At Interop, vendors vie for green IT appeal

Though Cisco exec says some 'greenwashing' might be afoot

LAS VEGAS -- Green IT was a major theme at Interop this week, as vendors outbid one another on how well their networking gear could lower power consumption to help save the planet.

Some of the green IT claims were not-so-veiled attacks on the biggest switching and routing vendor, Cisco Systems Inc. In response to comments from competitors, Marie Hattar, Cisco's vice president of network systems and security, demurred in an interview, "We didn't want to go with the 'greenwashing' treatment."

Hattar's comment aside, Nortel Networks Corp. cited a January study by The Tolly Group Inc. that said some of Nortel's networking gear uses 50% less power than Cisco gear. Joel Hackney, president of enterprise solutions at Nortel, said in an interview that Tolly and other studies have shown Nortel data center gear, in addition to being more energy-efficient, can offer 20 times the performance and seven times the resiliency (meaning submilliseconds of recovery time from an outage) of Cisco's and other competing products.

Hackney said he spends 80% of his time meeting with customers and has found a strong interest in Nortel's more open approach, which he called "hardware-agnostic," as compared with Cisco's. Nortel also released a list, with short printed statements, of 50 customers who have moved away from Cisco to Nortel. Many on the list cited the lower cost of Nortel products, but some of the new Nortel customers, such as the city of Fort Worth, Texas, mentioned lowered energy costs.

At its Interop booth, Nortel also demonstrated a new Energy Efficiency Calculator that its partners can use to show customers how to reduce energy, primarily as measured by megabits per second per watt. The reductions in the calculator primarily showed how much better Nortel gear is when compared with Cisco gear, based on a quick demonstration, but they also could help a customer see how energy costs will vary depending on what part of the country a data center is located. And, with the right combination of hardware using a unified communications concept and switch virtualization, costs can also be lowered, Nortel officials said.

Hattar said competitors who attack Cisco on power consumption have probably used Cisco's data sheets for their comparisons. Doing so means they are getting the "worst-case" consumption picture because of how Cisco writes the data sheets, Hattar said. In general, Cisco switching and routing products will prove more efficient for overall performance, she claimed, saying, "It's not just power consumption that matters, but also yield." (Yield is a measure of whether a network does what it's designed to do in moving applications.)

Still, Cisco apparently felt it needed to bolster its case on green IT, and announced at Interop that Miercom's product test center, had given Cisco its new "Certified Green" rating, the first products from any vendor to receive that certification.

In a statement, Miercom cited six Catalyst switches from Cisco that are now Certified Green. Rob Smithers, CEO of Miercom, also said in the statement that power consumption should not be the only criterion for judging how green a product can be.

The assessment of green IT was picked up by at least one other vendor, Calabasas, Calif.-based Ixia, which demonstrated a proof-of-concept testing system for measuring power efficiency in relation to network and application load. Areg Alimian, technical product manager at Ixia, said tools are lacking for making such measurements. The company is providing the technology used by Miercom in its Certified Green testing process.

Some vendors at Interop also announced new products designed to given greater flexibility in expanding a data center, which some analysts noted can be tied to green IT only because customers might be able to incrementally expand and otherwise avoid needing a larger energy-using device.

For example, Extreme Networks Inc. announced its new Summit X650, a 24-port 10-Gigabit stackable switch that will go into beta this summer and will sell later in the year for $19,995. It offers dynamic power management for some ports and supports "front to back" cooling to match server equipment cooling in a data center, Extreme officials said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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