September 13, 2011

IEEE 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet: Build Greener Networks

Ethernet is the most ubiquitous networking interface in the world; virtually all network traffic passes over multiple Ethernet links. However, the majority of Ethernet links spend much of the time idle, waiting between packets of data, but consuming power at a near constant level. It is estimated that network devices and network interfaces comprise more than 10% of total IT power usage: tens of TWhr per year. Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) provides a mechanism and a standard for reducing this energy usage without reducing the vital function that these network interfaces perform.

This paper seeks to answer three questions about Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE):
  • What are the benefits of EEE?
  • What is the technology and how does it work?
  • How do people use EEE and how can it be deployed in a network?

Cisco®, the worldwide leader in networking technologies; and Intel, the world's largest manufacturer of semiconductor chips and processors and the leading supplier of Gigabit Ethernet controllers and Gigabit and 10 Gigabit adapters, contributed towards the definition of this standard, and collaboratively developed and tested this technology for interoperability to help ensure easy adoption in the enterprise market. Through this partnership, Cisco is introducing IEEE 802.3az, a new standard for EEE on the Cisco Catalyst® 4500E Switches, the most widely deployed modular access platform in the industry. Intel supports EEE across its Gigabit Ethernet product lines for both client and server platforms.

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This is a really "cool" (literally) paper. One of the most often overlooked sources of power consumption is the maintenance of devices in a "standby" mode. And in a world where every little bit helps, the ability to put Ethernet links into a standby mode and then to wake them when needed can indeed account for significant power savings.

The paper does a great job of explaining exactly how Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) "works." And it is indeed clever.

I encourage you both to read the paper and to chime in on the questions that we've posed as a follow-on.

As a starter question, I'm curious as to the extent to which enterprises (and SMBs) are concerned about the power consumed in general by equipment in "standby" mode. Is this a major consideration? Does it ever rise to the surface at all?

Many companies are moving - at least in part - from a wired infrastructure to a wireless (WiFi) infrastructure. Any ideas about any studies of power consumption for wired versus wireless networking?

OK... This one is for fun...

All of the P.O.E. discussion - for quite logical reasons - seems to center around copper-based transmission.

Any ideas about P.O.E. for optical connections?

Obviously, fiber optic media is non-conductive. However, the same optical signals that are used for transmitting signals could also be converted into electrical energy via photovoltaic methods.

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