Are Networks Burning Energy – Or Saving It?

Peter Judge

Some say networks dominate IT energy, while others have different ideas, says Peter Judge

A cloud-enabled world uses more networking. So, since we’re all moving to the cloud, now would be a very good time to look closely at communications. But the greening of networks is generating a lot of confusion right now.

How much energy do cloud access networks need? If you listen to some people (Australia’s CEET institute, say) it’s about ten times as much as the data centres that power them. If you listen to others (green experts connected to Britain’s Intellect group), it’s only about ten percent.

That’s right. We have two sides, which are two orders of magnitude apart. Networks are either guzzling more energy than we ever suspected, or they are being very good environmental citizens.

virtual machine network security browser web map © Sergey Nivens ShutterstockWho is right?

That difference is actually in the definition of the terms of course – and what each group wishes to prove.

To add to the confusion, last week another message body popped up with another message.  Never mind what the energy demand is, the GreenTouch group says we can cut the actual network demand of telecoms networks by 90 percent, before 2020.

GreenTouch is a vendor group, which wants to promote more energy efficient networking. Its predictions are not based on any projections of what investments telecoms providers will make to replace actual networks. It’s just a measure of what they could do with the available techniques.

GreenTouch estimates the amount of data to be carried by 2020, and how much energy that would take using current networks – and compares that with the more efficient ones its members know how to make .

In other words, the report is a pitch for buying more energy-efficient network tech from GreenTouch members.

It is a good pitch, though. It looks at different parts of the networks in turn. Wireless networks are going to grow 90 times by 2020, but can be made 1000 times more efficient. while core networks are on optical fibres so they are already efficient – but they won’t grow so much. GreenTouch’s sums suggest each part of the network can cut its energy use, and overall the figure is that magical 90 percent reduction. .

The technologies to do this are things like Massive MIMO in wireless access, and BIPON passive optical networks for the last mile.

As ever, the sums are probably open to question. But GreenTouch has a very good point that should be emphasised. It’s about sharing intellectual property, and one way or another that is coming up in just about every area of green at the moment.

GreenTouch members pay to join the group and share green technologies with each other, on the basis that they can use them in research, but will have to pay a reasonable license fee when they get commercialised.

That’s a very good model, I think.

Whatever the sums say, it’s ideas like GreenTouch and Open Compute that will share the technologies to help us make the numbers come out better than they otherwise might.

This article appeared on Green Data Center News.


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