Cisco launches major green push with EnergyWise

EnergyWise technology to control computers, network gear, lights, heat and other systems when not in use.

Cisco System launched a major green initiative this week that includes free software to help customers use their networks to automatically turn off computers and network gear at night and whenever they aren't being used.

By next year, Cisco is aiming to expand the new technology, EnergyWise, to allow building managers to control lights, heat and other systems as well, said William Choe, director of Cisco's Ethernet switching group.

The software has been in development for three years and will run on the Cisco Catalyst switching line, available as a free download now for existing Catalyst users, or available with new Catalyst purchases.

Cisco also said today it will be acquiring Richards-Zeta Building Intelligence Inc. of Santa Barbara to provide the intelligent middleware used by EnergyWise.

Inbar Lasser-Raab, a senior marketing director for network systems at Cisco, said the software could be used in a variety of businesses, from helping shut off power to empty guest rooms in hotels to controlling bank branch usage of wireless access points, switches and IP phones.

Because the software puts Cisco in a large market for building systems controls, analysts said it could be an important new direction for Cisco.

"I think it could be huge, honestly," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group. "It shows that more and more things are going to be connected to corporate networks, including intelligence from building systems to make better decisions [about energy conservation.]"

For example, the software could be used to track how many employees have left a plant or office complex at the end of a shift based on the number of workers with badges who were still inside. If everybody has left, "why keep the systems working?" Kerravala said. "It has a lot of benefits."

Kevin Smith, CEO of Global Access Point, said he implementing the EnergyWise software to cut energy uses on Global's data center operations, which are used by third parties for off-site storage and data recovery.

"It will give me broader ... energy information than I could have had myself," Smith said. He expects the software can be used to cut his electricity usage by one-third, or even by half, when rewards for energy conservation from his energy suppliers are included. He now pays about US$38,000 a month for energy costs.

Smith said the EnergyWise software will be a useful addition to Global's efforts to erect facilities with green in mind. The company's newest building has natural ventilation and its reflecting ponds act as cooling towers for data center cooling.

Eventually, the software will be used to help Global integrate its data centers in South Bend and elsewhere together so that energy consumption is passed between sites where needed, Smith said.

Smith hopes he can connect every conceivable energy-using device to the network, in order to turn down its energy consumption, or turn it off when not needed.

At first, Cisco plans to allow devices that are powered over Ethernet, such as network switches, to be automatically controlled. By the middle of this year, Cisco expects to give IT control of non-Power over Ethernet gear, such as laptops and PCs by installing software agents on those computers, Choe said. The vision for 2010 is that overall building automation control will be available through EnergyWise.

Jeff Ton, the vice president of IT at Lauth, a privately held developer of office and industrial spaces, said it would be valuable to have a central management console that looks at disparate systems that consume energy. Eventually, he hopes the EnergyWise system can be used to monitor devices that are not connected via Internet Protocol, such as garage door openers.

"You do have a view into your heating and air conditioning now, but one of the big drains on power is all the other stuff, what's known as the total plug load," Ton said. "It would be great to manage those devices too."

Ton said EnergyWise, coming from a large vendor such as Cisco, will "give the green building movement a nice boost." "It underscores the validity of the green building and energy conservation movement," Ton said.

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