Lowering Network Power Consumption

New devices promise lower power consumption for data center networks.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Sep 14, 2012
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Power consumption in the data center typically focuses on the server farm and mechanical drive arrays, which is only proper considering they contribute mightily to the annual energy bill.

However, networking gear is not exactly an innocent bystander in all this. The legions of switches, routers and related devices on a typical enterprise network can drive up operating costs as well, and the situation will only get worse as cloud computing places more of the data burden on network infrastructure.

Fortunately, there is good news. New ICs and physical layer devices (PHYs) are hitting the channel that should lower network power consumption quite a bit in the next few years. And these changes will require little to no action on the part of the enterprise or cloud service providers other than to continue their normal hardware refresh rates.

A case in point is the new VSC7414 GE switch from Vitesse Semiconductor, which cuts energy dissipation to 1.6 watts, about 75 percent less than conventional technology. The device is aimed at low-power industrial and enterprise Ethernet systems, providing eight queues per port (88 queues in all), as well as IEEE1588v2-compliant VeriTime technology that syncs network timing with packet-based carrier Ethernet and mobile solutions. The unit is part of Vitesse's SparX-III line supporting the E-Stax-III switch architecture that conforms to converged Ethernet configurations as well as the company's EcoEthernet 2.0 platform that meets IEEE 802.3az energy consumption standards.

Meanwhile, SMSC just came out with a new line of 10/100 Ethernet PHYs that cut power consumption in half compared to the company's current transceiver line. The LAN8740, 8741 and 8742 devices are targeted at everything from network servers and printers to settop boxes and industrial control units. They support technologies like the "Wake on LAN" mode that maintains a low-power state until network thresholds are met. Other techniques include the flexPWR power reduction and variable I/O voltage system and cable diagnostic capabilities that spot cable faults and guide proactive system maintenance. The company has also provided a simplified migration path from existing LAN8710 and 8720 devices.

At the same time, Freescale Semiconductor has released new 28 nm QorlQ AMP processors for enterprise network and switching systems, wireless LAN technologies, NICs and other applications. The line features the T1042 processor that doubles core performance and SerDes bandwidth without increasing the power budget, even as it adds advanced features like data path acceleration and pattern matching across four 64-bit Power Architecture cores. The T2080 chip, designed for control plane and integrated control and data plane processing, utilizes a new dual-threaded processing core that boosts performance while maintaining a high CoreMark rating per watt. It also features a 128-bit data vector processor that reduces the load on higher-power DSPs.

Still, even a low-power chip is only as good as its software support. Tilera, which already claims bragging rights for its TILE-Gx line as the highest performance-per-watt solution on the market, recently released version 4.0 of the Multicore Development Environment (MDE) that provides a complete Linux distribution, GNU tool chain and more than 3,000 CentOS 6.2 packages. The move is intended to provide a power-efficient base for applications ranging from firewalls and intrusion prevention to Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs), web caching and even software-defined networking. The package also provides support for Perl, Python, Erlang and other programming languages, as well as user space PCIe and low-latency Ethernet drivers, and even comes with hypervisor support for hardware abstraction and virtualization.

Simply because these enabling technologies are hitting the channel does not mean enterprises should ignore power consumption issues on the network level. Integrated data center management stacks are starting to take both data and facility needs into account, leading to new approaches to load balancing, traffic management and even infrastructure deployment that place energy efficiency on the top tier of priorities.

These technologies will require a hands-on approach from enterprise executives − at least, those who are interested in significantly lower operating costs. But on the hardware level, low-power is likely to become just another standard practice as new devices infiltrate legacy networks.

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