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Green networks: How implementing an energy-efficient business plan can help reduce IT costs

A recent investigation carried out by networking infrastructure company Allied Telesis revealed the impact of different network equipment on corporate carbon emissions. With this in mind, we spoke to Allied Telesis sales director Jane Brett, who explains how the right choice of network equipment can positively contribute to green corporate strategies and drive energy-efficient operations. At a time when businesses are under pressure to reduce corporate energy use, these are insights we should all take onboard.

1. Why is 'green' becoming an important driver for businesses when looking at their network?

The UK government has obligations under the Climate Change Act to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, putting green practices firmly on the nation's agenda. Leaders across all industries are facing increasing pressure to make reductions in energy consumption and minimise the environmental impact of their business.

Aligning the business with the political green agenda drivers puts green at the heart of many corporate social responsibility initiatives and is driving companies to enhance their corporate reputation and align with Government policies. However, the adoption of green practices in the workplace is rarely driven by a desire to combat climate change - reducing energy usage also means reducing cost.

Green IT strategies typically focus on streamlining IT services to reduce energy consumption; for example, by opting for low-cost, low-power embedded servers, embracing virtualisation or using cloud computing or mobile cloud services.

Networks form the backbone of today's organisations, providing a fundamental platform for IT systems, services and applications. By ensuring that a business network is performing efficiently it is possible to reduce energy consumption across the entire IT department and wider business.

2. What impact is the cloud having on green corporate strategies?

Most companies today are not asking if they should move to the cloud, but rather how they should move.

Cloud environments provide easy access to business and personal applications from anywhere, which can positively contribute to reducing carbon emissions. The shared nature of a collaborative cloud-based environment means that businesses can lower power consumption by reducing the number of on-premise servers and workers that need to be present in the office.

3. What impact does networking equipment typically have on corporate energy usage? What type of usage levels are we looking at?

According to the European Commission's code of conduct, electricity consumed in data centres contributes substantially to overall electricity consumption. By 2020, it estimates European consumption will increase to 104 TWh.

ICT power consumption is generally lower in enterprises, but usage is increasing. Networking is responsible for 2.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), with LAN and office telecommunication contributing between 4 per cent and 7 per cent of that. New techniques for reducing energy consumption appear promising with the potential to make significant savings. The best way to save is to swap devices every five to six yeas to help improve energy efficiency and introduce new network generation devices.

4. Where in the network should companies look to renew equipment to make the biggest impact?

The right network equipment can make a significant contribution to corporate green strategies and energy savings can be made right across the network, from access through to core.

When considering implementing new networking equipment, companies need to make sure that theyare replacing aging hardware with resilient and scalable networks that will allow them to evolve and adapt as technology becomes more advanced. Networks that can stand the test of time and are interoperable with other solutions will ensure that refits are kept to a minimum and maximum efficiency can be ensured.

When renewing equipment, a company should look at reducing its resource depletion; for example, fibre optics are 'green' compared to CAT cabling. Fibre dissipates less energy than copper cables and it saves on material usage. One single fiber strand can carry as much data as thousands of copper cables, over longer distances, meaning lower greenhouse emissions and carbon footprints. Likewise, data sent over metal wires takes more energy than by a light signal.

As an example, for an office with 80 users, a CAT LAN network would need a core switch and related access switches, whereas a FttD LAN would require 80 ports End of Row switch and a related fiber NIC card per user. The CAT LAN typically uses 23W per user, while an FttD LAN uses 12.5W per user and will see an energy saving of 45 per cent every year.

5. How can IT leaders cut costs and minimise the environmental impact of their business?

Twenty years ago, it was rare for a company to recycle; now everyone does. It should be the same with energy consumption -moving to a green-ready infrastructure needs to be a priority. CEOs and their management team are being asked to reduce corporate energy use, streamline supply chains and examine IT department power consumption in order to drive more energy-efficient operations. This is not just about being more environmentally responsible but can also drive cost savings within the business.

A strategically-focused green business plan will enable IT leaders to focus on the areas of IT where they can make a difference and align this with a tactical approach that delivers cost savings and efficiency. Business networks need to be assessed alongside business requirements and products selected carefully based on both efficiency and performance. Ask vendors to provide information on power usage by individual network devices in order to forecast demand, control cost and balance out the infrastructure.

6. What were the drivers for Allied Telesis to review the environmental impact of its products?

Through its commitment to delivering next generation products that meet the green requirements of today's businesses, Allied Telesis reviewed the environmental impact of all its products to determine the impact that R&D had made to their energy and power consumption over the last five years. The company wanted to demonstrate that the products that IT managers choose could contribute to their bottom line, efficiencies and green strategies while still delivering high resiliency and security. Allied Telesis wanted to show tangible results between which products are used and reducing power consumption.

7. What measures did Allied Telesis take to develop more eco-friendly products?

Over the last five years, Allied Telesis has focused a significant part of its research and development work on reducing energy and power consumption for its products. The initiative involved the full portfolio of products and solutions to enable all enterprise networks to benefit from the efficiencies, from the access (both copper and fibre) to the core (small and large scale), including the aggregation.

8. What did the Allied Telesis research reveal about the cost and carbon savings that can be made by choosing the right networking infrastructure?

Analysis of the Allied Telesis product portfolio has demonstrated the positive impact of green-focused research and development efforts. Allied Telesis has improved efficiencies across its product range and cut power consumption by as much as 76 per cent in some cases. The most significant reduction has been achieved within the PoE and fibre optic fast Ethernet switches, with savings of over 35 per cent also demonstrated on new generation solutions.

9. What level of energy saving can an enterprise make using the most efficient network?

Our testing and research showed that an enterprise network (300 network nodes) could save more than 60 per cent of its power consumption in a year by selecting the most efficient network equipment. Such a network would be based on a chassis core, with an aggregation level and 360 fast Ethernet fibre or copper PoE ports in the edge. To put this in context, it's a typical example for a 250 bed hospital, a military site or a government office.

A small-to-medium sized business with around 100 network nodes could save more than 54 per cent of its power, assuming the network is based on a resilient compact backbone with an aggregation layer and 120 edge fast ethernet fibre or copper PoE in the edge.

10. How can energy savings contribute to operational cost savings?

CEOs and their management teams are being asked to streamline supply chains and examine all IT department usage in order to drive more energy-efficient operations and this can also drive significant cost savings within the business. Projections have shown that £1 in energy savings can often drive up to £8 in further operational savings, as well as provide much needed competitive differentiation for IT departments.

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Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.