Networking Can Help Drive Energy Efficiency Too

Green technology is starting to drill down into the bowels of the data center, the networking infrastructure, a sign that efforts to cut greenhouse emissions and lower energy bills are still going strong.

The latest development comes from the IEEE, which recently ratified Std. 802.3az-2010, also known as the Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) standard. In essence, this provides a common framework for network gear to power up and power down network components down to the silicon level to meet rising and falling data demands. Ironically, this was a standard feature in the old 10BaseT days, with subsequent upgrades opting instead for full-time peak performance to cover increasingly bursty Ethernet environments.

One of the first implementations of EEE is in a new dual-mode backplane PHY from NetLogic Microsystems. The NLP3342 provides 10GBase-KR and 40GBase-KR4 functionality, as well as advanced features like electronic dispersion compensation, link margin calibration and forward error correction. The company is targeting the device at blade servers, ATCA switches and routers. Maximum power consumption is rated at 550 mW, although that can be lowered as the EEE feature adjusts to fluctuating data loads.

Advanced network management technologies are also expanding their views into more efficiency energy consumption. Cisco’s EnergyWise platform outfits switches and routers with EnergyWise endpoints that can be used to manage network energy consumption. A company called Cyber Switching has even adapted its ePower power distribution units to act as an EnergyWise endpoint, extending management to a range of peripherals, such as Web cams, UPS devices and even temperature/humidity probes.

Improving the quality of the digital signal itself can go a long way toward reducing network operating costs. Vitesse Semiconductor has a new signal conditioner, the VSC7111, that lowers 10 G power dissipation some 35 percent, an amount that can produce significant savings as equipment and data links are aggregated and consolidated within the data center. The device is compatible with 10 GbE and PCIe 3.0 protocols.

Driving energy efficiency onto the network level certainly won’t produce the kinds of results that enterprises have seen from server and desktop consolidation or other methods such as advanced cooling techniques now coming into vogue. But the savings are not insignificant, and the ROIs hold up just as well as some of the more popular energy-saving measures — particularly if they are implemented under normal equipment refresh cycles.

After all, the network is the third leg of data center infrastructure and should be made to carry its energy efficiency load with the rest of the plant.

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