Energy Efficient Ethernet and Beyond

EEE-compliant networking gear provides attractive energy consumption savings for network admins. Julie Knudson examines the myths and realities of energy-efficient Ethernet.

By Julie Knudson | Posted Nov 20, 2013
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Network administrators have long focused on the energy efficiency of their infrastructure and endpoint hardware, and products that comply with the IEEE's Energy-Efficient Ethernet (EEE) standard give them even more control. EEE-compliant products offer administrators the ability to manage how much juice components use during periods of low usage.

"EEE offers a very simple way of optimizing power consumption for our network infrastructure as well as the connecting devices—whether it is another network device or PC in a campus, or racks of servers in the data center," explained Denise Shiffman, vice president of product management and strategy at Juniper Networks. The technology, she said, is even more applicable in scenarios where turning the device off is not an option, such as in mission-critical data centers, healthcare settings, manufacturing floors, and the like. For enterprises looking to exercise more granular control over their energy consumption, or for situations where traditional power-saving strategies aren't feasible, EEE-compliant products offer a good solution.

Let's go shopping

Juniper Networks offers several EEE-compliant enterprise-class products. For those looking for a low-latency top-of-rack switch, there's the QFX5100. If you need to aggregate switches in a highly scalable solution, the EX8200 line is an energy-efficient option. The EX2200 platform fits well in low-density environments, while the EX3300, EX4300, and EX6200 lines round out the suite. In addition, the company's wireless LAN portfolio includes the WLA532, WLA322 and WLA321 access points, plus the WLC100 controller, all of which support EEE.

Broadcom offers ARM SoC gateways and set-top box products that incorporate EEE. "These are both high-volume devices that operate in an always-on fashion and now provide reduced-power Ethernet ports," said Nick Ilyadis, CTO of Broadcom's infrastructure and networking group. In addition, the company's latest 10GBASE-T PHY products, available in a variety of transceiver configurations, provide EEE power savings in high-density data center environments.

Karthik Ramaswamy, product line manager at Cisco Systems, said the enterprise-focused Catalyst line of switches provides a number of EEE-compliant solutions. For campus and branch applications, the 2960-X Series is simple to operate but still provides scalability. The stackable 3850 Series supports both wired and wireless on a single platform. Catalyst 4500E Series line cards are EEE-compliant and also support Universal Power over Ethernet (UPOE).

Is Energy-Efficient Ethernet Slow? Difficult? Nah.

There are a handful of energy-efficient Ethernet myths floating around the network sphere. Those typically passed around the data center are that "EEE is hard to manage or that it slows traffic down in the network," Ilyadis said, adding, "but neither is true." With the continued influx of resource-intensive applications into the network, administrators are justifiably concerned about impacts on speed. Fortunately, most manufacturers are now mindful about building in robust latency measurement features to help overcome potential problems.

Ease of use is also now a priority in many platforms. "With a simple configuration command to enable EEE on a switch port and the connecting device, the Ethernet PHYs auto-negotiate for the lowest power mode, depending on the traffic condition," Shiffman said. In some cases, finding the optimal setting may be as simple as choosing the default configuration for all supported devices.

Beyond EEE

EEE is a well-defined and accepted standard, so what's next in the energy reduction journey? Manufacturers are already looking ahead to solutions that build on EEE's foundation, and Ramaswamy said that EEE is already just one part of the spectrum Cisco is looking at as far as energy efficiency goes. "We take our energy efficiency story very seriously, in what we do in terms of design," he said. "We do things that are broader than just the EEE piece." Board design is part of the equation they're working on, with the possibility of either shutting down or reducing power to unused ports as one way to move energy efficiency forward.

Vendors in the chipset space are expanding into the Ethernet MAC, controller, and even higher-level components at the ASIC level, Shiffman said. "Add to this the smartness built into the network management tools to detect EEE-capable devices and automatically provision them into EEE-enabled modes," and this will increase the power optimization already being achieved today with EEE alone.

If you don't see a perfect solution for your network needs, one is probably on the way. "EEE is gaining popularity as the Ethernet PHY and NIC manufacturers add this functionality into the chipset in both the network equipment as well as the servers, PCs, printers, VoIP phones and other connected devices," Shiffman said. No matter if your needs are wired or wireless, high-density or low, manufacturers are increasingly introducing products that widen the market.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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