Reporting from Cisco Live! 2011: Energy Efficient Ethernet

Greetings from Cisco Live! 2011!

I’m in Las Vegas at another one of the IT industry’s big shows. Here, I will meet with customers and partners to talk about Intel Ethernet products and some of the new technologies that change the data center. Over the next few days, I’ll bring you updates on some of the significant network technology announcements that take place here, and I will explain why they are important.

Today’s topic: Energy Efficient Ethernet (also known as IEEE 802.3az, EEE, or triple-E).

The name is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll give you a bit of detail. The EEE standard allows an Ethernet device to transition to and from a low power state in response to the changes in network demand. This means an Ethernet port that supports EEE can drop into its low power state (known as Low Power Idle or “LPI”) during periods of low activity, and then return to normal when conditions require it to do so. That is as deep as I’m going to go, but if you want nuts and bolts, check out “Energy Efficient Ethernet: Technology, Application, and Why You Should Care” from Intel’s Jordan Rodgers.

Intel supports EEE across our Intel® Ethernet Gigabit product family for both client and server connections, including the recently launched Intel® Ethernet Controller I350 and the Intel® 82579 Gigabit Network Connection:

  • The Intel Ethernet Controller I350 supports EEE across four Gigabit Ethernet ports integrated onto a single chip. In LPI state, power consumption drops by 50 percent. This controller powers the Intel Ethernet Server Adapter I350 family, and all of those adapters enjoy the same EEE benefits.
  • The Intel® 82579 Gigabit Network Connection is designed for client systems and in LPI state, its power consumption drops by nearly 90 percent. It’s also a key power-saving component of second generation Intel® Core™ vPro™ processor family systems, which also include power-saving enhancements in the CPU and chipset. For a real world example of how these features help save power and money, check out this case study: Pioneering Public Sector IT.

That takes care of the client side, but what about the other end of the wire? EEE only works when devices on both sides are EEE-compliant. That’s where Cisco comes in.

Earlier today, Cisco announced a number of enhancements (including EEE) to its Catalyst 4500E switch family. These switches are designed for campus deployments, which means they connect primarily to client systems – desktops and laptops. When you consider that many companies deploy thousands of client systems, the benefits of EEE are obvious: big energy savings.

Earlier this week I asked Anoop Vetteth, senior product manager for the Catalyst 4000 switch family, a few questions about Cisco’s support for EEE.

BY: Anoop, why is EEE support in the Catalyst 4500E line important to customers?

AV: Energy efficiency and minimizing power consumption to meet corporate sustainability goals seem to be top of mind for most of Cisco’s enterprise customers. To this effect, Cisco has delivered energy-efficient platforms targeted for both Campus and Data Center. Moreover, through applications like EnergyWise, Cisco has also enabled its customers to look beyond networking equipment to monitor and regulate the power consumed by the entire campus. The piece that was missing was a mechanism to dynamically reduce the network power consumption based on link utilization. Energy Efficient Ethernet, or IEEE 802.3az, address this and is probably the only green standard in the industry today. The EEE standard was ratified late last year, and we expect to see market leaders for end devices like Intel offer EEE as a standard feature starting mid to late 2011. Moreover, we also expect EEE to fast become a requirement from certification agencies for corporate compliance.

Catalyst 4500E is the world’s most widely deployed modular access switch and Cisco’s leading Campus access layer switch. This platform has leapfrogged the industry time and again in terms of being first to deliver many industry standard and pre-standard technologies. With EEE support, the Cisco Catalyst 4500E platform delivers the most energy-efficient platform in its class in the Campus and future proofs customer deployments for compliance with emerging regulatory requirements.

BY: Can you tell me how the collaboration between Cisco and Intel is making a difference for energy efficiency across the network?

AV: From the get go, Cisco and Intel have been working closely together to deliver a solution that is compliant with the IEEE standard and to weed out any deployment-impacting issues. The EEE end-to-end solution will first be offered for the enterprise campus due to the nature of traffic profile and high impact, in terms of power savings, that we expect in this environment. The sheer volume of end devices coupled with the low link utilization in campus environments makes it ideal for the introduction of EEE technology. Testing with real life traffic profiles on Cisco Catalyst 4500E switches and Intel EEE-capable network controllers reveal that EEE can help save on an average as much as 1W per link. EEE in conjunction with Cisco EnergyWise translates to considerable savings in campus environments with tens of thousands of end devices.

BY: Can you tell me how Intel and Cisco have worked together to support EEE?

AV:  Cisco and Intel have been big proponents of the EEE standard at the IEEE 802.3 working group, and our representatives contributed collaboratively towards the successful culmination and ratification of this standard. The collaboration did not stop there. The EEE standard defines a new signaling mechanism between the host and end device to communicate EEE capability and negotiate precise timing parameters, including when to enter into LPI state and the corresponding duration. With no precedence and no governing body to check compliance, it became necessary to form an alliance to test and validate each other’s implementation. Cisco and Intel have been in lock step during this validation process to ensure that implementation is in compliance with the IEEE 802.3 standard. Finally, both companies have also come together to engage top customers collaboratively as part of Early Field Trial (EFT) or beta program.

BY: What results have you seen from your early field trial customers?

AV: We are collaboratively running EFT programs with some of our key customers from North America and Europe. This program started in mid-June and is well underway. Cisco and Intel provided the technical support required to get the setup up and running so that customers can use it to run traffic patters/profiles and measure the power savings with and without enabling EEE. The feedback from customers has been overwhelming in terms of interest in this technology as well as the power savings they are seeing by using this technology. There have been some enhancements that both Cisco and Intel have incorporated into our products based on some of the valuable suggestions that we have received from our EFT customers.

BY: Will Cisco support EEE in other switches?

AV: Cisco considers EEE to be a strategic technology and will extend EEE support beyond the Catalyst 4500E platform. Next generation stackable Catalyst switches are expected to support EEE, and this will extend EEE support across all the Cisco campus access platforms. The relevance of EEE in data center is expected to be more prominent and pronounced to customers as they transition to 10GBase-T links for server access.

For more information, see this white paper from Intel and Cisco: IEEE 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet: Build Greener Networks.

Watch for another update from Cisco Live! 2011 later this week.

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