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Cisco plans green data center push

Quoting Computer Business Review

Cisco Systems Inc has announced plans to increase its marketing of "green" data center technology. It said network virtualization, as well as line cards to replace standalone appliances, are key elements in a more environmentally friendly strategy.

Rob Aldrich, a senior manager in Cisco's data center solutions marketing group, said the company has been working on its green agenda since early last year when CEO John Chambers, who was already involved in the Clinton Global Initiative on energy and climate change, told top management to form two multi-disciplinary "virtual teams" within Cisco to address the issue of reducing its carbon footprint and making it a greener entity generally. These two bodies are the Corporate Stewardship Council and the Power Steering Committee.

Then in the fourth quarter, the company held 12 of its TechForum events with customers around the US, all with the title "Evolving to the Green Data Center" and will follow up with a webcast on January 16 entitled "Architecting the Green Data Center."

Aldrich said the San Jose, California-based networking company has been relatively quiet about the agenda over the last year, while it talked to US customers on the subject. "We opted not to do a lot of press releases because we wanted to make sure our customers understood the application of the technologies we're offering," he said. "You'll hear a lot more from us this year on this subject."

The technologies in question fall into two categories: virtualization and line cards. The former, delivered by products such as the Inter-VSAN Routing card in one of its larger switches, can drive utilization rates, in that case on storage hardware. "It can take rates from a typical 40% anywhere up to 70%," he said, "and the physics of power dictates that the higher the power loading, the greater the efficiency." The power conversion losses inherent in running any data center can be reduced with higher storage utilization rates.

He said the network is the best platform from which to deliver virtualization because it touches both the computing and storage domains, whereas server and storage virtualization technologies are usually delivered by their respective vendors and won't necessarily be able to have a cross-domain impact.

This is the usual Cisco argument that the network touches everything, and might be questioned by server and storage providers, particularly if they are in both camps, as they will seek to offer virtualization in both, calling it utility computing. EMC, the largest dedicated storage vendor in the market, is also the owner of the leading server virtualization vendor, VMware, with a presence on the other side of the data center, at least on everything running on X.86 platforms.

Line cards, which Aldrich described as Cisco's way of referring to blade technology in the context of switches and routers, are also something of a mantra for the company, and have been since before the power and cooling issue gained the currency it has today. Most of the software or appliance-based technology that Cisco has acquired in one of its myriad purchases has ended up as a line card for one of its Catalyst switches, even if the standalone appliance lives on in the portfolio.

Therefore, the green agenda can be seen as adding weight to Cisco's existing commercial and operational arguments in favor of integrating functionality into its switches. Aldrich said Cisco itself has saved up to 1,700 Watts per server on power and cooling in its own data centers by replacing discrete, distributed firewalls, SSL offload, and load-balancing devices. The company forecasts savings of $20m over a three-year period as a result.

Aldrich said Cisco already holds frequent conversations with The Green Grid, which is made up of server vendors and suppliers of supporting technologies such as VMware and American Power Conversion Corp.

The server vendors have been more in the forefront of the argument about power and cooling. Aldrich said studies Cisco has carried out with APC and Emerson Network Power indicate that servers and storage together are responsible for approximately 26% of the power consumed by an average data center, with networking equipment responsible for about 11%. Power conversion losses account for a further 10%, while 3% goes in lighting the data center room, leaving 50% for air conditioning.

This breakdown differs somewhat from figures used by Hu Yoshida, CTO of storage vendor Hitachi Data Systems, who estimates 25% for servers, 25% for storage, and 50% for networking, but Aldrich said the discrepancy might be the result of the way Yoshida defines his categories.

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Published Monday, January 08, 2007 8:55 PM by David Marshall
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