London, May 6 : In an effort to cut down the energy consumption of the internet, US academics and researchers from companies Intel and Microsoft have developed a strategy to delay data flowing into a network by just a few milliseconds.
According to a report in New Scientist, as energy prices soar, and governments and organisations try to reduce their carbon footprint, the energy consumption of the internet is coming under scrutiny.
While most personal computers adjust how much energy they use depending on their workload, and shut down when unused, network hardware does not.
The servers, routers and other components of networks are designed to cope with much larger amounts of data than they do day-to-day, and use roughly the same amount of energy whether idle or busy.
But, according to researchers, subtly tweaking the flow of network traffic to allow routers and servers to work less hard, or spend more time "sleeping" in a resting state could make dramatic savings.
As part of the research work, Sergiu Nedevschi of the University of California in Berkeley, US, and colleagues at Intel Research labs in Berkeley and Seattle, have worked out how to make energy savings of around 50%, by delaying data flowing into a network by just a few milliseconds.
That is long enough to smooth out bursts and lulls in the data flow, and allows network hardware run at a consistently lower speed.
Alternatively, information can be grouped into fewer, larger bursts to let the hardware sleep between chunks.
According to the researchers' simulations, with today's hardware, either strategy could save between 40 and 80% of the energy used by a network's hardware.
In an approach they call "load skewing," new connections are first sent to servers that are already busy.
"The benefit is that it automatically creates servers that bear low load," said study leader Jie Liu. "These are the candidates for shutting down when the total load is low," he added.
The researchers also found that sleeping is more effective for networks that are used less.
"Since activity usually slows down at night, you could sleep at night, and use rate adjustment in the day," said Nedevschi.
"That approach is practical, but would not put a big dent in energy use in the US, because routers and switches consume a very tiny amount of the annual energy here," said Suresh Singh of Portland State University in Oregon, US.
"However, the impact could be significant in developing countries like India, where networks are growing and electricity supplies are tight," Singh added.