Co-innovation Force for Good

ESG Challenge Effectively Addresses Decarbonization of IT Infrastructure

VMware’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) group is laser-focused on our 2030 agenda, which is centered around three critical business outcomes — trust, equity, and sustainability — as well as the path the company plans to take to achieve them. The world is facing multiple urgent systemic and interconnected challenges, including a global pandemic, social injustice, climate change, and cybersecurity. We need co-innovation, collaboration, and disruptive change to meet the goals of an extraordinarily connected, sustainable, digital society.

In April, VMware held its third annual global Borathon (the VMware version of a hackathon). This year’s event included an ESG challenge (the other two challenges were security/resiliency and developers’ productivity). The teams had the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse community of talented hackers — 50% of them first-timers — across the globe through virtual teams.  

As the Senior Manager of Sustainable Operations in the Office of the CTO, I felt both excited and nervous about the prospect of submitting the ESG challenge for the global Borathon. ESG is a very broad topic. How would we create a meaningful, succinct problem statement on the topic? We first narrowed ESG to intrinsic sustainability, our product-innovation goal. We (as a cross-business-unit team) brainstormed problem statements across our respective business franchises, which included multi-cloud, sustainable software-engineering practices, and modern applications, and shortlisted three challenges. The Borathon organizing committee picked the challenge to make modern intelligent apps more sustainable by innovating through the VMware infrastructure platform to address expensive and “power-hungry” workloads.

The Borathon drew 500+ participants from across the globe (in teams of various sizes), truly embracing the power of a distributed workforce, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had 10 teams work on our ESG challenge. Three of these teams made it into in the top 27 submissions, where they were reviewed by our executive judging panel.

The winning team and its motivation

The top-scoring team in the ESG track was the India-based “Cerebral Placer: Decentralized Service Placement Engine,” which included Seena Ann Sabu, Madan Singhal, and Vamshik Shetty from the Cloud Platform and Cloud Management business units. As part of a generation that is becoming increasingly conscious of the impact our choices make on the world around us, this team truly believes that sustainable innovation is the need of the hour.

As sustainability-conscious developers, the team identified the under-utilization of hardware resources and network bandwidth as one of the material issues that could be tackled through its project. The participants understood that with an ever-increasing demand for microservices architecture, automated placement of computing entities in the cloud-based datacenter provides opportunities for innovation. They proposed a novel approach for distributing the placement workload proportionally among heterogeneous servers attaining consumption equity. It involved an intelligent-placement optimization algorithm that could address all the dynamic and intrinsic properties of a connected microservice workload across heterogeneous servers. The project name “Cerebral Placer” was an analogous reference to the brain’s complex neurons passing messages and firing electric pulses independently to solve a task.

“To be honest, there was no single source of inspiration or any one incident behind the origin of this idea. It was rather a continuous process of learning, observing, and — most importantly — questioning the current placement algorithms and systems,” the winning team wrote.

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