There has been a significant increase in activity surrounding energy efficiency in the communications market, largely driven by the rising cost of energy - though a secondary motivator is often increased environmental awareness and a social responsibility to the community.
As Dr. Dee Rittenhouse, Head of Research at Alcatel-Lucent's Bell Labs, explained to me though - and this is evident to anyone following the industry, current research around network energy utilization uses a top down approach. In other words, vendors, operators, industry organizations are all looking at the network as a set of individual components, trying to determine how much they can reduce the energy consumption of individual switches, routers, base stations, and other network components, and effectively coming up with a total potential energy and cost savings figure.
It's a very logical approach - let's take what we have and see how to make it better - and it's one that tends to be effective. In fact, in this case, it has proven a viable way to conserve energy and reduce expenses to a degree.
has been heavily involved in eco-sustainability research
for years now, and has developed a number of its own energy efficient products to help businesses and network operators reduce their carbon footprint and energy costs.
But, new research from Bell Labs suggests that the current model for green IT
isn't viable in the long term, given the extent to which energy consumption can be reduced and the growth rate of network traffic. The challenge is that today's networks fundamentally opposed to energy conservation theory because they are designed to transport data as fast and as cleanly as possible from point A to point B.
So what's the problem?
Quite simply, today's networks are 10,000 times less energy efficient than their theoretical minimum, meaning that if networks were built from a purely energy conservation perspective
, we could run today's networks for three years using the power required to run them for one day currently - and that's already acknowledging there needs to be some balance between performance and energy efficiency in order to meet user demands.
"The exciting question is, 'How will performance trade off against energy?'" noted Rittenhouse.
In other words, the logical conclusion is that future networks, designed with energy efficiency in mind,
will be balance performance with greenness. In fact, ideally, they should be dynamic in nature to allow for real-time configuration changes to move between energy and data efficiency as needed to accommodate demand.
So how will this new data be put into action to create a new generation of green technology?
The Green Touch Initiative was launched by Bell Labs
to drive the development of the technologies that can potentially reduce energy consumption of networks by that factor of 1,000.
"There are a lot of consortiums out there already for green - Bell Labs and Alcatel-Lucent participate in almost all of them," noted Rittenhouse. We decided to create a new one mainly because we can't start with today's network. Instead, we must start with the absolute minimum, using that as a reference point and building the technologies
from there on up."
The Green Touch consortium
has extended an open invitation to the global ICT community, with current members come from a number of different industry segments, all with the singular goal of driving a revolution in energy efficiency. They include: service providers, academic research labs, government and non-profit research organizations, and industrial labs.