Mr. Inside, Mr. Outside
Observers divide telecommunications networks in various ways. In general, however, the theme is that the plant – the devices in the field – is a separate category from the data center, central offices and other concentrated facilities – the places that have roofs. The outside plant is far more diffuse. The power demand in any single location is comparatively small and, therefore, reductions also will be small. Working the outside plant is even less inviting because the power often is being consumed in hard to reach locales. However, the sheer size of the access portion of the network means that it cumulatively uses amounts of energy, and that a lot of it can be saved.
Though the outside plant can’t be ignored, the facilities are key, according to Niederpruem. “You start in the core just because it’s a defined location, it’s easier to get access to and to see a relatively quick improvement or jump up,” he said. “Phase two can be the smaller incremental things in the core and areas of improvement in the access space.”
The cable operators use a tremendous amount of energy. The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) officially instituted a program, the Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI), in 2009. Derek DiGiacomo, the senior director of Information Systems and Energy Management Programs, said that there are three pillars to the industry’s drive to cut energy consumption: fleet management, outside plant and critical facilities. The trio, he said, are roughly equal in size and promise.
Cloud computing, and similar concepts that use other names, is an important energy saver for the cable industry, DiGiacomo said. Energy is used to send data – an on-demand movie, for instance – to subscribers. If that on-demand offering originates closer to the subscriber, less energy is used. There is an art and science to the cable industry’s version of content delivery networks (CDNs). Cable operators primarily employ CDNs to save money and to make their networks more responsive and efficient. A side benefit of CDNs is that a well-planned and executed CDN reduces energy demand.
The stars are aligning for telecommunications network energy management. Best practices save money, promote overall efficiency and burnish the operator’s image. And the indications are that the message is hitting home and the industry is accepting the challenge. “I think they are being proactive,” said Navigant’s Woods.