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Cisco and Juniper, Energy Efficient Buddies

Green Tech

Most people turn off the lights in their home or office when they're not in use. Do they do the same for Internet access equipment?

Network equipment vendors would tell you probably not. Now, a new industry effort is afoot to make networking equipment and specifically Ethernet technology itself more intelligent and less energy intensive without the help of humans.

"There is growing pressure for people to see energy efficiency for networks and this is really following on from the overall drive for green standards in the IT world generally," Hugh Barrass, technical director at Cisco, told InternetNews.com.

"One of the reason why networks haven't been targeted up until now is because networks are often seen as a way to save energy within other areas of an enterprise. So they've been lower down on the list in terms of energy efficiency metrics."

Barrass noted that there are a number of networking energy efficiency efforts currently underway including the Energy Efficient Ethernet standard at the IEEE and initiatives at ATIS (Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions –ATIS.org) to help define methodologies for networking energy efficiencies.

Energy Efficient Ethernet is a standard for Ethernet that when finalized could yield power reduction of 50 percent or more according to its supporters. The basic idea is for Ethernet to only use as much power as it needs when it needs it. The standard could literally serve to help put devices to sleep when they are not used and then wake them up when connections are needed.

Luc Ceuppens, senior director of marketing for Juniper Networks high-end systems business unit explained that many Cable and DSL modems are powered on all the time. The always-on nature means the modems are always drawing power locally, as well as keeping power on at the service provider backend that provides the connectivity. All told Ceuppens argued that it amounts to a lot of wasted energy.

Taking full advantage of the Energy Efficient Ethernet standard when it is finalized may however involve hardware upgrades. Ceuppens explained that there are some opportunities at the network operating system level to possibly take advantage of Energy Efficient Ethernet but network interface cards and modems would likey need to be replaced.

The IEEE Energy Efficient Ethernet standard is still in development though and Cisco's Barrass does not expect it to be finalized until 2010. That said both Barass and Ceuppens expect the standard to help influence network design and both expect the next generation of network equipment to be more efficient.

Ethernet can also be used to transmit power with something known as Power over Ethernet (Poe). Barrass explained that the next standard for PoE, officially titled IEEE 802.3at will offer higher maximum power but will also let devices more efficiently manage their power.

When it comes to figuring out the proper methodology for how to measure and define network energy consumption, Cisco and Juniper both have different approaches. When asked about what the differences are both Cisco and Juniper referred to the differences as minor and that they could come to some kind of harmonized agreement.

"We tend to look at this as a bunch of nerds," Barass said. "From a broad brush strokes perspective we're really very similar and the overall goal is to reduce energy consumption."

Juniper's Ceuppens noted that while Cisco's methodology may be different, it is possible to merge things together into a single standard methodology.

"The goal is to measure peak power and then there is the weighted metric that represents usage of the equipment at different utilization rates," Cueppens said. "That gives you a metric that provide you with the actual consumption that is real."

While Cisco and Juniper may be competing for networking dollars from customers, when it comes to energy efficiency, Barrass sees Juniper as an ally.

"I tend to view people like Juniper as my best allies in these standards organizations, " Barrass said. "Anything that is good for Juniper's customers is likely good for Cisco customers."