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March 2010 | Volume 13 / Number 3
The Green Issue

The New Thinking on ICT, Energy Consumption and the Environment

By: Paula Bernier

Addressing the energy consumption of network elements and end user devices is important, but it’s not the only thing businesses and service providers should consider as they create strategies around curbing power use, lowering carbon footprints and, just generally deciding how to run their operations in a way that makes the most sense. That’s the messaging network operators are hearing increasingly from suppliers, some of whom are urging them to approach such matters more holistically.

“If you look at what most are talking about when they talk about green – besides, ‘hey, I’m recycling my boxes in the shipping area’ -- they’re talking about power,” notes Jim Theodoras, director at ADVA (News - Alert) Optical. “I’m the lowest power. I’m the smallest box. Or I take up the least footprint. That’s all good, but that’s what I would call incremental gains, and it’s kind of fluff. It doesn’t really address the big issue. The angle we’re taking is one of efficiency. And to think in the efficient mindset is a little bit different because it’s hard sometimes to grasp what building a more efficient network refers to.

“The analogy that I like to use is the auto industry,” he explains. “Probably 10, 15 years ago the government was pressuring them … [for] better gas mileage. So they did things like got rid of the antenna and made it built into the windshield for better aerodynamics. They added silicon to the tires so they would roll easier. They made the car shapes a little more curvy. All of these things did improve gas mileage by like one or two miles per gallon, but the improvements were less than the growth in the number of cars, so our total gas consumption kept going up. Then when the Prius came out, it wasn’t just small, it didn’t just have a small engine, it was more efficient about how it went about transporting a person from one thing to another. Suddenly you had this big leap.

“So we want to talk more about how to build an efficient network rather than how I can shave one watt here or one watt there,” Theodoras continues. “We do happen to be the lowest-power WDM transport vendor, but again we think if you look at the rate [at which] vendors are lowering the power consumption of their transport gear, it’s a much lower rate than the rate of the growth of the Internet and the power consumption in the Internet.”

ADVA has been trying to educate the industry for more than a year now about how to build more efficient networks in an effort to keep up with Internet demand in a sustainable way. That’s important, says Theodoras, because forecasts indicate -- given the average subscriber’s increasing use of bandwidth, the growth in broadband penetration worldwide and other factors such as expectations for more machine-to-machine communications – communications alone, if left unchecked, would consume more power than there is in the world.

“So if I want to keep growing the Internet, and I want to keep growing my subscriber base, I need to find a better way of doing this,” he says.

Hybrid Optical Switching

For ADVA and its customers, that means adopting a new approach related to core Internet routing called hybrid optical switching. At first glance, Theodoras says, it would appear as if transport technologies like WDM – which offers big pipes over long distances -- would be the big power consumers in core broadband networks. In fact, he says, it’s the core routers that are the energy hogs.

“Most of the power in a router goes into that Internet protocol look-up and forwarding engine,” Theodoras says. “The very thing that makes it Internet protocol – the forward look-up engine, the memory and the high-speed tables – that’s what’s consuming all this power.”

That’s a problem, he says, because broadband network operators will never be able to get enough core routers to meet the exponential growth in bandwidth consumption.

“If you plot a trend line on where Internet traffic and bandwidth consumption is going, there’s not enough raw material in the world to build enough core routers to ever meet the demand, and so something else has to happen there,” he says.

“The core GMPLS networks are overloaded,” Theodoras continues. “They’ve actually outgrown the GMPLS protocol. At this upcoming GMPLS World Congress we’re going to hear a lot of people talking about how core GMPLS networks are broken now because they grew so fast. The designers of the protocol never in their wildest dreams thought it would have to support networks this big.”

ADVA has put forward an architecture that enables the traffic that’s not dropped off in a particular location to bypass the router, and at the same time be optically amplified and regenerated so it’s ready to move on to its final destination. The company offers this functionality today with its ROADM (News - Alert) gear, but it also has under development a dedicated optical data unit switch that will provide carriers with a more integrated solution.

“The key way of solving the problem in the GMPLS core is to simply do this hybrid switching, and so you route colors around the router,” notes Theodoras. “Currently everything hits the router whether it’s getting touched or not, and it’s incredibly wasteful. Only 20 percent of the traffic hitting a router is terminated; everything else is looked up, ported, moved from one port to another, and burped back out again, even though nothing happened with it.”

Theodoras says service providers are beginning to understand the inefficiencies of the current method. That’s why Verizon has been vocal about its desire to do something different, and why AT&T (News - Alert) implemented a crude version of hybrid optical switching when it did a 40gig overlay on its 10gig network.

