Recently, Akamai announced the company's plans to expand its sustainability initiatives through an innovative renewable energy procurement strategy. Unlike many of its peers in the tech industry, Akamai does not operate its own data centers. That means, for example, we don't have roofs on which to install solar panels, which is one key way of generating your own renewable power.
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Akamai's purpose is to propel our customers faster forward by making the Internet business-ready: fast, reliable and secure. And now, also green and clean. Today we are committing, by 2020, to reduce our absolute greenhouse gas emissions below 2015 levels by sourcing renewable energy for 50 percent of our network operations.
Just when I thought the trend toward smaller, more efficient mobile computing was taking us in a greener direction, a recent study by the Center for Energy-Efficient Telecommunications (CEET) finds, in fact, we're creating a monster. To date, attention to the rapidly expanding energy consumption and concomitant carbon emissions of the Internet has been focused on data centers. A New York Times series targeted the data centers of major Cloud players such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple to reveal the power hungry and polluting nature of the Internet - 2% of the world's energy and growing. Greenpeace in its "How Dirty is Your Data" and "How Clean is Your Cloud" reports also exposed the energy- and carbon-intensiveness of data centers. To their credit, the major Cloud players, including Akamai, have responded and are leading the way to unprecedented efficiency, and even powering with renewables.
But as we've been busy scrutinizing data centers, a new power-intensive infrastructure component is emerging: wireless. Traditionally, we accessed the Internet from PC's tethered to Ethernet cables, hard-wired into the Cloud. Most of our content and applications lived on our computers or on company servers. Now, thanks to advancements in ubiquitous wireless technology and smart, mobile clients, we've been unleashed, free to roam, to access our videos, music, documents and applications anytime, anywhere. Smart phones and tablets have given us compute power at a fraction of the energy and clunkiness of PC's. This evolution has brought us unprecedented convenience and flexibility.
Now we come to find that all this freedom and convenience has come at an energy and environmental cost according to the CEET study, The Power of Wireless Cloud. Most surprising and concerning is that by 2015 wireless infrastructure, including technologies such as WiFi and 4G LTE, will account for 90% of the total energy consumption of the wireless cloud, while data centers supporting mobile users and their Internet activities will represent only 9%. Energy consumption of the wireless cloud will grow 460% from 9.2 TWh in 2012 to 43 TWh in 2015, resulting in a 24-megatonne increase in CO2 emissions, the equivalent of adding 4.9 million cars to the roads.
Source: The Power of Wireless Cloud, Centre for Energy Efficient Telecommunications, Bells Labs and University of Melbourne
And that might be a lowball estimate. A 2011 study (G. Auer, Oct. 2011) cited by CEET estimates the contribution of just the 4G LTE infrastructure at 80 TWh. Akamai's most recent State of the Internet report supports this prediction of rapid growth in energy consumption indicating that mobile (2-4G only) web traffic has been doubling year over year since 2007.
Source: Akamai State of the Internet Q1 2013 report. Traffic data does not include Wi-Fi, DVB-H and Mobile WiMax).
While the wireless cloud is only a small fraction of the Internet's total estimated 260 TWh of energy consumption today, we can only expect the transition to an untethered world to continue. The question is will the energy consumption of the wireless infrastructure dominate the total as predicted? Even at something substantially less than domination, that's still a lot of energy. And, like power-hungry data centers, unless that energy comes from renewable sources, it will be contributing to ever increasing greenhouse gas emissions which we cannot afford at any level of convenience and flexibility.
But there are also some things we can do in the meantime. Helping to make the transmission of wireless traffic more efficient will help. For example, a feature of Akamai's Aqua Ion offering is support for "suppressed header for uplink traffic reduction" (SHUTR), developed by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. This HTTP protocol extension reduces the size of HTTP headers sent by mobile phones which in addition to improving browsing speeds reduces mobile data traffic. It's definitely a start.
Nicole Peill-Moelter is Akamai's Director of Environmental Sustainability
Furthermore companies that have large IT deployments are being challenged by rapid expansion and rising energy costs. For companies like Akamai that host their IT infrastructure in third-party collocation data centers energy is typically priced based on the total supplied power in kilowatts (KW) charged at a fixed rate in $/KW for example 50KW at $200/KW per month, similar to a fixed number of minutes for a mobile phone plan. While the supplied power is fixed, the power drawn by the servers vary with server activity which peaks and lulls daily as shown below. Energy costs could be reduced if the server peak-power demand, and hence the supplied power, can be lowered.
Figure 1. Daily variation of Internet traffic. Source: www.akamai.com
Not so anymore according to The Green Grid (TGG). At The Green Grid conference in early March TGG announced its updated free-cooling maps based on the new American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) guidelines for allowable temperature and humidity ranges for various classes of IT equipment. These maps show where in the world and for how many hours per year outside air can be used for cooling ("air-side economization"). There's a lot of discussion in the whitepaper about dry bulb and dewpoint temperatures and psychrometric graphs that I won't bore you with. The net-net is depending on the ASHRAE classification of IT equipment in use, A1-A4 with A4 being the most heat- and humidity-tolerant, free-cooling can be used year round in 75%-100% of North America and greater than 97% of Europe, even with temperatures as high as 113°F! Japan's environment is more challenging at 14%-90%. The maps below, reproduced from TGG's whitepaper, show free cooling ranges for the more delicate A2-classified IT equipment. In full disclosure, to achieve 100% free cooling in some locations, operators must be okay with occasional incursions into heat and humidity ranges outside the recommended ARSHRAE ranges. But when one crosses the infrequency and short duration of these incursions with the risk of failure of the IT equipment and compares against the CAPEX and OPEX savings of doing without mechanical cooling, it's certainly worth a look.
Still not convinced? Big data center operators aren't waiting to put theory into practice. eBay is operating its new Phoenix data center with 100% free cooling year round even during 115° days! And Facebook's state of the art Prineville data center in Oregon was built for only free cooling. I know, they deploy masses of servers on a monthly basis and don't have voided equipment warranties to worry about. But most technology refreshes happen on a three year time frame, not too far off to assess your free cooling options for the next planning cycle. And consider that just turning on air-side economization was found to save an average of 20% in money, energy and carbon.
* CRAC = computer room air conditioner
Remote communities negatively impacted by the irresponsible disposal of electronic waste.
Nicola Peill-Moelter is Akamai's Director of Environmental Sustainability
Akamai's business operations include running our global server platform, office operations, and employee travel and commuting. Like most companies and industries, Akamai's carbon footprint closely reflects our energy consumption and operational costs.
Tracking our carbon footprint is an element of what we do as part of our sustainability program, and is seemingly tangential to our core business of making the Internet faster for our customers. But in doing so we are able to understand how and why we use the energy we use, focus on big payback targets. This very process helps us think of ways to do things more efficiently - innovate!
Historically, energy had been a minor component of our operational costs so hadn't been prominent on anyone's radar. However, energy prices have been on the rise while other aspects of our operational costs such as bandwidth have been falling. Thanks to carbon footprint management, we now have the data to analyze usage trends and look at the cost implications. We can more easily evaluate our assumptions and identify opportunities both to improve operational efficiency and to lower costs.
I was just re-reading "The IT Efficiency Imperative," a great whitepaper authored last spring by Mark Aggar of Microsoft's Environmental Sustainability team. The paper, which "explores the critical importance and substantial benefits of embracing IT energy efficiency" is spot on.