Open optics mean sustainable networks

As we discussed in the first blog of this series on sustainability, Dirty data: reducing the Internet carbon footprint, we are working to reduce our eco-footprint and draw on renewable energy resources. One way we are working to make this happen, and increase our sustainability as an organization, is to take the lead in introducing open optics and open line systems. What are the benefits, though, in terms of sustainability? As a recent Heavy Reading survey found: The business benefits of open networks are clear to eliminate vendor lock-in, lower capex, and innovate faster. Yet little is mentioned about the sustainability benefits.

In today’s economy, open networks eliminate the need for large investments in infrastructure multiplying available bandwidth quickly and cost-effectively without replacing existing infrastructure. This reduces pressure on the supply chain and makes the most out of available network assets.

What do we mean by open optics and open routing? Traditionally, optical systems have been built as closed and proprietary networks. This means the network hardware and components were provided by a single system vendor, and interfaces between network equipment were closed and proprietary. It also means that all the parts of the network – optics, transponders, line system and management systems were packaged and managed by a single vendor. This greatly limits providers in terms of upgrade and expansion potential, impacts supply chain demands and doesn’t allow flexibility in the choice of the most energy efficient and green network solution.

A more efficient network

When moving to an open optical network, components can be optimized and sourced separately from multiple vendors – empowering service providers with the ability to assemble a system themselves without being pigeonholed with one supplier. Moving to open networking unshackles service providers from the limitations of selecting just the available parts provided by a single vendor, allowing them to make a choice and select the better performing and more efficient components from a network performance point of view, while optimizing their platforms to make them greener at the same time.

Not only does this provide a more efficient network for customers – giving them faster and more reliable access to the Internet – but it also facilitates better efficiency from a megabit per watt point of view. This greatly reduces the environmental impact and use of natural resources, delivering a more positive impact on overall sustainability.

Moving to an open network is also more sustainable for existing line systems. When providers are not locked into vendor specifics, they are able to build the next generation of services on an existing line system, allowing them to rapidly upgrade rather than wait for the traditional rip-and-replace abandonment of old, obsolete platforms. The flexibility and access to existing line systems, upgrading them with the best and latest technology provides more efficiency, immediate gains for customers and a more sustainable network environment.

How Arelion is shifting to supporting open networks

In 2020, we announced our plans to converge the IP and optical layers in our network, with a simpler architecture using Acacia’s 400G coherent modules that plug  directly into our routers. This architecture allows us to address increasing bandwidth demands while significantly reducing both capital and operational expenditure. Arelion was an early adopter, strategically deploying open line systems and terminal equipment that can support new 400G pluggable technology.

In addition to this deployment, with OLS there is a possibility to eliminate one layer of equipment using coherent pluggables. Historically, Arelion utilized IP Routers with grey optics, DWDM Transponders in a dedicated chassis, with an Open Optical Line system. We are actively transitioning to IP Routers with coherent DWDM pluggable optics, and an Open Optical Line system. This allows us to skip an entire platform layer, reducing costs and providing more sustainability by reducing and better utilizing space and power consumption.

Arelion is also working to replace its optical systems in metro areas and is migrating to a more open approach. We have found that particularly in metro areas, it is more efficient to remove or collapse the optical transmission layer and with coherent pluggables, facilitate optical transmission directly between routers. Eliminating the entire fixed metro DWDM platform layer reduces both operational cost and power consumption. Pluggables typically consume much less energy than legacy transponder cards, and a dedicated chassis with fixed supervisor cards isn’t needed, delivering significant power reduction and an overall increase in sustainability.

How this supports sustainability

We’ve discussed what open networks are, and some examples of how Arelion is moving towards them with the use of pluggables, but how does this truly drive sustainability? One area under recent focus is supply chain optimization. With growing supply chain delays and chip/component shortages, not having to rely on one vendor or packaged system allows us to utilize what is available now. It helps reduce redundant equipment in operation, buffer stock and maintenance spares supplies. In addition, we can be more agile in planning our systems, allowing us to plug-and-play with the best available network hardware and technology, instead of being forced to rely on a single system.

In turn, users realize the increase in efficiency and performance from a megabit per watt perspective and decreased power consumption makes everything more environmentally friendly. It allows us to build on existing line systems, rather than having to rip-and-replace and it delivers immediate gains in metro areas. Finally, companies that are focused on sustainable production in their organization have the option to select the most efficient, greener platforms and components without legacy system constraints. They can put sustainability before product platform.

By optimizing existing line systems, incorporating pluggables, and by selecting what is currently available and most efficient as opposed to being stuck with legacy systems – and increasing power consumption – Arelion is working towards greater sustainability with our approach to open optical network systems. Reducing pressure on supply chains, reusing existing metro routes, removing network layers and reducing energy consumption all play a part in our contribution towards a more sustainable network future.

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series looking at how Arelion is working towards its corporate sustainability goals.

Art Kazmierczak, Head of Global Business and Network Development