‘Miles’ Per Sub

The automotive industry apparently is a good source for analogies when it comes to ICT energy consumption. Like ADVA’s Theodoras, Jeff Baher, head of IP network marketing at Ericsson (News - Alert), draws some parallels between the two industries, albeit to draw a slightly different conclusion.

Baher notes that while miles per gallon is an important measurement when making a choice about a vehicle, it’s not the only thing to consider. For example, a Prius has the best miles per gallon, he says, but if the vehicle is intended to transport a large group of people, for example, buying an SUV that consumes more energy and provides more seats might be a more efficient option.

The idea here is that carriers should look at their networks and the energy consumption of them not just in terms of the cost per port and energy per port, but rather in terms of the individual subscribers, what functionality they receive from the networks and how that translates (or does not translate) into revenues for the service provider, says Baher. The notion of looking at things from a subscriber basis has long been understood on the mobile side, he says, but it’s relatively new thinking in terms of fixed and metro/edge networks.

“When you look at switches or even in routers, a lot of the discussion has been cost per port or energy per port, basically looking at the total energy consumed by the platform divided by the total number of Ethernet interfaces, and they say that’s how much energy per port,” says Baher of Ericsson, which is in year two of a five-year initiative to lower CO2 emissions on its gear on a per subscriber basis by 40 percent. “And what we’re trying to say is that’s not the way that the carriers are really, ultimately, building the network, because for every increment of network capacity, they make up their money by putting subscribers onto that network.”

So Ericsson, which sells a subscriber management platform called the SmartEdge, suggests service providers should align their strategies around energy consumption with subscriber functionality and profitability. And the company has been working with equipment test house Iometrix (News - Alert) to figure out how to express energy consumption so it can be applied using metrics that make the most sense.

The 2:98 Ratio, Smart Grid and More

While energy consumption and carbon emissions of ICT are on track to increase substantially over time, both Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) also like to talk about the 2:98 ratio. That is the fact that the information and communications technology industry is responsible for just 2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, whereas 98 percent of the pollution comes from other stuff.

But here’s the really important part: ICT potentially could enable reductions of energy consumption and pollution in the other 98 percent through the use of things like smart grid technology, traffic metering, location-based services and smart building control.

“ICT has a tremendous enabling opportunity to reduce climate change through the use of ICT in these other sectors,” says Marc Benowitz, director of eco-environmental engineering at Alcatel-Lucent.

Alcatel-Lucent announced in December it is working with Vodafone (News - Alert) Germany to develop a solution to give consumers real-time access to their energy usage information to enable them to make the best choices about their electricity, gas and water consumption. Municipal utility Stadtwerke Pasewalk will be the first customer of the joint solution, which involves Alcatel-Lucent’s Smart Metering Management System SMM 8617 and related systems integration services, as well M2M connectivity from Vodafone Germany.

In other recent smart grid partnership action, Verizon Business (News - Alert) last month let it be known that it has joined forces with a company named CURRENT Group, which make smart grid sensors and software, to reach the utility vertical with IT solutions aimed at more intelligently managing energy. The companies expect to do joint sales and marketing of smart grid solutions that could include wireless and fixed IP connectivity as well as managed network , security services and consulting from Verizon.

Bob Heffron, utility market manager for Verizon Business, tells INTERNET TELEPHONY that Verizon Business and CURRENT, which got its start in life as a broadband over power line equipment supplier, are now collaborating with one customer and expect to begin work with additional utilities in the next few months. Heffron adds that although CURRENT is a small company, it is a recognized leader in the smart grid space, having participated in a smart grid city project in Boulder, Colo., as well as a prominent effort on this front in Europe.

While European countries tend to have been more forward-thinking in their efforts around the environment and the smart grid, and some have legislation of that nature, the U.S. is making strides on this front as well, as the Obama administration last summer set aside $3.9 billion for grants to modernize the electric grid.

Energy Efficiency

In addition to working to reduce carbon emissions in other sectors as well as within its own operations, Alcatel-Lucent is focused on making networking gear as energy efficient as possible.

In a move emphasizing this direction, Alcatel-Lucent recently signed the European Union’s Broadband Code of Conduct, which asks suppliers to pledge to meet EU energy requirements related to various types of networking gear.

