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Called Universal Power Over Ethernet (UPOE), and already supported by new devices from Cisco and its partners, Cisco is pitching the technology as a way for enterprise customers to centralize power budgeting and for it to increase the value of the network.
"We're utilizing intelligence in the network in a new way," said Jeff Reed, VP of Cisco's Ethernet switching technology group, in an interview. "It shows that innovation in wired networking is alive and well."
The increased power can be managed through Cisco's EnergyWise technology, which treats power in much the same way as any virtualized resource, controlling how much each device on a network can consume, and prioritizing some clients' needs over others. This helps reduce IT's environmental impact and electric bill, but becomes particularly important during an outage when cutting off or powering down less important devices can dramatically extend the life of a UPS.
Whereas other functions are increasingly centralized in the data center, Cisco sees the wiring closet as a more appropriate place to centralize power: Cooling isn't as big an issue as in the data center, there's room in most wiring closets for the additional UPS units that increased use of Ethernet power will require, and most also have enough AC power to handle the multi-kilowatt loads of an entire network.
Its first product to supply power, according to the UPOE specification, is a 24-port line card for the Catalyst 4500E, a popular chassis-based wiring closet switch. The Catalyst 4500E can support up to five of the new cards for a total of 120 ports, each supplying a full 60 watts.
At the other end of the line, Cisco has high hopes that the increased wattage will eliminate both AC power and battery backup in many network nodes, potentially saving a lot of effort in checking and replacing batteries. "We're greatly expanding the types of devices we can support," said Reed. At launch, the specification is only directly supported by two other vendors: Samsung's NC220 thin client and BT Global Services' Netrix Trading Turret, a desktop smartphone used in the financial industry. Cisco itself supports the standard through its Personal Telepresence System and Virtualization Experience Client, with a generic splitter available in September that will able to power any device at up to 60 watts.
Cisco also plans a range of pass-through UPOE switches, which will themselves draw power through UPOE from the Catalyst 4500E and then pass the remaining power on to other devices. However, these will need to share the 60 watts between a switch itself and all the devices connected to it, meaning they will only be able to connect to relatively low-power devices such as IP phones. IT managers will be able to adjust the power available through each port on these switches using EnergyWise. "It gives you fine-grained provisioning of power budgets," said Reed.
The technology is still Cisco-proprietary, but the company says it will open it up so that competitors will also be able to ship UPOE switches. "Our plans are similar to what we did with the previous standards 802.3af and 802.3at," said Reed, referring to the standards that are commonly used to power IP phones, security cameras, and Wi-Fi access points. "We're working with standards bodies to ensure that it gets implemented."
Data centers face increased resource demands and flat budgets. In this report, we show you steps you can take today to squeeze more from what you have, and also provide guidance on building a next-generation data center. Download it now.