Networks Can Be Green Too

More-efficient network equipment designs could soon help reduce data center power and cooling costs.

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Better Standards

Emerging standards could soon help save energy during periods when networks sit unused and will help IT compare the relative efficiency of competing products.

The new IEEE P802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE) standard, approved on Sept. 30, may offer the biggest bang for the buck by cutting power consumption for network equipment when utilization is low.

Today, Ethernet devices continuously transmit power between devices, even when network traffic is at a standstill. Equipment supporting the EEE standard will send a pulse periodically but stay quiet the rest of the time, cutting power use by more than 90% during idle periods.

In a large network, that's "a whole lot of energy" that could be saved, Cosgro says.

The standard will allow "downshifting" in other modes of operation as well. In a 10Gbit switch, for example, individual ports that are supporting only a 1Gbit load will be able to drop power down from 10Gbit/sec. to what's required to support a 1Gbit/sec. configuration, saving energy until activity picks up again.

Products built to support the EEE standard should start appearing by 2011, says Aldrich.

Another emerging technology, the PCI-SIG's Multi-Root I/O Virtualization specification, gives servers within a rack access to a shared pool of network interface cards. This happens via a high-speed PCI Express bus -- essentially extending the PCIe bus outside of the server. "Instead of a [network interface card] in every server, you'll have access to a bank of NICs in a rack, and you can assign portions of the bandwidth of one of those NICs to a server," probably using tools provided by the server vendor, says Reeves.

Energy savings will come from increased utilization of the network -- achieved by splitting up the bandwidth in each "virtual NIC" -- and the need for fewer NICs and switch ports, he says. He expects to see standards-compliant products perhaps as early as 2012.

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