The past year has seen a significant increase in the development and deployment of green technologies
as enterprises, equipment vendors, and network operators alike look to reduce their energy-related expenses. It is, without a doubt, a worthy agenda, as it not only stressed fiscal responsibility, but a growing awareness of energy efficiency and environmental consciousness. In fact, several studies, including one by Alcatel-Lucent, have shown that eco-sustainability are increasingly becoming a factor in technology decision making.
However, the entire telecom community and, therefore, its customers, have taken a simplistic approach to the concept of energy efficiency
– though not en entirely ineffective one – whereby the focus has been on the extent to which energy consumption can be reduced from the current status quo.
While this approach has proven it worth, it doesn’t have the potential to drive down energy consumption of the ICT sector
, which, at best, can hope to limit the increase in energy usage in the coming years with its current approach. After all, even though new energy efficient technologies are being developed to help reduce energy consumption, network utilization and data traffic is increasing faster, which will ultimately still drive up global power requirements, to a point where all the even the most energy efficient technology, by today’s standards, won’t able to slow down the growth of energy requirements.
Bell Labs (News
), therefore, embarked on a research mission that would ultimately lead to the discovery of a shocking figure: Current networks use 10,000 times more energy than the absolute minimum required to transport data bits across them. Dr. Gee Rittenhouse, Head of Research for Bell Labs, noted that, while it was common knowledge that networks are not as energy efficient as they could be, these findings proved shocking to even the most knowledgeable networking experts.
“While the overall direction of the results was not surprising, the magnitude of the difference between today’s networks and the ultimate limit was surprising,” he told TMC (News
). “There is a huge opportunity here in an industry that is accustomed to working close to the theoretical limits of data rate capacity, yet has now found it is so far away from the limits from an energy capacity.”
In fact, according to the Bell Labs research, Rittenhouse suggests that today’s communications networks could be powered for three years with the power they currently consume in a single day.
Having made this revelation, Bell Labs has set off on a new mission to bring a new mindset to the telecom industry, one which looks at network optimization from an energy perspective, as opposed to the data optimization approach that has become the basis principle behind network technology today.
Bell Labs, though, understands well that energy efficiency is a global concern, and not an issue that can effectively be resolved through individual efforts, and has launched a new global consortium, called the Green Touch Initiative
The founding principle behind Green Touch is that, now understanding the minimum power required to run networks, the most environmentally responsible – and cost effective in the long run – approach is to build up from that theoretical lower limit, instead of trying to work down from today’s standards
The goal of the consortium, which has issued an open invitation to the global ICT community and already boasts 15 members from various market segments, is to develop and demonstrate a set of enabling technologies in five years that will lead to a thousand-fold reduction in energy consumption. Following that initial R&D phase, the next step will be to develop the standards upon which future networks will be built and deployed. The projected reduction, though a factor of ten less than the theoretical maximum, accounts for the need for the need to balance energy efficiency with performance to some extent.
“We recognize we need expertise in coding, circuits, transport, protocols, and network design,” explained Rittenhouse. “The research to do this will have a constituency of universities, industrial research groups, non-profit research groups, and operators themselves, who create an attraction in the industry to bring people together who otherwise may not be so comfortable doing that.
The first meeting of the consortium is scheduled for February and will be dedicated to outlining the initial five-year plan and incremental deliverable, along with the roles member organizations are expected to fulfill.
“Truly global challenges have always been best addressed by bringing together the brightest minds in an unconstrained, creative environment,” noted Dr. Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy. “This was what we used when putting a man on the moon and is the same approach we need to implement to address the global climate crisis. The Green Touch initiative is an example of such a response.”
Indeed, environmental awareness and energy efficiency are global issues that must be handled on a global level on order to achieve greatest return. The members of the consortium are now tasked with turning the traditional model of energy efficiency in network technology on its head to, ultimately, reach a set of standards that will exceed the current goals of any existing green industry association
Current Green Touch Initiative membership includes:
4. CEA-LETI Applied Research for Microelectronics
6. Foundation for Mobile Communications
8. The French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA)
9. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE)
11. Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT)
12. Stanford University’s Wireless Systems Lab (WSL)
15. University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES)
Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Erik Linask