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Optimizing Your Network to Reduce Energy and Carbon Footprint

July 20, 2023
By Christian Uremovic
Director, Solution Marketing

In today’s digital world, telecommunication networks form the backbone of our connected lives and are part of our critical infrastructure. As demand for faster and more reliable communication continues to grow, the need for sustainable practices in telecommunication networks becomes increasingly important. Let’s explore the significance of environmental sustainability in telecommunication networks, with a particular focus on optical transport networks, network modernization, and the migration from older technology to newer, more scalable, and more energy-efficient technologies.

In conjunction with IP networks, optical transport networks are an important technology area for enhancing the sustainability of telecommunication networks. By utilizing fiber optics and the latest optical engine or transponder technology, service providers can deliver the highest data rates over long distances while minimizing the ecological footprint of their networks. Today’s coherent optics can transport more data over longer distances at lower power than ever before – sending over 80 Tb/s on a single fiber pair over nearly 1,000 km, about the distance from Munich to Paris, Rome, Warsaw, or Copenhagen. Further recent innovations such as point-to-multipoint coherent optics can reduce overall equipment needs by reimagining network architecture – see another blog from my colleague for more information.

But many existing networks rely on outdated technologies that are energy intensive and lack scalability. By embracing modernization efforts, such as network virtualization, software-defined networking (SDN), and network function virtualization (NFV), service providers can optimize their infrastructure, reducing power consumption and carbon emissions. These advancements enable the allocation of network resources dynamically, resulting in improved energy efficiency, reduced operational costs, and increased network scalability. Modern networks are now becoming much more software driven, programmable, automated, scalable, and efficient.

Traditional networks today vs. Networks of tomorrow.All networks are underpinned by optical transport technology, which is also evolving at a fast pace. As an example, a 100G transponder in the year 2013 ran at 180 watts, whereas today a 400G “transponder on a pluggable” operates at 20 watts. That is 1/36 of the power consumption per gigabit in just 10 years.

The migration from older technologies to newer, more scalable, and more energy-efficient alternatives is therefore a critical step toward achieving the environmental sustainability goals operators have set out. See also an article I wrote recently on this topic for additional information. But network migration itself is a complex and risky task and can be time and resource intensive. As a result, migration may be postponed indefinitely, or in some cases a parallel network infrastructure may be deployed before the old one is taken down, which consumes additional real estate and power and requires new fiber infrastructure, leading to higher costs and an increased CO2 footprint.

We need improved methods of migrating networks to make the process simpler and easier, as the benefits are tremendous. Cost savings, freeing up rack space, and reduction in power consumption are the key benefits of network migration, but there are even more benefits to network operators. In recent projects we have seen that network migration can further help to:

  • Simplify the network by cleaning up the mixed bag of vendor platforms, generations, and legacy protocols, and with this simplification streamline operations
  • Eliminate proprietary equipment that lacks monitoring and telemetry reporting capabilities
  • Increase network scalability, as legacy equipment generally lacks the ability to scale for today’s use cases
  • Eliminate network islands that lack advanced synchronization capabilities
  • Eliminate service risk due to equipment that is at end of life and/or end of service

As technology advances accelerate, network operators can find themselves in a never-ending migration cycle. To avoid such a scenario, they need to accelerate migration tasks to enable faster technology adoption and architectural transformation. With the adoption of open optical networking and standardized APIs and the advent of network automation, operators today have a rich set of tools to ease deployment of the latest optical engine technology – resulting in accelerated migration that can achieve carbon emission reduction targets even faster.

In optical transport networks, the most common migration scenarios we see today are digital cross-connect system (DCS) consolidation, time-division multiplexing (TDM) to Ethernet, 3G/4G/LTE to 5G, and fixed optical add/drop multiplexer (FOADM) to reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (ROADM). Regardless of the scenario, network migration projects are accomplished in three phases:

  1. Discovery and business case preparation
  2. Migration planning
  3. Migration execution

The discovery phase, finding out what exactly is deployed and how it is configured in a network, is itself already a complex task, as large operator networks are heterogenous, have proprietary APIs, and often have incomplete documentation. However, this first phase in the migration process builds the foundation, and when done right, it can be a game changer. Migration planning follows the discovery phase, with successful migration execution made possible through precise discovery and planning.

Modern network analysis and automation software like Infinera’s Explorer can help to accelerate and de-risk all three phases of migration. Reconciling data from all available sources (e.g., OSS, NMS, EMS, Excel spreadsheets), including data extracted leveraging proprietary APIs, equips operators with the required tooling to quickly analyze migration scenarios for efficiency, space, and power savings and return on investment. These considerations are the foundation for a business case detailing expenditures required to complete migration where it will have the biggest impact. The data is then further used in automation software to automate a subset of migration tasks and contribute to high quality and high speed of execution.

In one recent case, we measured an efficiency increase of up to 90% through automating data-driven process steps, and we also have successfully executed thousands of migrations on the first attempt due to having a single source of truth for data, proving the power of discovery and migration planning. In another recent case, we achieved over $600K in CapEx savings; eliminated 20 racks of equipment; eliminated numerous interconnections, reducing HVAC needs; and achieved energy savings of 30%-35% and a 60% reduction in time to design new circuits.

Let’s not delay the inevitable network migration anymore – let’s do it “right” from the start. Environmental sustainability is an important goal for telecommunication networks given their pivotal role in our modern society. By adopting optical transport networks, embracing network modernization initiatives, and migrating from older technology to newer, more scalable, and more energy-efficient alternatives, service providers can accelerate the journey toward a greener and more sustainable future.

Tags: Optical