Sustainability in Network Architecture and Software Development

Monday August 22, 2022


The Impact of IT on Climate and the Environment

There has been a lot of excitement and buzz concerning the latest wave of emerging technologies. 5G networking, blockchain, and the immersive/interactive internet or Metaverse have been generating a lot of enthusiasm among technologists. However, not too much has been said about the environmental and climatic impact of these new developments 

Harmful emissions from computers and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in general are quite substantial. Much of the electric power used worldwide in manufacturing phones and other IT equipment comes from coal -- an environmentally unfriendly source. For example, some 55 kilograms of carbon emissions result from the production of a single mobile phone -- equivalent to around 26 weeks of domestic laundry activity. The Shift Project estimates that the carbon footprint linked to digital activities accounts for around 4% of the world’s total emissions. To put this in context, if the Internet was a country, it would be the sixth largest polluter in the world.

Design for quick redundancy and frequent replacement of IT equipment also results in a hardware lifecycle that does little to promote sustainability or the circular economy of reuse, recycling, and repair. Conventional practices result in the generation of huge volumes of harmful electronic waste or e-waste. Global statistics from suggest that there are over 347 metric tons of unrecycled e-waste on Earth in 2022. This material often contains toxic elements that harm soils, waterways, and ecosystems.

Emerging technology is also playing a role in contributing to climate damage and environmental degradation. For instance, blockchain, which has the potential to facilitate many financial and contractual interactions, is known to be an energy hog. The Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index reveals that the world’s largest blockchain-dependent cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, currently consumes an estimated 150 terawatt-hours of electricity each year. This is greater than the annual energy usage of Argentina, a country of 45 million people.

Energy Conservation in the Light of Web 3.0 and Emerging Technologies

The evolution of the internet and connectivity, in general, provides both challenges and opportunities, for energy conservation and sustainability.

On the one hand, the decentralized internet of Web 3.0 will rely on resource-hungry underlying technologies like blockchain. The immersive Internet of the Metaverse will require massive network infrastructure and power investments.

Luckily, strategic cloud deployment, network implementation, and software design offer ways to reduce waste and resource consumption and have a more positive effect on the environment.

Sustainable Business Infrastructure

With the strategic implementation of sustainable network architectures and best practices, network operators can increase efficiency and consolidate resources to reduce their ecological footprint.

For example, deploying applications in containers generally leads to a lower total energy cost. Deploying some parts of an application as serverless functions instead of running them continuously in a Virtual Machine (VM) helps in achieving lower overall energy consumption rates. This practice also improves overall efficiency.

Virtualization can provide a simple and cost-effective way of reducing Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and Operational Expenditure (OPEX).

Hardware virtualization can reduce the levels of e-waste and power consumption in network data centers associated with storage devices, memory, CPUs, and other equipment. Application and Operating System (OS) level virtualization enables network operators to run multiple applications in separate environments, but on the same machine. This reduces hardware requirements, energy consumption, and maintenance costs. Savings in this area would represent significant savings in for example Europe, where the EU Commission estimates that data centers in the European Union will consume 3.2% of total global electricity demand in 2030.

Sustainable Software Development

Sustainable software development (also known as sustainable software engineering) is an approach to software design, implementation, and deployment that puts its emphasis on energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

In sustainable software development, developers concentrate on producing efficient code, resulting in applications requiring less energy to run. They create application architectures that improve overall efficiency, thereby reducing energy consumption. They also take into consideration factors like the number of cloud hosting locations required to provide application availability in a sustainable manner, and the extent to which cloud and colocation providers are committed to carbon neutrality and green energy sourcing.

Sustainability in the Cloud

In terms of the mainstream cloud, major providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and the Google Cloud Platform play a key role in efforts at sustainability. These efforts typically involve the establishment of sustainability goals and architecture design that achieves maximum resource utilization through rightsizing. Providers also use managed services and efficient hardware and software offerings, to reduce the downstream impact of their cloud workloads.

For newer applications such as 5G and Metaverse, edge cloud deployments provide an opportunity to improve data transfer efficiency locally, and to reduce dependence on distant data centers for information processing. Done strategically, this can reduce overall energy consumption.

Sustainability Efforts as We Move Forward

As we have seen, sustainable software development practices, the adoption of sustainable business infrastructure, and the strategic deployment of cloud resources can all contribute to process efficiency and energy conservation in Web 3.0 and the Metaverse.

Here at FusionLayer, we are playing our part with a solution that can contribute to our client's sustainability efforts by developing Software-Defined solutions that have been decoupled from physical servers using sustainable software development methods.

By replacing traditional hardware-based DDI appliances with FusionLayer solutions deployed as virtual machines and/or as container pods on optimized business infrastructure, our customers can attain higher levels of performance while reducing the ecological footprint of their DNS, DHCP, and IP Address Management services.

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