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The Magazine

Issue 10

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Where our team of guest writers discuss what they think about the current trends and issues.

Andrew McGrath
Commercial Dir., Virgin Media Business

How will consumer IT impact your business?

Back in 2005, the analyst house Gartner predicted that consumer technology would have a huge impact on enterprise IT over the next 10 years.
11 May 2010

The data centre future is green with fibre optics

Corning Cable Systems | www.corningcablesystems.com

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According to an IDC study, alone in Europe, around 1.2 million square metres of new data centres will be constructed in the next five years. And further 870,000m² of the existing data centre space will be renovated during the same period. The new data centres will demand more than 2,450 Mega Watts of electricity per year. It will take four coal-fired power plants, each one producing 600 Mega Watts yearly, or three new nuclear power plants producing 860 Mega Watts each to meet the resulting energy demand.

An objective appraisal

The data centres in operation today are responsible for 2% of worldwide carbon emissions. Although at first glance this figure may not seem too high, a comparison with global commercial aviation traffic, which also emits 2% of world’s carbon, puts things into perspective. While aviation’s carbon emissions are often in the headlines, so far data centres seem to get away with their carbon footprint.

As the number of data centres increases, their combined power consumption will as well. The situation is exacerbated by increasingly compact servers and switch design, that allow greater equipment density and therefore higher power consumption per square metre. Today, IT equipment accounts for 50% of the total data centres’ energy consumption, cooling represents 25%, air flow, around 12% and transformers and USP units, 10%.

When operators consider energy-efficient alternatives, too often they look only at the active equipment and believe that new versions of the current air conditioning systems, UPS units and blade servers will provide a sufficient answer. And certainly the contribution of advanced active equipment to energy savings is fundamental – but not enough. Yet most operators forget about structured cabling, the backbone and central nervous system of a data centre, which has a major impact on energy savings.

The need for future-oriented planning

The data centres being built now will remain in operation for a period of at least 10 to 15 years, so future-oriented, energy-efficient measures implemented today will have a tremendous impact in the mid-term future. That's why fibre optics should be used right from the start.

If you compare the power consumption of a 10 Gigabit Ethernet copper cable connection with that of a fibre optic cable, you find a difference of 24 Watts in power consumption to the disadvantage of the copper alternative. The electrical power no longer needed for cooling also needs to be added to the difference. Calculated on the basis of the principle of energy conservation, that represents additional 10 Watts.

That means that fibre optic cable offers a savings potential of 34 Watts per 10 Gigabit link.

Energy-saving infrastructure

That may not seem like much at first. Yet there are thousands of links in an average size data centre. 4100 Kilo Watts per hour represents the potential power saving of just 14 fibre optic links – when compared to same number of copper ports. It is also the average annual power consumption of a 4-member family semidetached house.

Resource-efficient fibre optics

Above and beyond energy savings, fibre optics manufacturing processes have a lower environmental impact than those of copper cables. You need around 500 kilos (excavated ground, water, etc.) of environment to extract 1 Kilo of copper. To obtain the same amount of glass, the fibre optic core material, the tally only amounts to around 3 Kilos of natural resources. An impressive contrast.

Yet the question remains: how much glass or copper does a cable contain?

Twenty-four 10 Gigabit copper links with an average link length of 41.5 metres require 33 Kilos of copper. The same number of connections could be created using a 48-fibre optical cable, which needs just… 56 grams of glass. When you compare the total copper and fibre optic cable volumes, the environmental footprint results in 16.5 tonnes versus 168 grams, in favour of the optical fibre cable.

The environmental impact analysis must be extended to the examination of the raw materials needed to produce cable jackets and internal structural elements. These materials are usually made from plastics derived from crude oil. If we were to follow the above-mentioned example, the results once more are against the use of copper. The production of the copper cable needs 28 Kilos of raw materials while this figure decreases to 5.4 Kilos when we talk about the fibre optic cable.

And less cable also means less space required and reduced weight, and not simply because of the lower amount of cabling and routing space required. Fibre optic cable allows greater packing density. That translates into a reduction in cable weight on top of savings in energy, space and natural resources.

The big-picture approach

Green IT can only be credible and effective if it follows a holistic approach, incorporating as many ecological and economic factors as possible. Beyond energy efficiency, capital and operating costs, there are also the aspects of material usage, legislation compliance and environmentally friendly disposal to be considered. Ultimately, ecological solutions will be measured in terms of how much they can contribute to reduce carbon emissions, minimise environmental impact and to slow down global warming not only today but also in the years to come – and how will they impact the organization’s bottom line.

Long-term operation

We can not forget that the service life of all its components have a direct influence on the energy balance of a data centre. In the fast-moving IT world, this is determined by whether current technologies and infrastructures are equipped to deal with future generations’ systems. While active components are designed for an operating lifetime of three to five years, the passive infrastructure, mainly cabling systems, is expected to last up to fifteen years.

If we look fifteen years down the road, we will certainly find 40 and 100 Gigabit transmission speeds in almost every data centre. These higher transmission rates, together with optimised fibre optic solutions based on OM3 fibre, will form the basis for the next generation of data centres. When planning new systems, the emphasis will have to be placed on bandwidth reserve, high packing density and systems’ performance. And here structured cabling has a lot to say.

Development for the future

As a leading worldwide manufacturer, Corning Cable Systems works since decades on ground-breaking green solutions for data centres. Our company has been setting standards in fibre optics since it developed the world's first low-loss optical fibre more than thirty years ago. Today, we continue to develop unmatched-quality, environmentally-friendly cabling solutions for data centres.

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