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Making the case for green networking

Driven by rising energy costs, greater accountability for power consumption and the desire to be better corporate citizens, corporate IT departments are paying closer attention to green networking. Learn how VARs can educate clients about green networking and lay the groundwork for future business as the green networking message becomes more accepted by SMBs and enterprises.

When purchasing network hardware, companies have traditionally considered acquisition, maintenance and support costs. Now, as energy prices spiral ever higher, more and more IT departments are being told to reduce power consumption in the data center. Green networking is the practice of consolidating devices, committing to more telecommuting and videoconferencing and using virtualization to reduce power consumption across the network. Cisco announced an initiative at the start of 2008 to make its products run more efficiently and to encourage hardware vendors to send data on power consumption and equipment temperature through Cisco routers and switches. In this way the power consumption of each networked device would be collected and centrally managed through Cisco's monitoring software. In this interview with, Pat Scheckel, senior director of products and solutions at CDW Berbee, a Cisco partner headquartered in Madison, Wisc., helps you understand the green networking trend and why it could be good for your channel business.

How is Cisco contributing to the green networking trend?

Scheckel: One of the first things Cisco is doing is signaling to everyone that they're building in measurement to their monitoring software so they can see how much power consumption there is from a given device. So that's a start. You can't really control something or reduce it until you know how much power it's putting out.

Green networking is just a piece of green IT. There are other components here. And if you know how much heat is coming out of a given cabinet, you can design your data center better and put some cooling on top and have gravity pull the cooling down through the data center. Green networking is just a component of green data center design. But at least Cisco is recognizing what its role is in the whole thing. They don't control everything that's in there: There's a lot of storage, there's a lot of disk and servers and a lot of other things that go into a data center. But telecom and networking is a big part of it. They recognize what role they're playing in it.

What are some other examples of green networking?

Scheckel: One of the things [Cisco has] been doing for a very long time is convergence. You look at the footprint of a branch office or a sales office; you can reduce the number of devices that you need to put out there in that office through consolidation, through virtualization -- they're going to draw less power. And if you have an organization that has five, 10, 20, 500 remote offices, that multiplies in a hurry. So if you can put voice and data into one router instead of a router and a branched PBX, say, you reduce carbon consumption by device consolidation.

It's the same thing with reducing file server footprint through LAN acceleration -- you house this stuff in a central data center and you build one instance of it and you serve it up multiple times, 500 times, to all these remote offices. And you have LAN acceleration built into a card on a router so you don't have a file server out there throwing off heat and using power. If you look at virtualization and consolidation, that's where people have saved the most money so far -- on storage and server consolidation. But there's a big networking piece as well -- this idea that I can build it once and serve it up to remote offices through network acceleration.

What's driving green networking? Rising fuel costs?

Scheckel: I think it's probably [a few] things. One, the cost of power has gone up considerably, and so has power consumption. Suddenly the cost of running your IT shop goes up 40% to 50% in the span of a few years. Second, what we see is a big shift in organizations where energy costs are being charged back to IT, and so now IT is being held accountable for the power they're consuming. That's been a shift in a lot of companies we serve. So now the IT department is asked, "How come you went from spending $20,000 a month on electricity to $50,000 a month in the past three years? What's going on over there?" IT used to look at [their computing needs] and say, "I'll just buy another server or buy another router." Now it's not just the acquisition cost -- they're being held accountable for that total cost.

How long will it be before green networking reaches critical mass in the business community?

Scheckel: It's really just getting going. It goes back to product development lifecycles -- the challenge of providing more computing power while consuming less energy. Those sorts of things, in terms of really reaching critical mass, you're probably looking at three to five years. Meanwhile, you'll see baby steps -- you'll see more efficient fan design, more efficient cooling methods. We already know when we build a data center to put the chillers on top, rather than on the ground, so we don't have to force the cold air through the stack. But really it comes back to folks like Intel and AMD and some of these silicon manufacturers, the people who make the chips that are throwing off the heat. They're just going to have to come up with some big advances in technology to get at that root [of the heat problem].

What can a service provider do this year with green networking to grow their business?

Scheckel: It goes back to competitiveness. It's responding to the market. The market is saying, "Hey, I want to know how I can reduce my expenditures. My IT budget is pretty lean. And by the way, part of my IT budget includes power. How can you help me with that?" The VAR that can answer that question most effectively is likely to come out on top. I think the biggest part is education on things like device consolidation and virtualization of storage, servers and networks. Also start by educating your staff.

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