Efficiency Drive Moves to Networks

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Networks will be the next frontier in energy efficiency if a program kicked off by router maker Juniper Networks and test-equipment vendor Ixia gains a wider following.

The companies unveiled the Energy Consumption Rating (ECR) Initiative on Tuesday at a lab in Santa Clara, California. The initiative has set up a method of measuring the power efficiency of certain classes of network devices and is making it openly available so anyone can use it to test equipment.

There have long been low-power benchmarks for PCs and servers, such as those from the Energy Star program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the networks that link those systems haven't been held to the same level of scrutiny, representatives of the participating companies and the EPA said Tuesday. Juniper and Ixia launched ECR in order to make quick progress toward a specification that could later be adopted by a formal standards body such as the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), said Luc Ceuppens, senior director of marketing at Juniper. Working from scratch at a formal standards body might take two to three years, he said.

The ECR methodology can determine the number of watts a network element consumes per gigabit per second of traffic. On Tuesday, in a test lab where Ixia said it can simulate the traffic generated by a triple-play telecommunications service for 250,000 people, the methodology was built into an Ixia measurement application called IxGreen and used to test a Juniper T1600 carrier core router. The router, which has a theoretical maximum throughput of 640G bps (bits per second), consumed 9.03 watts per gigabit per second, the testers found. It was tested at 98 percent traffic load as well as 49 percent and idle. Correcting for the different load levels, it scored 8.81 watts per G bps.

ECR today is designed to test individual systems in the network, but over the next year, the group plans to work out a way to test the efficiency of the whole network.

Juniper acknowledged that it helped kick off the effort because it believes its equipment is more efficient than many rival products, and the demonstration also showed off Ixia's iSimCity lab and IxGreen software. But other vendors and testing providers are free to use the methodology themselves, executives of the companies said. The methodology is designed to be repeatable so results from different labs can be compared.

The people formulating ECR have talked about it with representatives of Cisco Systems, the dominant data networking vendor, which made some suggestions but didn't join the initiative, Ceuppens said. Cisco is leading discussions on energy efficiency efforts in standards bodies and other industry groups, including the ITU and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the company said in a statement.

The EPA welcomes the effort, according to Andrew Fanara, product development team leader in the agency's Energy Star division, who spoke at the event Tuesday.

"This is a very good first step and may become a formal standard," Fanara said. The EPA may try to create an Energy Star program for network devices in the future, but it has many other areas to look at, Fanara said.

IT vendors have to balance efficiency against many other demands in future products, said Vic Alston, senior vice president of product development at Ixia. Unlike in some businesses, such as consumer electronics, networking products are expected to improve tenfold in areas such as security, reliability, scalability and performance with every product cycle, Alston said. It's hard for vendors to justify sacrificing any of those improvements for efficiency, which doesn't give them a sexy specification to list on the product, he said.

The bad news of the economic downturn, along with the good news of lower oil prices, will further shift attention from power consumption, the EPA's Fanara predicted.

"We'll probably see energy consumption drift down a bit" in importance when vendors are designing products and customers are buying them, Fanara said. However, this may be a good time for vendors to retool for energy woes that are sure to re-emerge, he added.

Efficiency is beginning to factor into the buying decisions of customers, such as some carriers, Juniper's Ceuppens said. His company is already getting requests for proposals that include power requirements.

"They're fairly broad. They state maximums rather than ideals. But there are people who say, 'I want to get rid of this piece of equipment because it costs me too much to run it,'" Ceuppens said.

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