Cisco Blogs

The City of Blinking Lights

March 10, 2010 - 13 Comments

Technically, it’s not even a city. It is a town. Possibly one of the newest zip codes in America. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the hardest hit by the mortgage crisis.  Let it be unnamed given that I’m using it for illustrative purposes. How does a town like this survive, or even thrive, given budget cuts, foreclosures and property tax defaults?

Cost cutting is an obvious answer. Some administrative staff were let go. Vendor contracts were re-negotiated.  Additional government funding was solicited where possible.  Mostly common-sense stuff.

There was also some stuff that was uncommon. Somebody did an analysis and came up with some a “bright” idea. They figured that if the street lights on the non-arterial roads could be turned into blinking red lights instead of red, yellow and green, they could actually save a lot of energy and thereby the cost.


Needless to say, after the initial confusion (when most people initially thought the lights were non-functional, and then came to the realization that it was a deliberate act from the town administration), there was a lot of hue and cry. “What? Blinking red lights all the time? No green or yellow? What about safety? What about those who don’t stop. Off with their heads!”

Then the hue and cry toned down – somewhat. Apparently, aside from the energy savings, the cost of maintaining the camera-activated lights was much higher, with a greater operational expense.   

Drawing a parallel with the business world, most organizations are still scratching the tip of the surface when it comes to energy management.  Back in the hey days of the ‘dot com boom’, while traveling on Highway 101 at night to or from the San Francisco Airport, I used to see multi-storied buildings all brightly lit up past way past midnight. A single late-night worker or two would be silhouetted in cubicles working, but the whole building would be alight. What a waste of energy! But, it was a decade of excess.

Ten years down, the mindset has definitely changed. While energy consciousness is certainly becoming top of mind to many businesses, they lack the tools and technologies to convert their plans into reality. Many businesses are also put off by what they think is additional investment for green. That is true. There will be some upfront investment. But what most businesses don’t realize is that their upfront investment can be offset by energy savings very quickly. 

We have done cost analysis of actual networks, where the Energy Savings cost savings could be as much as 50%. In one scenario involving several county offices with an annual energy cost of $770,000, they could potentially save over $400,000 in energy costs with a managed nightly shutdown and additional energy policies in the works. That is huge!Factoring in such savings makes initial investment into energy savings very palatable. We’re pulling together such case studies with numerous customers. We’re also building several tools and technologies that make it easier to bring intelligent energy management into the network, without making it overtly complex.

Cisco’s EnergyWise solution has been well publicized. It is not a one-off. It is a phased evolution of numerous capabilities that will help with energy management.  Cisco is taking an architectural approach to energy management, bringing together capabilities across multiple products and portfolios in a consistent manner. The architecture extends to non-IT environments as well. The Cisco Network Building Mediator solution is a good example that can provide good building energy management and HVAC. And I’m not even touching upon Smart Grid here.

We’re trying to spread the word through fun videos (such as the one below) and word of mouth, in addition to our traditional sales and marketing outreach.

Eventually, costs savings from energy can be funneled into other parts of the organization. The town I spoke about did just that. While blinking traffic lights may not be perfect solution, this was not a solution in search of a problem.

And what of the blinking lights? Guess what? It has since been a year. The lights are still blinking red. And residents have gotten used to it, save for the first-time visitors, who suddenly realize they need to STOP!

This is one instance where red helped pave the way to green. Or is black? I am usually confused with Wall Street’s terminologies for profitability. Am I the only one? J


Shashi Kiran

In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. hmm, interesting article here. In my area, I've seen more blinking red lights than ever before.

  2. Making any organization green doesn't start at the tail. The heads of the orgs need to be aware of the impact of going green rather than profits. They act slower than turtles which is why they can not move the orgs in the right direction.

  3. Speaking of companies not wanting to fork out the initial money to invest in energy saving technology, I know that there are government credits for stuff like residential solar panel plans. Maybe we need that for businesses too.

  4. In our town many traffic lights are installed to seemingly pacify local residents with little regard for the substantial costs involved in the installation or operation. Simple stop signs would no doubt be cheaper and waste less fuel idling away, and still be quicker and more efficient than lights, sensors and associated hardware. It really gets obvious during a power failure when most drivers actually become curtious and sensible when they are expected to be at failed intersections. It seems that sometimes we use technology to solve problems that don't exist.

  5. This is a really good article about IT.I really like this article and you are given here.Really Interesting post.Thank you very much for sharing.Keep blogging.

  6. In my country Dominican Republic some years ago in the late night much of the traffic lights were turned into blinking red until 5 o'clock in the morning. But here was not an econimcal situation. It was to avoid people stay stoped in a traffic light late night, because they could be assaulted.

  7. @Stan. Ahh - the powercuts remind me of the midnight candlelight cramming for exams. Back then, we didn't seem to care much, for everybody had the same issues. Generators were noisy and not many chose to go for it. But it did give birth to a new market fo

  8. Just returned from a trip to India. You guys have blinking lights.They have powercuts and load shedding.greater minds have to come together to solve the energy crisis.

  9. This blinking lights scheme has been used in my city for a time, not for energy optimization purposes, but for for security reasons, to relief drivers from stoping in dangerous areas at late night. And turned to be a welcome scheme.

  10. @Jim - I agree. Taking the first step is always a mindset thing. Sometimes I feel enforcement of these policies top down is the best thing, till it becomes part of a company's culture, and then it is second nature.@Eve, Business Plan, William - thanks!

  11. It is definitely a thought provoking article, the biggest challenge in making the work place more green is going to be changing the thinking of the decision makers. While it makes good long range sense, many companies will not cut into profits now to cut expenses later.

  12. Yes, we *also* build routers :-) Routers have evolved considerably in the past decade. As they move closer to the customer edge, the focus is more on services integration and device consolidation to simplify and reduce operational expenses.

  13. A good analogy. Thanks for the article. And I use to think that all you guys did was build routers.