Why converged networks are more sustainable

The move to disaggregated and cloudified networks has opened an opportunity to improve network sustainability through convergence, without sacrificing performance or innovation.

The telecoms industry is directly accountable for 1.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions1. This is edging closer to the aviation industry’s 2.1%, which highlights the scale of the challenge for operators2. The problem is likely to worsen as data demand continues to grow so rapidly. To tackle the climate crisis and ensure survival, operators must act with a sense of urgency and make network sustainability a priority. Network convergence can be part of the solution. It involves transporting network traffic from different domains and layers over the same common infrastructure and it offers a means of minimising embedded emissions, reducing network power consumption and extending the lifespan of network equipment. A recent stc paper shows that converging the optical and IP layers of a network alone, using Cisco’s Routed Optical Network automation can mean a 70-75% reduction in transmission node power consumption.

The time for convergence is now for operators

Convergence involves the sharing of network resources across and within network domains and layers, as well as the consolidation of software points of interaction delivered through the disaggregation of software components and separation from hardware. This approach to network architecture and management avoids duplication, reduces complexity and drives efficiency. Through greater simplification, it also enables increased automation.

Divergence on the other hand, means that network resources are distributed and exclusive to a specific service, domain and/or layer. Software is typically tied to hardware in siloed stacks. In the past, this approach has delivered faster deployment of new services at speed. Cloud-native technologies and practices have altered this.

Until recently, divergence was necessary to quickly capture market opportunities without attempting to change entire network stacks. However, the increased drive towards cloud native networks and increasing disaggregation means this is no longer a necessity. Cloud networks allow the flexibility to customise services and stack disaggregation allows hardware and software components to be updated easily without requiring wholescale replacement. With cloud based and disaggregated networks, telcos can reap the cost and operational benefits of convergence, without slowing go to market speed and sacrificing innovation, as would be the case with legacy networks.

Types of network convergence. Source: STL Partners, Revisiting convergence: How to address the growth imperative

STL considers that there are three types of convergence as outlined above. Telcos achieve the maximum benefit from convergence when all 3 are adopted together, as this enables greater resource sharing, network oversight and end-to-end network management capabilities.

Vertical convergence integrates previously separate layers (e.g. optical and IP) to run over a common architecture for greater automation, optimisation and orchestration. Horizontal convergence minimises duplication across network or service domains and ensures shared resources are managed as efficiently as possible, for example through network slicing, as explained in this report. Logical convergence ensures the ability to manage and orchestrate network workloads from a joined-up perspective without necessarily making big changes to the existing (often legacy) investment.

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Convergence is a strategic sustainability imperative

Prioritising network sustainability is critical, particularly as data growth continues in a seemingly exponential fashion and telco customers are increasingly concerned with their scope 3 emissions, most of which originate upstream from their vendor partners. Network convergence should be part of network sustainability strategy as it offers a means of achieving network growth without undermining sustainability goals.

The sustainability benefits from convergence are largely attributable to resource sharing. Duplication of equipment, management systems and support services are minimised, both across network domains and layers.

Operators can achieve the following sustainability benefits by pursuing network convergence:

1. Reduced energy consumption – Resource sharing reduces peak and average energy demand from a network as fewer devices require power and cooling. Network administrators may also use traffic shaping to better manage data transmission during peak times.

2. Minimised embedded emissions – Convergence reduces the physical footprint of networks by reducing the duplication of network equipment and need for redundancy. This lowers scope 3 emissions by reducing embedded emissions bought in from vendors.

3. Lengthened network equipment lifespans – With disaggregated, converged networks, components can be upgraded or replaced without the need for replacing full stacks. This contributes to reducing embedded emissions as well as minimising waste.

Operators must align on their convergence strategy to capitalise on modern networks for sustainability

If operators are interested in future proofing their networks and contributing to a more sustainable planet, they should pursue network convergence. The benefits of convergence are clear. Converged networks benefit from economies of scale achieved through resource sharing, automation, and network optimisation, all contributing to reduced power consumption, embedded emissions, and waste. To reap these benefits, operators should build a foundation for convergence by pursuing cloudification and disaggregation, defining a clear network convergence strategy and securing stakeholder buy-in.

Further reading

Sources: 

https://www.orange.com/en/magazines/innovation/digital-innovation-do-you-trust-it-to-have-a-positive-impact/how-can-telcos-work-together-reduce-their-carbon-footprint#:~:text=Telcos%20are%20responsible%20for%201.6,collaborating%20on%20finding%20global%20solutions

https://www.iea.org/reports/aviation 

Will Davies

Author

Will Davies

Consultant

Will Davies is a consultant at STL Partners specialising in Sustainability.

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