A sustainable networking project designed to help ‘green the internet’ has won the Internet Research Task Force’s Applied Networking Research Prize (ANRP) 2024 for Somerville DPhil student Sawsan El-Zahr. 

The Applied Networking Research Prize is an annual award convened by the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) to recognise the best new research in applied networking. Sawsan, who is also an Oxford Qatar Thatcher Scholar, was lead author on the winning project, which is entitled ‘Exploring the Benefits of Carbon-Aware Routing’. Her co-authors on the study were Paul Gunning, a Principal Researcher at BT, and Somerville’s Tutorial Fellow in Engineering, Professor Noa Zilberman, who is also Sawsan’s DPhil supervisor. 

Sawsan El-Zahr

The project was conceived in response to the widespread recognition that the Internet needs to reduce its carbon emissions to reach 2050 net-zero carbon goals. The team started their project by observing that the power consumption of networks is not indicative of their carbon emissions, and that operational carbon emissions vary depending on time, season and region (see graphic below).  

 

The team next explored the benefits of introducing carbon awareness to routing data between network users. They defined a set of energy- and carbon-related metrics and used them to assess the carbon reduction benefits of different solutions. They also introduced a novel Carbon-Aware Traffic Engineering solution that shuts down under-utilized links in a given network while maintaining network resilience.  

 

Results of the study show that reducing carbon emissions can sometimes lead to increased energy consumption, and that the optimal metrics to use are a combination of the dynamic power of routers and regional carbon intensity. The results also corroborate the idea that the idle power of routers has a major contribution to carbon emissions, and that simply changing the routing in a network will not suffice unless routers are improved and become more power proportional.  

As a recipient of the Applied Networking Research Prize (ANRP), Sawsan will be invited to speak at the IRTF Open Meeting later this year, in addition to receiving a cash prize.  

Read more about the project here.

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