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How to modernize networks with sustainability in mind

Aug 22, 2023Aug 22, 2023

When planning investments in network modernization, IT leaders should consider a strategy that embraces green networking and sustainability. Green networking uses networking devices and equipment in energy-efficient and eco-friendly ways.

While the network configuration and topology don't need to change, the equipment enabling the network can be more energy-efficient. This strategy is essential to ensure that network components can be used for longer periods of time, reducing carbon footprints, damage to the environment and energy usage, which are among the foundational elements of sustainability.

Over the past two decades, studies confirmed that networking affects the environment primarily through energy usage, especially as it relates to the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by power generation systems.

The internet, which comprises hundreds of data centers worldwide, is a huge user of energy resources. So too are hundreds of switching centers that connect businesses and consumers to the internet, wireless services, social media and each other. Cloud-based networks, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, are also significant energy users. Switching systems and computers located within the many network data centers all use considerable amounts of energy.

To ensure these resources can be sustained and stay functioning over time without causing more damage to the climate and environment, they must deploy energy-efficient and eco-friendly infrastructure elements wherever possible. This same network sustainability strategy extends into corporate networks that use a variety of switching and routing devices to deliver service to users. It also extends to wireless carriers that deliver much of today's information and resources, such as social media, to users.

A look at various network configurations can identify the elements that are either directly or indirectly responsible for damage to the environment. Figure 1 takes a high-level view of network infrastructures and how they can be more energy-efficient. The primary opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to replace existing power sources with renewable energy from solar power and wind power, for example. Less dependence on power generated by fossil fuels can reduce the carbon footprint of switching offices, reducing emissions.

Incumbent local exchange carriers, cloud service providers (CSPs), wireless carriers, MSPs and ISPs are all candidates for reducing their carbon footprint and overall energy usage. Equipment used in switching offices can be replaced with energy-efficient units. Some devices can be refurbished to extend their service lives, which reduces waste in landfills. Servers deployed in switching centers, as well as corporate data centers, can be consolidated into a smaller number of devices, also reducing energy consumption.

Figure 2 presents opportunities to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprints at a more local level in office buildings and data centers and highlights the many activities that can be part of a sustainable networking strategy. As with any major change to IT and networking operations, senior management must be supportive, as the costs to upgrade to energy-efficient resources can be costly.

Network modernization and sustainability strategies may include some or all of the following:

The following is a list of steps to take in a networking sustainability project associated with modernization activities -- performing due diligence at all stages is essential:

Sustainable networking is a key component of an overall green technology program. A successful program should optimize energy efficiency and reduce an organization's carbon footprint. It can also help the organization preserve its investment in networking for longer periods of time, while improving the environment and reducing carbon emissions.