Geopolitical tension and its accompanying trade and business limitations pose a serious barrier for technology companies wanting to improve their ESG credentials.

For the high-performance computing (HPC) industry, many of the processes designed to make the industry more efficient and circular are negatively affected by geopolitically induced trade wars and the broader uncertainty they bring to the industry.

The long and winding road to sustainability

Possessing powerful supercomputers has always been a way for nation-states to demonstrate their technical capabilities, often with little concern for sustainability and resource efficiency. High-performance computers are high-power consumption machines, and the more powerful HPC machines become, the more power-hungry they are. Today’s most powerful computer, HPE’s Frontier, uses 22,703kW every hour, equivalent to the average daily power consumption of around 5,800 refrigerators. This growth in power consumption is not sustainable, harms the environment, and is costly for organisations.

The growing importance of AI means that governments with HPC capabilities to run complex AI systems will have a technological edge, and the US is increasingly concerned about China’s progress. Concerns about China’s technical capabilities in AI, HPC, and elsewhere were a significant factor in the decision to deny some Chinese companies (including Huawei, one of the leading HPC players) access to US semiconductors.

Here comes the Sun(way)

The Chinese government regards leadership in supercomputing as vital to its national security and the future of its defense, aerospace, energy, materials, biotech, and pharmaceutical industries. HPC is seen as a strategic priority and is included in China’s latest five-year economic plan. US government sanctions have been detrimental to improvements in energy efficiency in HPC systems in China. Lacking access to the latest nodes and chips means that Chinese companies are limited in their ability to improve architectural efficiency.

By not only banning technology exports to China but also limiting access to semiconductor capital equipment technology, the US is effectively preventing China from either importing or manufacturing advanced semiconductors. This culminates in significantly reduced energy efficiency and higher cooling requirements in holistically less sustainable HPC systems. The reportedly exascale Sunway supercomputer, one of the most powerful in China, has more than five times as many processors as HPE’s Frontier, meaning its power consumption is likely enormous.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData
Visit our Privacy Policy for more information about our services, how we may use, process and share your personal data, including information of your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.

With a little help from my ESG friends

Both vendors and HPC end users are starting to address sustainability concerns by designing systems that get the most out of power usage and using renewable electricity sources to power HPC. The adoption of regulatory requirements designed to address climate change, such as carbon emissions pricing, circularity requirements, product efficiency requirements, and climate-related disclosures is becoming more commonplace.

Specific sustainability initiatives also include reducing energy use through improvements in cooling systems, using renewable electricity sources to power HPC clusters, and designing systems that maximize power efficiency. Huawei and IBM have invested in liquid cooling systems, which are more efficient than air-based alternatives. In addition, some architectures are more energy-efficient than others and slight changes in the cluster setup can make a substantial difference. For example, programming the nodes and processors to go into a dormant state when they are idle. With sustainability concerns increasingly at the forefront, HPC architectures now incorporate such measures.

ESG opportunities

Geopolitical tension has also allowed some countries—such as Vietnam, Japan, and Italy—to try to fill the polarised gaps in supply. Companies could increasingly choose to decouple from certain regions and diversify their supply chains. This opens the opportunity for companies to reassess their energy sources and waste management systems and embed other sustainability practices in new manufacturing locations. It could equally undermine the improvement in all these factors by creating a riskier, more complex, and costlier operating environment for tech companies.

Fundamentally, to overcome the impact of geopolitics on ESG agendas, collaboration, and global regulations are crucial. Organizations will need to increasingly collaborate at a global level, ideally unhampered by international disputes, to set an example and eliminate social barriers and restrictions if any meaningful progress is to be made in sustainability.