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Podcast: from a garage in Emilia Romagna to CERN in Geneva – Our CTO tells how E4 Computer Engineering found the right wave
Cosimo Damiano Gianfreda, CTO and co-founder of E4, a technology passionate and windsurfing enthusiast, tells RADIO IT how “innovation” means looking for and finding the right wave… Read below the written version of the interview… or go here to listen to the Italian podcast!
Hi Cosimo, tell us how every day you look for the wave of innovation and how you understand which is the right one to ride. Which is an innovative idea to follow and which is an idea to drop?
This is a very interesting question, we are going back to 2002. E4 was founded by four entrepreneurs, four good friends, not at a coffee bar table but at my home table, one evening, for dinner. I can remember it like it was yesterday. That fantastic feeling of great pleasure in perceiving that something important was about to happen when you hear the sound of the wave growing. We have decided to found E4 with a clear objective: to create a team of experts to cover a market segment that nobody in Italy was covering yet.
In this segment, we already had some experiences deriving from my and Vincenzo Nuti’s previous work. Vincenzo was one of the four at the table together with Antonio Campagnoli and Francesco Morsiani, our current CEO. You must always compose the team with individual and complementary qualities. While I was putting my technological passion, Vincenzo has contributed with unparalleled commercial sensitivity, Antonio with the entrepreneurial attitude to guarantee us salaries and Francesco doing business as a good family man: a company is fine if all the people within it are fine.
We wanted E4 this way, from the beginning. An honest, clean company, with the aim of giving the customer what he needs and not with the objective to empty the shelf. To find the wave, or rather the waves, you need a lot of research, contacts, meetings with potential partners. The next step is an in-depth study within the team to understand the vision, desires and reputation of these potential partners to make sure they match ours.
What I have learned in all these years is that you have to look for good waves. Those that hit you and you are unprepared for are very unlikely to be good. In addition to the passion, which is innate, in addition to the competence, which is built, luck also plays an important role, the luck of being the right person at the right time to build your vision. When I meet a new potential partner, I can visualize all the possible connections and synergies with the rest of our ecosystem. But these skills and passion were born long before E4…
Cosimo is one of the most competent people in the world on hardware. He is in love with hardware, who knows him tells with amused admiration that in the basement of his in-laws, together with his (future) wife, he spent time doing tests and experiments on the servers instead of having fun...
When I was a kid I often went to the library and, among the most interesting books, I discovered Asimov’s ones. It was love at first sight. Reading these books and imagining what could have been done with robotics or engineering… it was great, even if it had no concrete business or professional implications.
This interest in technology also accompanied me in adolescence and when I met Monica, at the time my girlfriend and now wife and life partner for twenty years. We both are passionate about technology and innovation. In that basement, in our free time, we tested and experimented on new products to understand how we could optimize their use. It became a challenge, like solving a 20,000-piece puzzle or getting excited about a mystery book to find the guilty.
Here the guilty could be a RAID controller incompatible with the motherboard, or a newly launched but bug-ridden operating system. This passion allows you to overcome everything, not to care of the schedules, and overtime to develop a great resilience. You do not notice true resilience while you develop it or live it, you only notice it when it is already part of you, thinking back to the goals achieved.
A passion that led him to meet a planetary icon of technology: Steve Jobs…
Here we take a small step back from E4… In the 90s I was lucky enough to meet an icon of IT in Italy, Vittorio Lasagni and his Iret Modo, in Reggio Emilia. Inside that company, I was involved in innovation, traveling the world from Southeast Asia to the United States looking for products that represented great steps forward. After the exploration phase, I reported the results to the company, also suggesting possible improvements to the vendors. One of these systems was Steve Jobs’ “NeXT” for which we had defined, developed and suggested a series of changes to increase the performance of the storage component.
In the same company, another person traveled the world before me, looking for innovative products and this person had an intern, the current CEO of E4: Francesco Morsiani. The only time I talked to Steve, in the mid 90’s, I said to him: “You better hurry up and make a phone, because these eTACs that weigh half a kilo and only make phone calls is already outdated…” 🙂
I’m kidding of course .. we met a few times but, unfortunately, we never got to talk about technology together over a beer.
Everyone knows what Apple is. But the secret of success lies not only in gigantism. E4 is proof of a rule that brings us back to surfing: when the board is small, you catch the wave better. And win.
Yes, the relationship of E4 with the big players, the giants, could have been configured in 2 ways:
- or how David struggles against Goliath
- or how we did it: by exploiting our speed and agility in chasing innovation, to become an important value for these big players too.
HPC perfectly represented this type of collaboration and the evolution of the wave we were already riding: combining different elements with two main objectives: maximum performance with the lowest possible consumption.
Over the years we have deepened this niche more and more with the entry of new people, also thanks to the excellent relationships with the best university institutions. Each new success was the fuel to start over with new research, new experiments, faster storage, the machine that with a different mainboard layout was able to reach processing frequencies never seen before, etc.
…and it was a flywheel, a virtuous circle which has brought us to where we are today and makes us very optimistic about where we will be tomorrow and the day after.
The secret of success is not just the niche, but a particular approach to technology. Cosimo calls it “agnostic approach”
Yes, this agnostic approach represents great value for us and a guarantee of quality for our customers. The agnostic approach means that we do not consider any technology or brand to be good or bad a priori. Although very romantic, after all, we are technicians, we are scientists and we are also a little St. Thomas. So, before we spend our reputation on customers, we test all new technologies with in-depth benchmarks, under various conditions and with different load levels.
Looking at the timeline of E4 story, we often use in our customer presentation, it is very clear how many milestones we have reached over the years:
– the first time of a GPU cluster
– the best energy / performance combination with the DAVIDE project installed in CINECA
– entry into the Top500 ranking
…and many others…
It is a method that certainly requires a lot of time in the study and analysis phase but, in the medium and long term, it ensures a return of credibility that is priceless.
Finally, in the last 3 years, the completion of our offer with open-source software solutions engineered to guarantee the customer the maximum ease of use and ease of adoption of complex technologies such as containers, cloud, artificial intelligence frameworks and much more…
More E4 podcasts will be available in the coming weeks. Find them all on RADIO E4!