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Fix Earth? Fix Cities! Quick Win: Datacom

January 19, 2012

Boston's heat island image map

Boston’s urban “heat island”

In 2011, we reached two milestones, where (a) the Earth’s population topped 7 billion, and (b) over 50% of us are concentrated in densely populated, urban areas.  With an expected net increase to 9 billion worldwide by 2050, the expanding middle-class consumer group will likely steepen this urbanization trend.

Not too coincidentally, McKinsey Global Institute’s 2011 report titled “Resource Revolution“, which discusses ways to meet our world’s energy, materials, food and water needs, ranks 15 key opportunity areas, identifying “building energy efficiency” as the single biggest area of potential opportunity.  In short, fixing inefficient cities is a big potential win if we are to stem our planet’s fever and support our growing population.  McKinsey, too, cited the urbanization trend as an input.

In case you were wondering, the next 2 big opportunity areas identified by the McKinsey report are increasing agriculture yields and reducing food waste.  Taken together, these 3 areas comprise 75% of the total resource productivity opportunity identified in the McKinsey report.

Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Firms Respond

The trends cited above have been closely watched by the “AEC” industries, and the response is encouraging.  You need only follow the industry groups to see how LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) construction is front and center, focused appropriately on energy efficiency and “zero carbon” construction.  Of course, most of the LEED construction announcements concern new buildings, since that’s easier and sexier that retrofitting existing buildings.  Still, if McKinsey et. al. are on target, fixing existing buildings presents the rest of the proverbial iceberg of this top-ranked resource opportunity.  Retrofitting existing buildings is a must; failure is not an option.  And it’s impractical to rip and replace entire cities wholesale, or build new ones and abandon the old.

One Quick Win: Telecom / Datacom energy

networking closet thermal image

a telecom closet’s thermal image

You could start on the subject of building energy efficiency by discussing better insulation, better windows, better HVAC, better building materials, or solar panels, but why not start with the fastest growing, grandma-sized wedge of the US energy consumption pie chart: data centers and their customers?  Google, Amazon, and their midstream kin are all working hard at improving their efficiency, including funding solar arrays to power their server farms.  Hooray for them!  Meanwhile, what about all those seething, energy-hogging, city office buildings and multi-tenant dwellings?

Here’s a ray of hope.  While attending a recent BuildBoston Expo to visit some  customers, I came across a curious sight: a sole telecom outfitter named CommLink Services, whose show booth displayed a sort of before/after scenario, in which a standard office building’s data communications “hot closet” stood humming, blinking and throwing off gobs of BTUs of heat and hundreds of pounds of blue Ethernet cabling.  Alongside that familiar-looking steel closet rack with all its blinking metallic pizza boxes, they displayed a contrasting suitcase-sized rugged plastic box that mounts easily on a wall, with fiber optic cables emanating from it- sleek, quiet, cool and small.  Impressive.

In a typical office building, you can expect at least one “hot closet” for each tenant business, and additional hot closets for each 100 datacom users (PCs, phones, etc.) per tenant business.  Add more closets every 250 linear blue-cable feet to house the repeaters and other equipment to refresh the data signals that decay over long trips via copper lines, and you will have consumed significant heating, cooling, electricity, carbon, system weight, building reinforcement, closet space, and ceiling crawl space – all to feed our insatiable need for datacom speed.  Look at any office park from above, and you can plainly see all the heavy, energy-hogging HVAC equipment perched atop – half of it devoted to cooling your datacom infrastructure.  It’s a perverse problem, hiding in plain sight.  When I discussed this in a classroom of post-millennials, one little girl summed it up: “Isn’t it kind of dumb – – to heat a closet, and then cool it?” In fairness, we’ve only recently developed the optical componentry to solve it.

Fiber to the end-user Node (FTTN)

If you have at least 100 users and nodes in your data network, and you value data security, the Passive Optical Network option can offer improved datacom performance, while consuming far fewer resources and saving significant dollars.  This is a quick win, hiding in plain sight.  If you are a CIO, a multi-tenant commercial property owner, a building architect, or a telecom / datacom firm, this single “resource revolution” opportunity should have you drooling.

Compare options: Copper, Wireless, Optical

This “Fiber to the Node” (FTTN) opportunity looms large.  If you’d like to weigh the relative merits of copper LAN, fiber and wireless options, here is a comparison chart.

Hats off to Steve Welch and the forward-thinking folks at CommLink Services Corporation for taking it to the streets at BuildBoston and showing people the sustainability, energy efficiency, and bottom line advantages of the Passive Optical LAN (POLAN) option.  They’ve been in the datacom game for over 25 years, with some significant large and small-scale projects in the portfolio, and Steve says they have been inking significant VAR and distributor partnerships with all the major equipment firms who have come to recognize CommLink’s reliability and expertise. My take: CommLink Services knows they have been quietly successful too long. They are a mouse about to roar.  Give them a shout!

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