Benowitz says part of the code talks about networks’ use of power as it relates to traffic loads, adding that Alcatel-Lucent has made some advances on the DSLAM front to enable these devices to consume less power when appropriate. Industry DSLAM protocols describe an idle/low power state, he explains, but when service providers try to enable the idle state it can result in crosstalk, so this option is never implemented. However, Alcatel-Lucent has implemented successfully an idle state without the crosstalk problem, he says.

Alcatel-Lucent also looks at products “from cradle to grave” as it considers product design, says Benowitz. That includes ensuring more than 95 percent recyclability of its products, upgradability, and the like.

Additionally, the company’s Bell Labs (News - Alert) recently launched the Green Touch consortium to make communications networks 1,000 times more energy efficient. The resulting reduction is about how much energy it would take to power the world's communications networks, including the Internet, for three years, according to the group. In addition to Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs, the group includes a broad range of organizations including CEA-LETI Applied Research Institute for Microelectronics, China Mobile, Freescale Semiconductor (News - Alert), the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control, Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Research Laboratory for Electronics, the Samsung (News - Alert) Advanced Institute of Technology, Stanford University's Wireless Systems Lab, SwissCom, Telefonica and the University of Melbourne's Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society.

Alternative Energy

But the Alcatel-Lucent effort goes beyond just lowering power consumption and end-of-life considerations on boxes. The company also is bringing alternative energy sources into the mix through its Alternative Energy Program, which is being supported out of a specialized lab in France.

To date, the company has focused its alternative energy efforts primarily at areas in the non-developed world like equatorial Africa and parts of Asia that would not otherwise be served by power, he explains. There are 1 billion people in the world who are off the power grid, and 100,000 base stations worldwide could be powered by alternative energy by 2012, says Benowitz, quoting GSMA (News - Alert) statistics.

Last year Alcatel-Lucent and its partners surpassed 300 base stations that are powered by carbon-free energy. And just last month the company announced it is working with Vodafone in Qatar on solutions involving photovoltaic and wind turbine power, which is not only more environmentally friendly, but is also lower cost and more efficient given the service provider no longer needs a diesel generator, which is difficult to get to remote areas, Benowitz says.

Benowitz adds that while such alternative energy solutions have typically been build one at a time, Alcatel-Lucent would like to ramp up the volume of implementation, so is building an “industrialized” solution. IT

Green Giant: In Carrier Circles, Verizon Takes the Lead

By Paula Bernier

Verizon (News - Alert) has been one of the leading lights on the green front. The company took a leadership position in energy conservation when it enacted on Jan. 1, 2009, the requirement that all the products it would buy from then on had to reduce their power needs by 20 percent.

As of the end of 2009, that has yielded Verizon nearly $2 million in energy savings, reports Chuck Graff, who is a director in corporate networking technology for the company.

“All of the savings we have are cumulative over the first year and the second year and the third year, so as long as we keep it in the network we will continue to save energy as well as CO2,” Graff adds.

Perhaps it was this savings that motivated Verizon to go a step further and implement a thermal management program, through which it is asking vendors to use a 3D CAD process during product development to look at airflow, hotspots and other areas they might consider in designing new gear. Verizon hopes to help its vendors analyze the data gathered during the CAD process and offer suggestions on what steps might be taken to produce equipment that generates less heat, says Graff, who has established the Web site to support the effort.

“I’ve been working on trying to get heat out of the central office for many years, and with very little success because nobody wanted to really redesign their equipment,” he explains. “So about four or five years ago we sat down with the industry and said ‘We really need to come up with a plan.”

Verizon’s fiber-to-the-home network is also providing enormous energy savings, Graff says, explaining that the equipment used in the effort consumes just 38 percent of the electricity that a similar copper-based infrastructure would’ve required.

Additionally, Verizon says it has been forward-looking in its adoption of alternative energy. That includes its Long Island deployment of fuel cell technology to power a telecom central office.

“That’s yielded a nice program that enabled us to look at new technologies and say ‘Can we use these kinds of things that will enable us to really drive these kinds of savings?’” Graff says. “This one is natural gas-driven.”

Verizon earned the federal government’s Energy Star Award for operating the site, the nation’s largest fuel cell site of its kind. In operation since 2005, it uses seven fuel cells, each of which is capable of generating 200 kilowatts of electrical power per hour, enough to meet the energy needs of about 400 single-family households. This system provides as much as 80 percent of the facility’s power load when all seven fuel cells are activated.

The company also has more than 20 solar powered cell sites in the western United States, and in Hillsborough County, Fla., Verizon uses 140 solar panels at its Carrollwood central office building to generate an average of 19 kilowatts to 21 kilowatts a day. IT

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