Sunday, February 8, 2015

Blueprint: How Your Data Networks Can Sustainably Grow

by Thierry Klein, Network Energy Research Program Leader, Bell Labs / Alcatel-Lucent

In a world where leaving the office at the end of the day without one of our devices is hardly imaginable, individuals have become reliant on the technology that keeps them connected during all parts of their waking life. As more and more consumer devices are added to the network, daily Internet traffic is growing dramatically.

To put some concrete numbers behind this:

  • Smartphones and tablets will drive mobile traffic to grow up to 89 times by 2020 from 2010.
  • By 2017 more than 5 zettabytes of data will pass through the networks every year.
  • Enjoy tweeting? Well, that is the equivalent of everyone in the world tweeting non-stop for more than 100 years.
As we know, it takes quite a bit of energy to power our devices so that they can process that data. While battery and power cell technology continues to improve, our consumption continues to grow. In addition to powering the mobile devices, we also need to power the data networks that connect those devices to the Internet. The significant increase in energy consumption and associated energy cost continue to create a key challenge facing the ICT industry today. With massive amounts of devices connecting and users expecting fast, uninterrupted service, how can network providers stay on top of demand in a fully connected world? What can we do to ensure that our networks can support the exponential growth in traffic that will result from these increases in the near future?

One of the challenges we face as an industry is supporting that growth in a sustainable and economically viable way. Network energy bills represent more than 10 percent of the operators’ operational expenses and can even reach as high as 30 percent in developing markets. In 2013, 69 gigawatts – the equivalent of powering New York City 12 times over – was used to keep global data and communication networks, including data centers, running.

Network operators are eager to reduce energy consumption, costs and the carbon footprint of their networks, they’re also working to understand how the network’s energy consumption will evolve based on technology evolution over the next several years. Advancements have been made to address the explosive network growth, but not everyone is aware of them, nor are they familiar with their capabilities and the problems they can solve.

Let’s take an in-depth look at some of the tools available to assist operators as they plan for network growth in a sustainable and economically viable way.

The Global “What if” Analyzer of NeTwork Energy ConsumpTion (G.W.A.T.T.)

To understand the issues facing network growth, Alcatel-Lucent’s research and innovation arm, Bell Labs, has developed an interactive application to highlight the current energy consumption of our ICT networks and of the Internet.

The Global “What if” Analyzer of NeTwork Energy ConsumpTion application (or G.W.A.T.T. for short) forecasts trends in energy consumption and efficiency based on different traffic growth and technology evolution scenarios. This interactive, self-guided tool provides operators the guidance they need to understand the energy consumption and efficiency of their networks, as well as the energy consumption of specific applications such as high-bandwidth video or gaming applications running over the networks.

Using G.W.A.T.T., operators can model their network evolution and show the impact on network energy consumption, cost and carbon footprint from new technologies such as LTE, small cells, heterogeneous networks, VDSL2 Vectoring or VoIP migration. G.W.A.T.T. also provides insights into potential energy benefits coming from network transformation scenarios based on SDN and NFV technologies.


With the help of forecasted trends in energy consumption and efficiency based on different traffic growth and technology evolution scenarios, G.W.A.T.T. allows network operators to specifically pinpoint how these new technologies and high-bandwidth services are impacting the home and enterprise networks, the wireless and fixed access networks, the metro, edge and core backbone networks, and the service core and data centers. This plan allows operators to see any “hot spots” where most of the energy is consumed within the network. Additionally, it can identify the impact of different network transformations and gradual technology deployments to provide a more energy-efficient network evolution process.

Addressing a variety of key questions, G.W.A.T.T. aims to provide answers to key concerns:
  • What is the overall energy consumption of the telecommunication networks?
  • Where is most of the energy consumed in the end-to-end network today, and how much does it cost to power the network now and in the future?
  • How much energy is consumed by wireless networks? By data centers?
  • What is the impact of traffic growth and new applications and services on the energy consumption of current networks as well as future SDN and NFV-based networks?
  • How will the network’s energy consumption evolve based on technology evolution over the next several years?
G.W.A.T.T. has been built to allow operators the opportunity to understand these evolutions and to offer a moment of reflection on the best way to ensure that energy supply matches demand in the future. Over time, Bell Labs will continue to expand the capabilities of G.W.A.T.T. — refining its modeling capabilities, adding new network scenarios and including future technologies in the hope that, with the advent of the Internet of Things and video consumption being at an all-time high, networks have the upper hand to support their growth while decreasing their energy consumption.

The Power of GreenTouch

GreenTouch, a consortium of leading ICT industry, academic and non-governmental research experts, strives to deliver the architecture, specification and technologies needed to increase energy efficiency by a factor of 1,000 compared to 2010 levels by designing fundamentally new network architectures and creating the enabling technologies on which they are based.

Many of today’s networks are optimized for performance, however not for energy efficiency. This can lead to large carbon footprints. Currently accounting for an estimated 2 percent of the global GHG footprint, the entire ICT sector has the potential to reduce global GHG emissions in other industry sectors by 16.5 percent by 2020, amounting to $1.9 trillion in gross energy and fuel savings and a reduction of 9.1 GtCO2e of GHG. When a network is optimized for both performance and energy, a very different design and architecture comes to play, and this is what is needed to be sustainable in the future and realize the full benefit of ICT’s enabling effect on GHG emissions.

GreenTouch brings together the expertise needed to discuss and innovate ways for new technologies to work in concert, while achieving sustainable networks in the near — and not so near — future.

By knowing more about how our networks use energy, research organizations hope to one day build self-sustaining networks powered by natural elements at hand.

G.W.A.T.T. and GreenTouch offer network operators tools and research to help, not hinder, the growth of our communication networks, leaving both the end user and the earth in a happier place.

About the Author 

Dr. Thierry E. Klein is currently the Program Leader for the Network Energy Research Program at Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent leading a team of researchers, engineers and scientists across multiple research domains and locations with the mission to conduct research towards the design, development and use of sustainable future communications and data networks. His team is based in Murray Hill, Crawford Hill, Stuttgart, Villarceaux and Dublin. He also serves as the Chairman of the Technical Committee of GreenTouch, a global consortium dedicated to improve energy efficiency in networks by a factor 1000x compared to 2010 levels. Since 2014, he is also a member of the Momentum for Change Advisory Panel of the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Dr. Klein earned an MS in Mechanical Engineering and an MS in Electrical Engineering from the Université de Nantes and the Ecole Centrale de Nantes in Nantes, France, and a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. He is an author on over 35 peer-reviewed conference and journal publications and an inventor on 36 patent applications.

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