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Greening the network

Over the last one year, there has been a flurry of green marketing in the networking industry. Equipment vendors are touting how green their wares are because of lower power per bit ratios.This begs many questions. Just how important is the issue of green networking to network managers, and will it make a difference to purchasing decisions? What does an equipment vendor have to do to look authentic with a “green” message?

It’s a tricky one. However, there is no doubt, given the pervasiveness of network in enterprises, it can be a key enabler of sustainable IT. “There are two elements to the network’s power consumption. The first is how much power each device consumes and the second is how many devices there are. There is more power to be saved by reducing the number of devices by 50% than by reducing the power consumption of each device by 10%. Obviously we would want to achieve both but we should not pursue devices that use less power if we need to have more of them,” says Dr. Samer Shaar, Juniper Regional Director – Middle East, Central Africa and Pakistan at Juniper Networks.

Rabih Dabboussi. Systems Engineer Director at Cisco Gulf, offers a different perspective: “In addition to product attributes, a closer look at network design, systems architecture, virtualization and resiliency is essential to ensure we maximize on green-proofing the network. Automatic shutdown capabilities of certain high-volume products such as telephones, set-top boxes, modems and CPEs is another aspect that can help in the green initiative.”

3Com’s Mahmoud El Ali, General Manager, Middle East and North Africa, says users should choose a networking vendor that provides energy efficiency improvements at the chip, memory and power supply unit levels. “As each new generation of processor technology reduces the power consumption of networking devices more than PCs or servers, the impact on the budget is accordingly greater.”

Vying for the green networking crown

Networking vendors are trying to outbid one another on how well their networking gear could lower power consumption to help save the planet. 3Com has recently claimed it leads the market in making its networking gear more energy efficient. The company based its claim on a report by US analyst firm In-Stat; however, a rival has charged that 3Com only counted its role in enterprise-class large switches and may actually lag behind in greening the key market for small and midsized Ethernet switches.

According to the report, Green Networking Equipment: Who Leads and Who Lags, LAN switches from 3Com are up to 60 percent more energy efficient than those from its competitors. 3Com added that its newest products are also up to 78 percent more efficient than its previous ones.

Cisco, the market leader, says its green initiative spans multiple facets of the communications infrastructure. The main attributes of power consumptions and cooling needs are driven by ever-growing and expanding data-centers. Many innovations have taken place to ensure our next generation data-center products and architecture are fully aligned with the green initiatives. Our product design and support considerations include energy/power consumption, materials selection, packaging, upgradability, and recyclability. Power consumption is just one of these aspects where Cisco is focusing to ensure our products are future proof and environmentally sound,” says Dabboussi.

Juniper Networks is in the process of changing all its power supplies to conform to the 80 Plus initiative where all power supplies are at least 80% efficient. “Also we have been reducing the number of components within each device so that the power consumption per Gigabit is as low as possible. We have developed a range of Ethernet switches that deliver very high density and very low latency, enabling a user to drastically reduce the number of switches in the network. We have integrated many functions into a branch router device which delivers very high reliability but with much lower power consumption,”says Shaar.

HP ProCurve claims its one of the very early adaptors for the green and environment friendly concepts. “HP ProCurve started this initiate long time ago, being green and environment friendly is one of the HP key objectives. What we have done and we are doing is continuous design enhancements to reduce the number of components in the switches to reduce the power consumption and hence being more green, less product cost and less operational cost, in other words being smart,” says Alaa AlShimy, GM of HP ProCurve Middle East.

D-Link is currently working towards extending green technology across other product lines, including Switch, Broadband, WLAN, and Digital Home, to achieve further energy savings within the technology as part of its efforts in the green initiative. The company also plans for the second generation of Green Ethernet Switches to be released in the near future. “At D-Link, we have recognized this trend early and already in December 2007, we have launched our “D-Link Green” switches and routers. D-Link is the first networking vendor who has been developing and incorporating its power-saving technologies into its networking products,” says Nicole Meier, Marketing Manager at D-link Middle East.

Outsourcing to the rescue

While there are innovative ways emerging to cut the amount of power the network uses, one should also ask whether it makes sense for companies concerned with power consumption to outsource their networks? Vendors have different takes on this topic. “CIOs will be making important decisions in the next few years as they transform their IT infrastructure into next generation elements. Power consumption is only one of the areas IT leaders will need to evaluate along with many other aspects. While it may be feasible for smaller companies to outsources their IT needs, this decision should not be made only because of power consumption concerns. A complete evaluation is needed to reach such decision. Most enterprises will continue to have their own IT and communications networks and data-centers.”

Shaar says it only makes sense if, by outsourcing the network, the services provider has efficiencies that do not exist in the original system. “Otherwise you are just moving the issue to another source. It would be like paying someone to pay your electricity bill – that would just add cost with no extra value. Companies outsource networks for many reasons and I would be concerned if the result was increased power consumption. The option is to have the data centre hosted somewhere that can produce cheaper, cleaner electricity or somewhere much colder to reduce the power taken by cooling.”

While the jury is still out on that, what is for sure is that many businesses are looking for ways to get green. Some are motivated by concern for the planet; others by the cost savings or the marketing advantages that can come from more environmentally friendly policies. Often, they're driven by a combination of factors. In any event, the network has a key role to play.


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