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How Reducing Network Carbon Footprint Can Pay Off

Network modernization may seem like a daunting task, but it's a vital first step toward building a sustainable business model for the future.

Al Errico, Fujitsu

November 30, 2022

7 Min Read
hand holding environmental icons on blocks

With many data center networks and telecom service providers still carrying traffic on outdated network infrastructure, the risk of outages and other issues are significantly increased. Potential business costs include failure to meet service-level agreement (SLA) targets due to frequent outages, as well as rising operating costs due to the larger footprint, scarcity of replacement parts, lack of automation, and inefficient energy consumption of legacy equipment. Eventually these costs can multiply to the point of exceeding revenue.

Moreover, continuing to operate legacy network equipment also can have impacts on the business beyond costs. That's because outdated infrastructure often operates well below its traffic capacity, leaving the network struggling to keep up with escalating data connectivity demands, while eroding competitive advantages.

Despite the fact that outdated infrastructure continues to become more costly to operate and harder to maintain, many of today's network operators and data centers are hesitant to invest in upgrades to modernize their network. Yet, there is another important factor to consider, and that is sustainability — both in terms of the business model and our environment.

Curb Your Emissions

In an effort to slow the global climate crisis escalation, many state and local governments have enacted various laws aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting clean energy and efficient power usage. For the most part, the primary focus of these initiatives has been to reduce energy usage in commercial and industrial buildings, which account for nearly 50% of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Related:5 Ways ITOps Teams Can Support Sustainability

However, the impact that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector could have on the climate crisis is profound. Currently, it's estimated that ICT industries are responsible for at least 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions — exceeding the aviation industry but still less than the building trade. Yet, the insatiable demand for data and digital content continues unabated, with global internet traffic now 20 times what it was 12 years ago. In fact, while global internet traffic last year was lower than the 40-50% pandemic surge in 2020, mobile network data still increased by 31% in 2021.

To date, ICT companies and data centers have been able to minimize their impact on CO2 emissions, thanks to a number of energy efficiency improvements. Unfortunately, increased efficiencies tend to result in increased demand. This is compounded by the fact that smart cities, IoT devices, machine learning, and the metaverse will continue to drive exponential increases in low-latency connectivity demand, leading to a rise in the number of edge data centers worldwide.

Related:Cloud Computing Sustainability: How Green Is the Cloud?

Build Future-Ready Networks

The bottom line is that the ICT sector will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 in order to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. With a strategic approach to modernizing the network, operators can reduce their carbon footprint, helping them meet compliance and sustainability objectives while saving space and conserving power to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO).

Until recently, communications service providers (CSPs) had limited options for modernizing a Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) legacy network, due to the challenges of assuring existing subscriber traffic while swapping out infrastructure. However, the circuit emulation migration (CEM) approach to network modernization enables operators to migrate to packet-switched networks using low-cost, high-availability Ethernet devices.

With the CEM approach, CSPs can continue delivering legacy TDM connectivity for existing customers over modern packet-switched networks, while simultaneously eliminating TDM systems from the network. This technique helps reduce the cost and complexity of network operations along with reclamation of valuable real estate, providing the security and reliability previously found only in a circuit-switched infrastructure.

Moreover, CEM network modernization can be a powerful tool for decarbonization of the global economy by significantly reducing the network's carbon footprint. Consider the following examples:

  • Two OC-48/192 Add/Drop Multiplexers (ADMs) in a single rack draw roughly 18 amps or 7,569 kWh per year. Considering that the necessary air conditioning support can consume two times the amount of the equipment, the result is an estimated power consumption of 22,706 kWh annually. This single rack accounts for 10.7 tons of CO2 emissions each year, based on the following calculation: Each kWh generates 1.582 pounds of CO2 based on the weighted average between natural gas and coal generating sources. This calculation also accounts for 40% carbon-neutral generation.

  • Compared to the power consumption example described above, the power consumption of Ethernet-based equipment using CEM reduces the emission footprint by as much as 90%.

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Although network modernization presents significant opportunities for greater efficiencies, the process to transition a legacy network to one based on CEM is a major undertaking that requires careful execution to ensure traffic is migrated successfully. Effective planning, experienced partners, and the right tools are essential to minimize risk and optimize project accuracy.

The first step is to identify and audit the Element Management System (EMS) databases and records, in order to resolve any inaccuracies and create the most accurate data map possible. In fact, most CSPs have errors in about 20-30% of their EMS datasets. Advanced tooling based on artificial intelligence (AI) is recommended to quickly create the most accurate map of the network.

Once the databases have been scrubbed, field engineers need to confirm that the circuits in the database match those physically connected to the network. Engineers also should check to ensure there are enough available ports to support the migration, confirm the availability of power to support any new equipment, and gauge the distance between rows and rooms.

With the results from the database audit and site visit compiled into a complete data map that identifies all circuits by location, the engineering team can begin the project design to create two deliverables: an optimized circuit plan and a detailed method of procedure (MOP). The design will need to define the new circuit routing, the number and type of emulators needed, the number and lengths of cabling, and any new panels required, among other key factors.

With today's automated, AI-based tools, engineers can make use of optimization algorithms to reduce the amount of manual effort required, enabling new circuit plans to be created with increased accuracy. These plans are then used as a guide for the process of physically disconnecting, moving, and reconnecting each circuit. Logistics planning and project management are crucial, as a typical circuit emulation project can involve hundreds of thousands of circuits.

Finally, the provisioning of the transformed network can be completed online with the help of automated process scripting. This involves an engineer creating a database with the circuit IDs and those of its terminal ports, allowing the script automation to provision the newly emulated circuits.

It's important for network operators to objectively assess their progress throughout the CEM process. In addition to tracking savings in operational costs, the environmental impact of these efforts can be measured in several ways, including energy consumption per customer, percentage of refurbished network equipment, renewable energy shares, and the network's overall carbon intensity.

A Sustainable Business Model

As today's networks undergo digital transformation to support a new generation of services, network modernization is becoming ever more critical. Beyond the potential to reduce TCO, improve efficiencies, optimize capacity, and protect business revenues, circuit emulation migration paves the way to a self-healing, self-provisioning network based on all-IP architecture.

Network modernization may seem like a daunting task for many network operators, CSPs, and data centers, but it's a vital first step toward building a sustainable business model for the future — because building a more sustainable future is not a matter of asking "if" we need to do it, but rather, "when" can we start?

Al Errico is Product Manager, Network Modernization Services, at Fujitsu.

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