The term “webscale” provides a useful shorthand for the category of huge tech companies shaping the modern digital world. As you know if you work at one of them though—Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and those like them—these are vastly different organizations with distinct products, cultures, and areas of focus. There is, however, one area where webscale companies march in lockstep: their commitment to sustainability.

The leaders of the world’s biggest tech companies are keenly aware of the environmental implications of their vast hyperscale data centers. They know that, if they’re not careful, infrastructures of that size—millions of devices consuming incredible amounts of power—could have a significant negative impact on the world’s environment and carbon footprint. Fortunately, they refuse to let that happen. Instead, they’re using their unique position to promote positive change.

At Cisco, we have a long history of commitment to environmental sustainability and broader social responsibility ourselves. We’re fully aligned with our webscale customers’ goals to build a more sustainable industry. And we can play a key role in creating a greener, cleaner, and more efficient foundation for tomorrow’s hyperscale data centers.

A Commitment to Sustainability

Large multinational corporations don’t always get the benefit of the doubt when promoting positive global change. But more than in any other sector, the big webscale companies consistently put their money where their mouth is, devoting significant resources to concrete sustainability initiatives.

Google strives to build sustainability into everything they do. The company funds and operates hundreds of initiatives worldwide to make its own operations (data centers, applications, supply chain) more efficient, as well as providing tools to help other businesses reduce their environmental impact.

Facebook has launched initiatives to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint by 75 percent, and achieve 100 percent renewable energy, this year. Microsoft recently announced the creation of a $1 billion climate innovation fund. As part of this ambitious initiative, the company aims to be “carbon negative” by 2030, and by 2050, to actually remove all the carbon the company has emitted, directly and indirectly, since its founding in 1975.

Programs like these are also a key focus here at Cisco. We believe environmental sustainability is essential to the future of the world’s economies and citizens. And, as one of the world’s preeminent technology companies, we’re committed to doing our part to make a difference. We’ve launched a wide range of initiatives to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve biodiversity and natural resources. That includes minimizing waste across the lifecycle of our products and embedding sustainability into every part of our supply chain. These efforts have already produced concrete results—including a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 14,000 metric tonnes of Cisco products that we’ve refurbished, recycled, or reused in the last fiscal year alone.

Pushing the Boundaries of Sustainable Networking

Here at Cisco, we applaud the efforts of the webscale technology leaders to use their unique size and scale as a force for good. We know firsthand that even small, incremental changes can add up to a huge impact. And, in addition to our own sustainability efforts, we’re giving webscale companies powerful new tools to operate more efficiently and sustainably than ever before.

Examples include:

Raising the bar on power consumption: Our Internet for the Future technologies set a new standard for power-efficiency. Cisco Silicon One™ networking silicon is 2x more power-efficient than conventional silicon, delivering more than twice the network bandwidth in a single ASIC than any other routing silicon, with a fraction of the power consumption. New systems based on this architecture, such as Cisco 8200 Series routers, provide 10.8 Tb/s network bandwidth while consuming less power than any comparable solution—just 4 Watts per 100G.

Doing more with less: Delivering more bandwidth in a smaller footprint can have big implications in the power, space, and cooling budget of a hyperscale data center. In a single rack unit, for example, the Cisco 8201 router can now deliver routing capacity that used to require a full rack and consumed 15 times the power. The Cisco 8800 Series offers even greater consolidation, potentially removing entire layers from the network.

Providing more efficient optics: High-speed optical interfaces are among the most significant power consumers in hyperscale infrastructures. As webscale companies move from 100G to 400G, and eventually to 800G optics, conventional technologies would carry an enormous power budget and carbon footprint. Through our recent optical acquisitions, as well as innovative engineering, we’re empowering webscale companies to carry more data, farther, with fewer lasers. We’re also working with industry groups, like the QSFP-DD800 MSA group, to standardize high-capacity, power-efficient optical solutions across the industry.

Enabling broad supply chain efficiencies: The advantages of delivering more bandwidth in a smaller, more power-efficient footprint go beyond individual racks, and even full hyperscale data centers. They ripple across entire supply chains. After all, when you can replace a full rack of equipment with a single, small box, it takes far less space and energy to ship that routing and switching capacity than it used to. It reduces packing material. It reduces weight. Ultimately, it translates to a major reduction in carbon footprint associated with distributing hyperscale infrastructure.

With all these components at our disposal, we’re in prime position to partner with webscale companies to develop new solutions and configurations that will lead to even greater efficiencies in the future. As data volumes grow and workloads become more complex and resource-intensive, we aim to work with our customers to find new opportunities to operate even more sustainably.

Building a More Sustainable Future

Initiatives like these don’t always capture the headlines. But as you know if you work with hyperscale data centers, when you amplify these innovations at scale, they add up to a huge impact.

As the big webscale companies continue moving towards a more sustainable future—adopting sustainable energy sources, using new technology to reduce the carbon footprint of their technology platforms—Cisco will be there for every step of the journey. Working together, we can create a future for hyperscale data centers that’s as sustainable as it is dynamic.


Ben Dawson

Vice President

Cisco Australia and New Zealand