INTEROP - Vendors vie for Green IT appeal

Networking players outbid one another on how well their gear can lower power consumption to help save the planet

Green IT was a major theme at Interop this week, as vendors outbid one another on how well their networking gear could lower power consumption to help save the planet.

Some of the Green IT claims were not-so-veiled attacks on the biggest switching and routing vendor, Cisco Systems. In response to comments by opponents, Cisco's vice president of network systems and security Marie Hattar demurred in an interview, "We didn't want to go with the greenwashing treatment."

Hattar's comment aside, Nortel Networks cited a January study by The Tolly Group that said some of Nortel's networking gear used 50 percent less power than Cisco gear. Joel Hackney, president of enterprise solutions for Nortel, said in an interview that Tolly and other studies have shown Nortel data center gear, in addition to being more energy efficient, can offer 20 times the performance and seven times the resiliency (meaning sub-milliseconds of recovery time from an outage) of Cisco and other competition.

Hackney said he spends 80 percent of his time meeting with customers and has found a strong interest in Nortel's more open approach, which he called "hardware-agnostic," as compared with Cisco's. Nortel also released a list, with short printed statements, of 50 customers who have moved to Nortel away from Cisco. Many on the list cited lower cost for Nortel products, but some of the new Nortel customers, such as the City of Fort Worth, Texas, mentioned lowered energy costs.

At its Interop booth, Nortel also demonstrated a new Energy Efficiency Calculator which can be used by Nortel's partners to show customers how to reduce energy, primarily as measured by megabits per second per watt. The reductions in the calculator primarily showed how much better Nortel gear is when compared to Cisco, based on a quick demonstration, but they also could help a customer see how energy costs will vary depending on what part of the country a data center is located. And, with the right combination of hardware using a unified communications concept and switch virtualization, costs can also be lowered, Nortel officials said.

Hattar said competitors who attack Cisco on power consumption have probably used Cisco's data sheets for their comparisons. Doing so means they are getting the "worst case" consumption picture because of how Cisco writes the data sheets, Hattar said. In general Cisco switching and routing products will prove more efficient for overall performance, she claimed, saying "It's not just power consumption that matters, but also yield." (Yield is of course a measure of whether the network does what it's designed to do in moving applications.)

Still, Cisco apparently felt it needed to bolster its case on Green IT, and announced at Interop that Miercom, a product test center, had given Cisco its new "Certified Green" certification, the first products from any vendor to receive that certification.

In a statement, Miercom cited six Catalyst switches from Cisco that are now Certified Green. Rob Smithers, CEO of Miercom, also said in the statement that power consumption should not be the only criteria for judging how green a product can be.

The assessment of Green IT was picked up by at least one other vendor, Ixia of Calabasas, Calif., which demonstrated a proof-of-concept testing solution for measuring power efficiency in relation to network and application load. Areg Alimian, technical product manager at Ixia, said tools are lacking for making such measurements. Ixia is providing the technology used by Miercom in its new Certified Green testing process.

Some vendors at Interop also announced new products designed to given greater flexibility in expanding a data center, which some analysts noted can be tied to Green IT if only because customers might be able to incrementally expand and otherwise avoid a larger energy-using device. For example, Extreme Networks Inc. announced a new Summit X650, a 24-port 10-Gigabit stackable switch, which will go into beta this summer, and sell later in the year for US$19,995. It offers dynamic power management for some ports, and supports "front to back" cooling to match server equipment cooling in a data center, Extreme officials said.

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