thought about from end to end - from the hardware pieces we design to the software that runs on it, to the software in the cloud. Today we like to think of open hardware and software, which is great because it reduces cost, but we now have to think seriously about how to secure it all, too.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
Patel: Just one thing. I think if you look at what’s required to really bring IT to the 70% of the world that’s yet to benefit from it and at what it will take to really make the most of the dawn of the age of cyber-physical systems, it’s about being able to think in terms of comprehensive, end-to-end solutions.
Given the work that Labs has already been doing in this space over the last decade, it’s something that I believe we at HP can really lead on. In fact, I really believe that no company is better positioned to lead in this space than HP.