Power in the Network: Keep It Flowing, Keep It Efficient

BTR_Feature_Art_Saving_11-11-13 Cable operators have two vital and deeply related goals for the energy management and monitoring of the equipment in the field.

First and foremost, they recognize that keeping the juice flowing is an absolute priority. Any danger to that priority - an actual outage or an abnormality that may lead to one - must be identified quickly.

The other priority, which perhaps is a very small step behind keeping the lights on, is to operate as efficiently as possible. Reducing energy consumption by, for instance, turning down the air conditioning when the temperature falls below a certain point, does a couple of great things: It saves money, and it protects the environment.

These are related challenges have been taken up during the past few years by the SCTE's Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI). Most recently, the SCTE announced that Intel has joined the SCTE's standards program and will work on energy issues.

Marty Davidson, SCTE's Vice President of Engineering and Network Operators, said SEMI is working on a major project called the Adaptive Power System Interface Specification (APSIS). The idea is to enable end-to-end energy control that relies on a taxonomy defining the devices in a cable network that draw energy, the way in which need is measured (for instance, if the amount of traffic through a particular device or demands on its CPU is the key factor determining need) and, finally, to create an adaptation layer that enables all this data to be used to interface with control equipment to fluidly control usage. APSIS, Davidson said, will be "an end to end energy control systems controlling different components and different portions of the network and providing the ability to adjust energy based on use cases and what is going on in the network."

There really are three areas to be concerned with when considering the art and science of plant powering. The first two are pretty clear. One is to ensure that the servers, amplifiers and other devices are getting the power they need. The second is that the remote facility itself has sufficient electricity and backup - heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and related assets - to keep the equipment operational. The third is a bit higher level: The fewer electrical components a system has, the lower the vulnerability to outages and the less equipment is needed to make sure such events don't occur. Reducing power vulnerability is one of the key selling points of passive optical networks (PONs).

The good news is that the industry is working on its energy issues from the bottom up and from the top down. Mark Welsko, the director of technical operations for Worldwide Environmental Services, said C-level executives tend to look at energy management from the vantage point of MSO-wide budgets and the desire to be green, which has both actual and public relations value. Folks in the field have the same goals, but in their case, the driving force more likely is the need to house and cool an increasingly dense array of devices in limited space and within a limited energy budget.

It is serendipitous: The two sides are pulling in the same direction. While both share all concerns - folks in the field certainly want to be green - the primary drivers are different for both. But, Welsko said, great care must be taken. "The cost of one single outage could use the same amount of multiple years of energy savings that you have in place," he said.

Perhaps the linchpin elements of energy management are backup batteries. Jim Heidenreich, the vice president of strategic platforms for Alpha Technologies, said the industry is looking forward to advances in the backup batteries' monitoring. "The batteries are designed to go into a facility at a temperature controlled 25 degrees Celsius [77 degrees Fahrenheit]," he said. "But all cable enclosures are not temperature controlled from Nova Scotia to Arizona. It plays havoc with batteries."

Heidenreich said that today systems don’t provide useful information on the status of backup batteries. That can lead to nasty surprises. He pointed to new approaches that will improve self-testing capabilities in order to provide this information. "The goal is that the customer wants to know that if there is an outage, how much run time the battery has," Heidenreich said. "That tells him how to prioritize portable generator deployment and provides important information from a long term budgeting standpoint."

Quest Controls focuses on ensuring power to critical facilities. The company doesn’t directly power equipment. Instead, it makes sure that the venues in which they are housed remain functional. Executive Vice President Stuart Brager said new technology is allowing reporting that is more nuanced than simply whether  electricity is flowing. "Now there are shades of gray," he said. "There is significantly more remote visibility and intelligence, so that problems can be diagnosed faster and remotely."

Fiber-deep architectures such as PON avoid many of these issues simply by eliminating active components. "The most cost-effective thing operators can do is to reduce the number of actives in their networks. We have been proselytizing the fiber-deep architecture," said John Dalhquest, the vice president of marketing for Aurora Networks. "When you look at the consumption of energy, fiber-deep is the most cost-effective network you can build."

Perhaps Brager's assessment of where the industry is on the specific area Quest focuses on is true across the broader world of energy maintenance and monitoring. "I would say that the cable market is absolutely committed to monitoring and now is migrating to smarter monitoring," he said. "Some other industries - wireless and [non- cable] telecom - will do without. It's more optional. In cable, it's what monitoring system they will deploy, not whether they will."

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carlw@pennwell.com.

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