Green IT: GreenTouch consortium opens doors to new members

Project aimed at reducing the Internet's carbon footprint asks for new ideas and members

A consortium focused on making the Internet more energy efficient has opened its doors to general members for the first time.

The GreenTouch initiative, borne out of Alcatel Lucent's Bell Labs research division, intends to develop more energy efficient technologies that would decrease the Internet's global energy consumption by a factor of 1000 over five years. The consortium was founded in January this year, and has a number of members from telcos AT&T in the US and Portugal Telecom to Huawei and the University of Melbourne's Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES).

Though currently limited to 17 founding organisations, the consortium hopes to gain more expertise by opening membership to individuals and organisations in the ICT industry to help.

"The global network today consumes energy equivalent to emitting about 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide gases," Alcatel Lucent Bell Labs head of research, Gee Rittenhouse, said at the consortium's launch in January. "That's equivalent to about 50 million automobiles."

"It's growing because of the explosion in Internet traffic. Over the next decade we can expect to see a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide even in addition to today's. If we do nothing, it will rise significantly."

A research council which met last year as a forbear to the GreenTouch consortium found the minimum energy required to operate the Internet today was 10,000 times less than what is currently used.

While carbon footprint was one consideration in developing current Internet technologies such as servers, routers and storage systems, Rittenhouse said these were relatively minor when compared to higher priorities like performance and simplicity. The consortium aims to retain the current performance level of the Internet while reducing its energy consumption dramatically.

Speaking at the Green IT virtual conference as part of international Green IT awareness week, IBES director, Professor Rod Tucker, said that all of the underlying technologies of the Internet consumed an average of one per cent of the global electricity supply. This would continue, he said, provided the manufacturers behind this technology maintain the current increases in energy efficiency of about 20 per cent per year.

With no efficiency improvement in the technologies, Tucker said the "total power consumption of the network starts to approach the total global electricity supply" of 2010.

Tucker suggested that while some focus should remain on core network technologies such as central routers and long-haul transmission links, the access network and customer premises equipment should be a higher priority in minimising the Internet's carbon footprint. Studies conducted by Tucker and researchers at IBES found that fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks, such as that making up the majority of the proposed national broadband network (NBN), were far more energy efficient than alternative access networks like fibre-to-the-node (FTTN), hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) and wireless technologies.

Tucker said he hoped the GreenTouch initiative would provide "opportunities for bringing innovative new ideas and products to market with a focus on energy efficiency".

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