Hello Jon Summers, new Scientific Leader at RISE SICS North!

1 September, 2017 - 13:45

Tor Minde, CEO interviews Jon Summers, new Scientific Leader at RISE SICS North.

TOR - Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

JON - I have been fortunate to spend the last 25 years in higher education in a research active University, name the University of Leeds where I have spent a lot my time teaching students and supervising research projects with PhD students.

I came up through Applied Mathematics, where I used mainframe computers in the 80’s to solve Engineering problems in vibrations first (during the times when Chaos Theory was vogue) and then liquid film coatings such as that used for speciality paper or now for touch screens on digital mobile devices. I was essentially born on the computer command line, so it was a natural progression to develop, procure and operate small compute intensive clusters from 1994.

With the growth in demand for all things digital and in particular the need for high performance computing systems for researchers in fields from astrophysics, climate change to genomics, I was elected chair of the high performance computing user group for the University of Leeds from 1998. It did not take long before my research that made use of high performance computing was focused on the computing system itself, since the thermal issues became of interest to me as a research engineer in Mechanical Engineering. This led to some industry funding (thanks to my industrial collaborators) that has blossomed into a research group that is now focusing on thermal management of the digital infrastructure – from microprocessors to data centres. With some great colleagues, I have managed to build up an impressive laboratory in the University’s energy building where we have concentrated on liquid based proximity cooling.

TOR – What has attracted you to Sweden?

JON – After being 25 years in one place a change of scenery can help to refocus the mind and I was reminded via LinkedIn that I had been 25 years in service at the University of Leeds, so it was definitely time for a change.  Don’t get me wrong, the research at Leeds has been going well, but there are a lot of changes going on in the UK, which has brought uncertainty and this has not really helped the research landscape and in particular working in the area of energy and thermal management of digital infrastructures.

In Sweden there does appear to be a stronger emphasis for funding research into the worlds growing digital universe and I have really been excited about the possibility of working in a research institute, which has a prime focus on all things data centres. There are not many places around the world that are doing research that has a holistic focus – the bringing together of the facilities and digital infrastructure.  This is something that is happening at RISE SICS North and there is a very good synergy with the approach that I have been adopting with projects in the UK – that being to use real information technology hardware. Also there is a good data centre growth in Sweden and having worked with one on some airflow projects there is a good opportunity to grow these industrial collaborations.

 TOR – What would you like to achieve together with SICS North team?

JON – The RISE SICS North team that you have grown in the last couple of years has excellent skills in delivering and developing the much needed holistic research that I have been trying to get going at Leeds. I believe there is a fantastic opportunity for us to pool our skills and ideas to develop some exciting research outputs. As we all rush headlong towards 2020 the whole digital infrastructure industry is going to face some interesting and exciting challenges – this is not just confined to the UK or Sweden, this is global. It will be so rewarding to address some of these challenges with my new colleagues in Sweden. Of course as well as delivering on research, we also need to get out there and talk about it, so I make no apologies for wanting to continue to disseminate our research around the world and I would be proud to represent the RISE SICS North team in continuing to do this.

You know that I am also very passionate about the data centre industry adopting proximity liquid cooling – the closer you bring liquids to thermal sources the better and this would allow us to increase power densities and develop a much needed improved integration between the facility and the information technology that could offer heat reuse possibilities in areas of the world where decarbonising heat is going to be required. I mean digital services are consumed in urban areas and that is where the heat can also be consumed. Sweden is geared up for this more than other parts of the world, such as the UK.

TOR – What do you think is going to the most interesting area for the future?

JON – First and foremost we should approach our growing digital infrastructure in a holistic way. This is not necessarily a technological challenge, but one that requires a lot of joined up thinking. Of course there are many challenges in developing next generation infrastructure, but we must try and look at the bigger picture. The evidence strongly suggests that we are going to consume more and more digital services and our lives will be about uninterrupted digital connection. This is surely going to bring many disciplines closer together, for example, psychology, medicine, computer science and engineering would have to become more interlinked.

We have all become used to this information revolution where almost everything we do has a digital information footprint, but the future is more likely to be about intelligence, so I would like to say that we are entering the “intelligence revolution” phase. This could be read as a growth in artificial intelligence and cyber-physical systems, it could also be interpreted as the development of cyber-security systems that help to protect our way of life. It may also mean that learning and education are going to change –why deliver materials to students who have all of this information at their fingertips – anyone can do it, but combining diverse and different strands of information together, that is intelligence.

I believe that a strong holist focus is the future and it is something I am sure we will strive to do together at RISE SICS North.