How to migrate to Energy Efficient Ethernet

Energy Efficient Ethernet is designed to slash power usage by powering down Ethernet links when idle but enable them to spring back to life when called upon

The IEEE's 802.3az standard for Energy Efficient Ethernet is expected to be finalized by next year, but it's not too soon to think about how your IT organization can migrate to EEE.

Energy Efficient Ethernet is designed to slash power usage by powering down Ethernet links when idle but enable them to spring back to life when called upon. The University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab (one of 10 really cool university networking labs we highlighted a while back) has begun testing products based on the draft standard, so I asked UNH-IOL Senior Engineer Jeff Lapak for his advice on what IT organizations can do to get ready to exploit this technology.

What steps should IT organizations take now to be ready for Energy Efficient Ethernet?

One of the best things an IT organization can do to prepare is to get a good overview of the technology and understand how it will tie in other energy-conscious standards, such as the Energy Star programs. Companies can save considerable cost if they plan ahead and prepare rollout plans for device replacement and upgrades so that they can incrementally introduce devices that support the technology.

If companies are beyond evaluating the standard and have products ready, they should use the UNH-IOL's EEE standard testing service to ensure the interoperability of devices prior to the final stage of the standards process. That way, their products will be ready to take advantage of the growing interest in energy efficiency in all parts of the network.

What sort of products will 802.3az apply to?

The 802.3az standard covers 100Base-TX, 1000Base-T, 10GBase-T, 1000Base-KX, 10GBase-KX4, 10GBase-KR, and also supports XGMII extension using the XGXS for 10Gbps PHYs. What this means is that it will cover virtually all of the standard products in the office and home environments, such as laptop and desktop computers, servers, switches, routers, and home access devices.

Will supporting it require forklift upgrades or will it more generally involve swapping out cards or software on existing gear? (In other words, will there be a big up front cost?)

The 802.3az standard only covers the physical layer of the OSI stack and therefore will only involve swapping out adapter cards and switching hardware at first. However, as future standards begin to reference this standard, more complex software and hardware options may become available.

What sort of power savings might an organization actually expect from adopting Energy Efficient Ethernet?

Energy savings will depend on network usage. However, when in the low power state PHYs will save somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of the energy they would use in a fully powered state.

The real power savings that are made possible through 802.3az will be when higher layer standardization efforts begin to leverage that these PHYs have entered a low power mode and begin to turn off additional system level parts. There are already efforts in standards like Energy Star to include EEE as part of the overall system of power saving capabilities.

Is there any connection between Energy Efficient Ethernet and Power over Ethernet?

While from a technical standpoint there is no connection, they are both Ethernet technologies aimed at reducing overall power usage. Where EEE is focused on saving power during periods of low utilization in a single system, Power over Ethernet is focused on actually providing power to small devices that have Ethernet connections in a distributed manner to reduce the number of AC/DC conversion points.

The UNH-IOL is the first independent lab that can test EEE devices. The lab has extensive and in-depth experience with all the Ethernet standards and just announced a new testing service for the recently ratified IEEE 802.3ba standard for high-speed Ethernet.

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