Green Ethernet Standard to Unleash Marketing Blitz


A standard for energy-efficient Ethernet, due in 2010, will unleash a barrage of green marketing, promising savings for IT managers

Network switch vendors will offer wiring closet refreshes designed to reduce the power used by enterprise LANs, when the network standards body, IEEE, completes 802.3az, a standard for energy efficiency in Ethernet switches, in 2010.

“Energy-Efficient Ethernet will have a huge impact,” said Brad Booth of network silicon vendor AMCC, the chair of the Ethernet Alliance, a body which promotes Ethernet standardisation. “Users will be able to refresh all their 10baseT 100baseT and Gigabit Ethernet to save power.”

The global standard arose in response to federal pressure i n the US, said Booth: “Governments are cracking down on the amount of energy people are using. In the US, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is looking to drive the Energy Star scheme into enterprise environments. It’s a big push – like the Year 2000.”

Data centres are inefficient, and efforts are underway to reduce energy use in switches and  servers. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs suggested an Energy Efficient Ethernet standard, when the EPA announced it was planning its own energy efficiency rating for networks.

“The Alliance decided to beat the EPA to the punch, and create a world standard,” Booth told eWEEK Europe, at the industry gathering NetEvents in Barcelona, before the start of Mobile World Congress. The EPA has said it will reference the IEEE standard, which is now at draft 1.2, and is passing through the IEEE’s various ballot stages.

Vendors including Nortel, Extreme and Cisco have already begun green marketing, using techniques such as turning off unused switch ports, but the IEEE standard will go further, shutting off ports that are in but not using much data, whenever the LAN is quiet.

“The switch will shut down the power, and just turn the port on again, for short wake periods,” said Booth. “This can reduce the energy use by 70 percent on a link. That is huge for a 48 port switch.” The wake-up periods are frequent enough that traffic is not slowed, and monitoring and clock signals are not interrupted, he said.

Although Ethernet is a firmly established standard, the Ethernet Alliance builds consensus for proposed additions to it, and helps market the standard eventually produced, said Booth. Formed in 2006, its main aim is to avoid damaging splits such as those which took place early in the move towards 10G and 100G Ethernet.

While the savings are real, they may not be that big in context: “Any PC uses more power than a 24 port Ethernet switch – and when you think about it an organisation must have more PCs than switches,” said Steve Broadhead, of Broadband Testing Laboratories. Servers also use more power.


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