Start-up tackles inefficiency in data storage industry
Gus Malek-Madani has always been a problem solver. As a child in Iran, he would take things apart and try to put them back together — though not always successfully. Now, as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he is still solving problems, but instead of deconstructing his father's turntable, he is tackling the huge inefficiency of the data storage industry.
In 2008, Malek-Madani founded Green Platform to do just that. He says the idea came from a surprising discovery about three years ago. Prior to Green Platform, he had worked in anti-vibration technology for high-end audio/video equipment.
"My desktop computer was very noisy so I tried one of our anti-vibration platforms for high-end audio/video under the computer and sure enough it became audibly more quiet," Malek-Madani says. "Launching a new application became faster, saving a file became faster. It was a clue that removing vibrations helps the performance of hard drives."
These vibrations are what Green Platform blames for data storage inefficiency. They're normal to any data storage unit. Those who have been to a data center might recall how noisy it is; the machines produce audible and mechanical vibrations naturally. But Green Platform is the first company to pinpoint the effect this has on data storage.
"It's like driving with your brakes on," says Larry Gordon, Green Platform's vice president of marketing. "Our solution, removing vibration takes the brakes off and allows you to drive faster."
Green Platform's solution is a storage rack that replaces traditional sheet metal racks. The rack itself is designed to mitigate vibrations.
"Our racks dissipate vibration internal to the rack, coming from the servers that are housed in it, or external to the rack, coming from the air conditioning in the data center, from adjacent racks, or from power distributions units," Malek-Madani said.
With the vibrations dissipated by the racks, it is easier for data to be read and written, he said. It's analogous to reading a book in a car, which is a lot easier to do on a smooth, paved road than on a bumpy one.
"Accessing data from hard drives is the slowest part of the entire computer system, so by improving that part, we are making the entire computer system faster and more efficient," Malek-Madani said.
This degradation of hard drive performance caused by normal vibrations is what Green Platform has identified as the "vibration penalty." Malek-Madani says their racks — made from what Gordon calls "well-programmed" carbon fiber — absorb and dissipate vibration up to 1,000 times.
"There's a talent and skill to doing carbon fiber well," Gordon says. "Gus is an expert at programming carbon fiber to do a specific job."
Malek-Madani is so familiar with carbon fiber that he even has special tweezers to remove the bits that get stuck in his hands. He builds all his own prototypes.
"I'm very hands-on," he says. He has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in mechanical engineering.
Though still a young company, Green Platform has already received some meaningful recognition, including "Most Likely to Succeed" in the technology category at the recent Launch: Silicon Valley showcase. It was also a finalist in the "Most Audacious Idea" category at this year's Uptime Institute Symposium, coming in second to Microsoft.
Green Platform's emergence comes at a critical time for an industry that is hugely unsustainable. Malek-Madani says that data storage is projected to be the most energy-consuming industry in the world by 2020.
"From the sustainability perspective, we can't keep living this way," Gordon says, adding that no other industry could get away with the 10-15 percent efficiency that the data storage industry displays. Green Platform is approaching the problem from the inside, hoping to preemptively avoid government regulations.
"If we can't clean up our own act, as an industry, someone will do it for us," Gordon says.
Gordon says that the market is driven by a constantly increasing demand for storage. Hard drives are being filled with more and more data, but the ability to read and write is not improving. Data centers are growing and requiring more physical space, in a trend that cannot be maintained.
"Where we provide the benefit is right at the bottleneck," Gordon says. "We improve the most critical point in the data center. We're releasing the whole data center so that it can perform faster."
Gordon says that this performance enhancement minimizes wait time, wasted floor space and excess energy that are highly unproductive. The name, Green Platform, indicates this environmental benefit. Malek-Madani says the efficiency factor goes hand in hand with the "green" part.
"The green part is there because we consolidate equipment," he says, adding that environmentalism is a personal priority for him.
Gordon explains that Green Platform is the only company approaching the problem from this angle.
"We're different than almost any company around because we're not software and we're not traditional hardware and we're not traditional services," Gordon says. "We're doing something very unique."