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Making a connection to sustainable networks

Reducing power consumption in networks

Reducing power consumption in networks

How simplifying the optical network build could lead to other operational advantages, including space savings and a reduction in power consumption.

Sustainability is without a doubt one of the most important issues, not just in the telecoms industry, but for the world. Far from being simply a buzzword, it is widely recognised that the planet needs to lower its energy consumption and carbon footprint.

The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were devised back in 2015, with the ultimate aim of ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring that by 2030 all people are able to enjoy peace and prosperity. There are 17 of these SDGs, designed so that any action in one area that may affect another is considered in order to balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.

Arguably, each of these 17 goals can be applied to the telecoms industry, but in all likelihood the areas in which the industry can have the biggest impact are number 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and number 10, Sustainable Cities and Communities. This would then have a positive knock-on effect across the other 15 goals.

The power behind high-speed connectivity

While connectivity infrastructure allows for working from home and reducing travel emissions, it does have very heavy power demands. According to the World Broadband Association’s (WBA) report The importance of environmental sustainability in telecom service providers' strategy[1], the post-pandemic accelerated need for greater and greater bandwidth has led to telecom infrastructures consuming more energy, expanding their carbon footprint as a result. The report put the CO2 footprint of the telecom industry at roughly 2% of global emissions. And this is without taking datacoms into account. The International Energy Agency (IEA) cites data centres and data transmission networks as each accounting for 1-1.5% of global electricity use, resulting in around 0.3% of global CO2 emissions.

Philip Ward, Market Strategy Manager at Senko explains: “Today’s infrastructure is becoming more complex, there’s more spine-leaf architecture being deployed as operators strive to build networks that are more scalable and more powerful in terms of compute capability, especially the major hyperscalers. Subsequently, there's much more densification in terms of fibre required to connect all of these switches together. At the same time, because of the extended reach and higher bandwidth requirements, we’re seeing a trend away from copper to optics. Furthermore, we are witnessing huge increases in the data rates that are being deployed at the transceiver level – we're now pretty much at the 800G level, but we are swiftly migrating to 1.6T, 3.2T and beyond. We are definitely in a new era of next-generation connectivity.”

Couple this with the ongoing energy crisis, a fast-growing need for AI and machine learning, geopolitical worries, and economic and political turbulence, as Ward says: “Sustainability is no longer just a desirable thing, sustainability is a necessity.”

The telecom and datacom industries, however, are also amongst those committing to big change. The WBA’s report highlights how telecom networks and service providers are addressing their energy deficiencies, with many having set out high-level goals for net carbon neutrality by 2050, supported by initiatives such as the SDGs and the European Green Deal. Some of these providers, said the WBA, have already reached these goals, combining a reduction in emissions with carbon-offsetting investments. In addition, the WBA shared that most major service providers have defined specific 2030 targets for emissions, waste, and the share of renewable energy they use.

The challenges of building sustainable networks

But this is no easy feat. Challenges for operators include legacy systems that struggle to cope with densification demands, a shortage in skilled labour, higher performance requirements; and the increased flexibility required to build and manipulate the network over its lifecycle. As a result, very small form factor (VSFF) connectors are being pursued – particularly by hyperscalers – as a means to increase network density in a smaller footprint.

Says Ward: “VSFF connectivity emphasises the need for us to let go of the past and connect to the now. We cannot keep applying the same technology to new problems, we need to use a new connector to achieve the objectives of today but also address the long-term objectives of tomorrow.”

Senko is ideally placed to advise, having been granted its first VSFF patent in 2017 and introducing solutions such as the CS connector, SN connector, and, more recently, the multi-fiber SN-MT connector designed for hyperscale spine-leaf deployments. The company’s SN family combines duplex ceramic connectors that optimise the densification of server connections to 432 fibres per 1RU (Rack Unit), and multi-fiber connectors such as the SN-MT16 connector that maximise the densification of switch connections with a staggering 3,456 fibres per 1RU.

Ward says: “We started the VSFF innovation journey with the transceiver. Switch manufacturers were trying to reduce the power consumption of their hardware by maximising the number of ports that could be offered in a single transceiver. Higher radix switches with say 32 transceiver ports could be doubled or quadrupled by converting each one of those transceiver ports to a 2-port or 4-port transceiver running at lower data rates.  This in effect converted a 32-port switch to a 64-port or 128-port switch respectively.

Not only is the SN family of connectors smaller than legacy connectors with the same fibre-count. The SN duplex connector also offers Base-8 and Base-2 interoperability such that the same backbone infrastructure can be used either for server connections (Base-2) or switch connections (Base-8). This unique functionality allows operators to build networks that are more flexible but much leaner than previous designs. Unnecessary hardware such as harnesses or cassettes can be eliminated because the ‘direct-breakout’ capability of SN no longer requires them. The SN solution can therefore eliminate the need for MPO connectors, reducing optical loss and contamination risks, and leading to faster installation, higher reliability, and simplified patch panel design. SN also uses 73% less plastic than LC connectors, 0.8g compared with the traditional 2.8g. “To put that in perspective across the network,” says Ward, “there were 503 million LC connectors sold in 2021. And that's a saving of 1006 tonnes of CO2.”

The exponential growth of data-driven applications is not going to go away, and there is an increasing pressure to build simple and sustainable networks. Concludes Ward: “Legacy MPO and LC-based systems do not offer the density required from the hyperscale market, while cassettes and fanouts don't offer the breakout granularity offered by VSFF. SN connectivity offers manufacturers and operators the chance to upgrade their existing hardware by doubling the density, so even if they just upgrade their existing connectivity to SN, they will become more efficient and subsequently more sustainable. Additionally, Ganged SN or SN Uniboot connectivity offers the chance to build completely different infrastructures that are much simpler, much more sustainable and offer a higher degree of flexibility. This is what Senko is doing in terms of using next-generation connectivity to help operators build networks in a more simple and sustainable way.”

Download Senko's latest White Paper to find out in more detail how it has developed a sustainable approach to fibre optic connectivity, to empower data centre and network operators to benefit from more sustainable networks, from the first nanometer to the last mile by making them faster, leaner, denser, and greener.


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