HP Labs’ Martin Fink on the need to go green

By Suzy Hansen

The Hewlett-Packard Discover conference in Frankfurt, Germany, this week features two huge floors of displays, videos and presentations about the latest HP innovations, all to show customers everything the company will offer in the coming months. And a few of the exhibitions were dedicated to something all corporations are thinking about these days: sustainability.

As one of the largest technology providers in the world, HP makes products that are used by millions of people—and leave a large environmental footprint. One leader who is thinking about ways to improve the company’s energy consumption is its new head of HP Labs, Martin Fink.

“HP Labs was actually started in the 1960s,” he told Yahoo News on Wednesday at the conference. “When Bill Hewlett said, ‘You know, we have to have some people that disconnect a bit from the day-to-day business and don’t have that pressure of this quarter’s revenue and go off and can go think about things that are a bit [farther] off.’" He added, "Since the 1960s, HP Labs has been responsible for a lot of new innovations.”

Fink named a number of technological mainstays that were invented by HP Labs. The touch screen, for example, has been around for 30 years, as has the inkjet technology that we associate with printers. Risk computing also came out of HP Labs. This week at Discover, HP unveiled new storage systems StoreOnce and StoreAll and the new ElitePad 900, all of them conceived in HP Labs, too.

“There is a technology in there called PageLift that allows you to take a picture of that piece of paper and make it look like you just scanned it,” he said. “And all of our printers now ship with something called e-print so you can print right from the cloud.”

HP Labs also solves problems, and Fink noted that one of their major concerns is the scale of data information being produced.

“It is going to explode exponentially,” he said. “Processing that data takes power. And it’s already bad and it's getting worse.”

What he’s talking about is electricity. Data centers, which house computer systems, spend about 70 percent of their budget on electricity. HP, along with many other corporations, is discovering that it pays to be environmentally resourceful.

“We have to find different ways of doing this,” he said. “We have a bigger program called the Net-Zero Data Center. How do we change some of the underlying technology that makes data centers? But then the second piece of it is, how do we build data centers that use renewable energy, that are tied to renewable energy sources whether it’s solar or wind or others … [that] get us to a net zero so that we have the ideal data center of the future.

“This is not just green to be green,” he continued. “But even better than that: We use our own dog food. We’re our own best labs, so a lot of our data centers—starting from one we built in India to one we have in Fort Collins, Colorado—were built with technology as part of the renewable data center. Part of this stuff is real today.”

Fink cautioned consumers against believing that technological innovations happen overnight. It takes a long time to replace existing models of consumption, he said.

“When you’re dealing with enterprise, things tend to take a little bit longer, they’re more evolutionary,” he said. “They’re tremendous concepts, and they take time to evolve. But we absolutely have to be taking those steps along the way. Gradually new data centers will get built and older centers will get retrofitted, and there will always be that next-generation technology that will come.

“It’s evolutionary no matter what, because I am never done,” he said. “There’s always more that we’re going to be innovating on to make it better and better.”