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RealTime IT News
Cisco's EnergyWise Riles Rivals
By Sean Michael Kerner
February 11, 2009

Cisco EnergyWise and Green IT
There's little disagreement that managing power consumption for energy-hungry enterprise devices are key issues in the networking world.

There is, however, debate about how best to go about it. And at the moment, a good deal of that argument is centering around Cisco's EnergyWise initiative, which promises to eventually be able to manage a wide array of network connected devices.

The effort has drawn some praise since its launch in late January. But it's also elicited no small amount of criticism from Cisco's competitors, who argue that network-connected power management is already a function available on a number of other platforms. The critics also contend that Cisco's larger vision of EnergyWise -- with the system's API one day controlling infrastructure like lights and heating -- serves as a route to Cisco lock-in.

Cisco, the world's largest networking vendor, argues otherwise. "We're still developing the API program and the intent is to take an open architecture, open standards-based approach," Linda Horiuchi, a Cisco spokesperson, told InternetNews.com.

It might just seem like another war of words among competitors. But with cash-strapped businesses in dire need of ways to cut costly energy consumption -- and with IT long seen as a major contributor to environmental crisis -- the stakes are high.

"As far as I know, all the major infrastructure providers can implement the [power] capability today," John McHugh, Nortel's new vice president of enterprise solutions, told InternetNews.com. "The issue is that it's a relatively manual process."

McHugh said that much of Cisco's EnergyWise functionality relating to managing ports and devices using Power over Ethernet, or PoE , can be duplicated with existing technology.

"So Cisco has captured and branded their capability as EnergyWise," he said. "Nortel has the ability to do policy and port settings, including PoE on devices by setting access groups and port policy groups to do that ... and I know other network management vendors can as well."

Nortel itself has its own issues to deal with currently, as it restructures under bankruptcy protection. Yet other networking vendors agreed with his take on EnergyWise.

Sreeram Krishnamachari, worldwide director of green IT initiatives for HP's ProCurve product line, echoed McHugh's sentiment that network device power management is already being done.

Krishnamachari explained to InternetNews.com that HP offers several features today for network device power management. Among them is an offering called ProCurve Manager that provides a scriptable interface for scheduling and remote administration of power on a per-port basis.

[cob:Special_Report]For example, customers can schedule turning off a set of VoIP phones between 8:00pm and 6:00am when they are not in use, thus saving energy.

Networking vendor Extreme Networks is also among those who claim to be able to do network power management today.

"We noticed the EnergyWise technology launch and we applaud efforts to smartly reduce power associated with the network," Harpreet Chadha, senior director of product management, told InternetNews.com. "Extreme Networks offers its own pervasive version of power management concerning PoE ports, and we have done so for many months."

Page 2: Lock-in ahead? Cisco fires back

Cisco EnergyWise and Green IT
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Chadha said Extreme Networks's Universal Port technology uses the Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) standard to find devices such as IP phones and cameras as they connect to the network. LLDP can also handle management of PoE ports for cutting energy use.

It's a standards-based approach backed by others like Nortel and HP -- the co-author of an enhancement to LLDP called Link Layer Discovery Protocol-Media Endpoint Discovery, or LLDP-MED.

Lock-in ahead?

Beyond PoE, Cisco has talked about using an API for EnergyWise that would enable non-PoE devices to be controlled for power management. That phase of the EnergyWise program won't come before summer, according to Cisco's Horiuchi, who added that the networking giant would reveal further details then.

Though the API doesn't yet exist, Nortel's McHugh is already critical of Cisco's approach, alleging that it could be a potential route to vendor lock-in.

"I don't know how you deal with the API concept when dealing with building control functions," McHugh said. "I think it's much more rational if you have a standardized way that policy information is passed to you and then, as a device, you can act on policy. I just think it is a better way to do a protocol-defined standard ... to pass information between devices and not have network architecture turn into client-based agents."

McHugh went on to argue that Cisco's EnergyWise may not necessarily be a broad industry standard approach for power management.

"I'll give props to Cisco for being a force in the industry to pursue great ideas," he said. "What I tend to be critical with Cisco about is their standard behavior to move the industry forward."

McHugh said Cisco's approach often leads to a Cisco-centric architecture, such as the way that Cisco network access control (NAC) has come about. Cisco first developed its own NAC framework, while Nortel, HP, Microsoft and others participate in the Trusted Computing Group's Trusted Network Connect (TCG-TNC) open standards approach to NAC -- a spec incompatible with Cisco's design.

While an effort is currently underway in the Internet Engineering Task Force to bring TNC and Cisco NAC standards together, the current state of disunity has led to no small amount of acrimony among networking players.

Cisco, however, disputes that EnergyWise will lock in anyone.

"Specific to EnergyWise, as we move into Phase 2 and 3 of our technology roadmap, the participation of an ecosystem of partners is critical and our intent is to take an open standards, open architecture approach," Horiuchi said.

Though competitors might be grumbling, Horiuchi claimed that Cisco is already seeing significant interest from customers from all sectors, including banking, real estate and retail. She added that the EnergyWise vision resonates with the problems that technology users today find themselves facing.

"They have responded positively to the pragmatic approach that Cisco has taken, ensuring that the technology saves money while reducing carbon footprint," Horiuchi said. "Many have told us they already had green practices in-house and were looking at how they could better tie technology to what they were doing with corporate social responsibility [CSR] efforts.

"They felt EnergyWise provided that linkage of bringing their CSR groups and IT closer together."