Seeing the problem
The consumer market as a whole is becoming environmentally conscious. Whether it’s through a reduction of plastic consumption, more fuel-efficient cars or sustainable sourcing in our clothes and food, the wider population is increasingly realizing that there is both a moral obligation and a practical necessity in making more effective and efficient consumption choices. But whilst the actions above are important, they ultimately constitute only the most visible tip of the (quickly melting) iceberg. Environmental awareness initiatives have been able to leverage very visual imagery to help motivate our actions; they paint us pictures of over-spilling landfill, bottle-strewn beaches and wildlife caught in plastic, belching cars, smog and rising tides, devastated swathes of the Amazon. For the majority of our ethical consumption choices, doing the ‘right’ thing can be quickly and easily linked with a tangible, visible outcome.
But in fact, there are a variety of more hidden ways in which our consumption choices have a potentially negative impact; activities where it seems difficult to trace the action itself to an ultimate consequence because of the convoluted or hidden steps in between. For instance, did you know that even just sending an email or performing a google search results in 0.2g of CO2 emissions due to the energy associated with maintaining servers (Quartz). This means that with 3.5 billion searches a day, Google is responsible for about 40% of the internet’s carbon footprint, which itself – when you take into account the maintenance of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them – accounts for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions (BBC).
Now, we don’t want to get too dramatic about this: being environmentally conscious is hugely important, but if you want to spend half an hour googling spoilers to your latest Netflix binge-watch, that’s perfectly understandable. The simple point we want to make is that there are many hidden ways in which we’re often consuming energy without knowing it – even, or perhaps especially, in our online activities.
And indeed, it’s no accident that we referred to a Netflix binge watch. Because of course, there is also a significant environmental footprint associated with the maintenance of video delivery infrastructure. Traditional Content Delivery Network (CDN ) approaches base themselves on systems of caching, meaning that video is cached and maintained at each node and server, and the resultant energy drain is pretty substantial.
Changing the paradigm
At MainStreaming, we recognized that there was a potential to do things differently when we set about developing a Video Delivery System (and we refer to it as a VDN (video) rather than a CDN (content) because of the way that it has been specially designed to accommodate the particular nature of video transfer). We based our VDN on an ‘intelligent Media Delivery Platform’ (iMDP), which uses AI to undertake a constant assessment of network conditions, making real-time decisions based on a continuous flow of metrics related to the Quality of Service (QoS) of each viewer in order to identify the most efficient delivery path.
The net result of this is the seamless delivery of next-to-no latency video. But more than this, it’s also a far more resource efficient approach – meaning that it is significantly better for the environment (and the purse strings). Indeed, use of MainStreaming technology to support video delivery reduces energy use by up to 50%, whilst substantially improving the speed, reliability and Quality of Experience that the end-user receives.
What this demonstrates is not only something relatively unique in the market (we don’t know too many network specialists who are showing off their environmental credentials), but also the idea that promoting ethical behaviors and sustainable practice doesn’t always need to constitute a balancing act in which compromise is inevitable. Environmental benefit need not be a zero-sum game: innovation and creativity have the potential to bring benefits across the board by rethinking the fundamental assumptions that underpin the way things are done; allowing things to excel on a technological level as well as on an environmental and social level.
KISS – Keep It Simple
In the field of engineering, there’s a deep irony: when you really know your technology inside out, then what ends up happening is that you make things simpler, not more complex. Deep, analytical understanding doesn’t add layers and layers of unnecessary and cumbersome functionality – it allows for things to be stripped down to their essentials whilst still delivering everything that’s needed.
In essence, that’s what we’ve achieved within MainStreaming: we’ve simplified things so that networks are burdened less, not more. To use a lay-person accessible analogy, in essence, we’ve created a situation where data can follow a “path of least resistance”. Less resistance = less friction = less overheating. By ‘cooling down’ the network path, we draw less energy, achieve greater efficiency, and ultimately secure a significantly improved outcome for the environment.
More than just the right thing to do
The fact that our iMDP means energy reduction and improved performance go hand-in-hand doesn’t convey that environmental credentials are just an incidental benefit for our customers though. For many of our clients, our ability to support sustainability goals is a key component of their choice to use MainStreaming as their VDN provider. This is because our unique environmental credentials help them to pursue their own goals, and reap the reputational and marketing benefits that stem from showing environmental conscientiousness and a progressive approach to corporate social responsibility. In a day and age where margins of technological differentiation are narrowing, and where new generations prioritize social impact more highly when making consumer choices, the ability for our customers to demonstrate the active use of energy-saving technology to their own users can constitute a genuine source of competitive advantage.
Taking things further
Because we recognize that supporting our customers in their sustainability efforts is not just good for their business but also the right thing to do, we’ve decided to go one step further. As tangible evidence of our environmental commitment, we have launched the “Innovation going greener” project aimed at building up a corporate forest. This project aims to compensate completely the CO2 produced by MainStreaming’s technology by 2023, thus entirely off-setting its already much-reduced environmental footprint.
As technology companies, we can all compete with each other to bring the best product to market, or – as we’re increasingly seeing within the industry – we can see ourselves as part of an ecosystem, where the advances made by one benefit the collective industry as a whole. Competition in the technological realm might still have a role to play, but when it comes to the environment – we’ve only got one shot at this, and we’re in it together. MainStreaming is committed to the idea that it can make a difference; technologically, socially, and environmentally – and our innovative rethinking of video delivery networking sits at the core of the changes we’re making to the way things are done, one node at a time.