Political direction toward making Europe the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050 will require new ways of looking at computer architectures
Bologna, Italy — Speaking at the HiPEAC conference here in Bologna today, the European Commission’s Sandro D’Elia said the newly announced trillion-Euro ‘Green Deal’ will demand significant new computing architectures and approaches to software to work towards its mission to make Europe the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050.
As the program officer for technologies and systems for digitizing industry, D’Elia said, “There is clear political direction towards the European Green Deal. Digital technology will be at the core of this. We will need a change of orders of magnitude in terms of new architectures as well as software.” He emphasized that the shift towards smart everything, including smart cities, means there will be electronics and computing in everything, and that energy consumption at that scale is not sustainable.
He highlighted, for example, the 400W thermal design power (TDP) of an Intel Xeon Platinum 9282. “It’s not sustainable in this way,” referring to the power consumption resulting from many of the processors used both in infrastructure as well as everyday computing. Hence, he said the Digital Europe program – one of the successors to Horizon 2020 and a key part of achieving the European Green Deal – will be at the core of the new direction for Europe’s growth strategy. “Every object we have today has computers inside, so we need to do something about it.”
He said projects will need to look at creating architectures that are more power efficient, including within projects such as the European Processor Initiative. We asked D’Elia how much of the trillion Euros would be allocated to the digital programs. He said that the streams within the program are still being worked out and he expects that there will be clearer ideas by the summer of this year, with calls for projects expected in the first quarter of 2021.
Higher performance, power efficiency and security have been key topics at the HiPEAC conference, a European forum for experts in computer architecture, programming models, compilers and operating systems for embedded and general-purpose systems. In the opening keynote on Monday, James Mickens, a professor at Harvard University school of engineering and applied sciences, said, “The way we talk about ISA (instruction set architecture) is starting to fail. Power usage effectiveness in data center infrastructure has flattened out. How are we now going to minimize power drain in chips?”
In his talk, Mickens questioned why we tolerate CPU vendors that keep their microarchitectural details partially hidden and weakly programmable. “The networking people have already cast off their chains and allowed software-defined networking to free them from the cruelty of proprietary grey-box routers. The developers of systems software for general-purpose CPUs are unable to configure important microarchitectural features that govern security, performance, and power consumption.”
He described the benefits that would emerge from a new kind of processor that aggressively exposes microarchitectural state and allows it to be programmed. He advocated the use of software-defined microarchitectures to solve a lot of problems. “Optimizing software performance requires hardware optimization.”
Professor Luca Benini from the digital circuits and systems group at ETH Zurich also talked about energy efficient computing being possible in the whole range from microwatts to exascale computing with both RISC-V and heterogenous architectures.
Green Deal: sustainability a key topic
The European Green Deal policy will no doubt bring up the bigger question of what we should be connecting and whether everything needs to be connected, the energy usage of connected devices, and even whether we can go back on what seems to be irreversible lifestyle changes. The European Commission’s D’Elia told us that we need to be thinking about whether we need to be putting batteries in everything that we connect – for example bridges that may last for 100 years plus. “We should be thinking about sensors and devices being able to scavenge energy from natural resources as well, for example.”
Several people at the conference highlighted why the Green Deal could be important, given the way we are consuming huge amounts of energy just by doing trivial things like searching for almost any topic on the internet – who knows how many servers that a single search would run on. And what about streaming radio – is it really necessary if a free to air broadcast equivalent is available and could save significant amounts of energy that would otherwise be used streaming? And for many sensors and cameras that collect data for enabling things like people-counting – we need to be encouraging processing on edge devices rather than sending data to the cloud; and these need to be extremely energy-efficient.
One executive also told us the Green Deal is significant because it commits companies to a long-term objective. He said governments may come and go, but the long-term nature of the policy (a seven-year timeframe) will ensure continuity in the development of ultra-low power and energy-efficient systems. He cited as an example lift manufacturer Kone responding to building regulations by striving to make its elevators in those buildings carbon neutral.
The European Green Deal was welcomed last week by members of the European Parliament, who are willing to support an ambitious sustainable investment plan. Parliament wants the upcoming climate law to include higher ambitions for the EU’s 2030 goal of emissions reductions (55% in 2030 compared to 1990, instead of “at least 50% towards 55%”, as proposed by the Commission). The EU should adopt these targets well in advance of the UN climate change conference in November, the politicians said. They also want an interim target for 2040 to ensure the EU is on track to reach climate neutrality in 2050. The European members of parliament stressed they will amend any legislative proposals to meet the objectives of the Green Deal. Higher targets for energy efficiency and renewable energy, including binding national targets for each member state for the latter, and a revision of other pieces of EU legislation in the field of climate and energy are needed by June 2021, they said.