Power Forward: Cable Recalculates Its Energy Road Map

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Philadelphia — Snowballing demand for broadband is driving more network and data-center power demands. IP video and “cloud” services are also pushing up the electricity meter.

Mark Coblitz, Comcast’s senior VP of strategic planning, believes cable operators are facing a real crisis — and that the industry needs some big innovation to cut electricity consumption, he said here on a panel at the SCTE’s SEMI Forum. Earlier, in his keynote at the event, Coblitz issued a call to the industry to focus on energy consumption at the design phase (see Comcast’s Coblitz: Plan Now For Energy Efficiency, Or Else).

To get to “smart architectures that could use markedly less, not marginally less” power, “there’s some actual science we need here. We need real innovation here,” Coblitz said.

John Schanz, Comcast’s executive vice president and chief network officer, echoed the call. He said higher-density equipment has been the overriding trend in headend equipment, but said the power-consumption levels are getting to the point where a dramatic rethinking is necessary in the overall power architecture.

“The challenge to our vendors is, what kind of breakthrough thinking can they do… to figure out how to get the same performance at perhaps 50% of the power consumption,” he said. “That may require you to think differently about power consumption, all the way upstream to the chip level.”

Comcast is now installing 150-amp breakers in its data centers — for a single device, Schanz said. That used to be sufficient for an entire facility.

For the foreseeable future, though, the total amount of energy cable operators need to run their facilities will continue to climb, Comcast’s executive director of data center management Richard Werner said in a separate presentation.

Comcast’s 51-cabinet data center in Northlake, Ill., near Chicago — which went into operation last year — pulls in 1.8 megawatts of usable power. In a second phase, that will go up to 2.1 megawatts.

“We’re not lowering our consumption,” Werner said. “We’re filling up the data cabinets from bottom to top.” The Illinois data center reduces energy costs by using ambient air cooling — sucking in outside air during colder months to dissipate heat.

Coblitz capped off the panel by telling the audience that he’s going to be Comcast’s point man for energy issues. “You need someone who can go out there and talk and represent the company,” he said.

He added, “I’m convinced that if we start now it will not be an issue. If we don’t, it will be this tsunami and we can’t react.”


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