Cisco Urges Going Green

Cisco Systems is taking steps to promote the green network, urging both customers and channel partners to follow a similar path to reduce power consumption and carbon emissions to not only save money, but to help the environment.

Last month, Cisco hired Paul Marcoux, who has been dubbed the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant's "green guru," and appointed him vice president of green engineering.

In an interview this week, Marcoux outlined his plans to not only help Cisco itself go green, but to help channel partners and customers promote green initiatives.

While Marcoux said it's still uncertain how Cisco channel partners will benefit financially by promoting going green, he said Cisco's cadre of products and services will be examined to determine what impact they make and tweaked to ensure they're as environmentally friendly as possible.

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"One goal is to allow anyone on a network to see what their products are doing from a green perspective," Marcoux said. "We want to build intelligence into our networks that anyone can access."

Marcoux said he'll work to create network management solutions that provide users raw data about how much power each networked device is using and to determine whether that usage falls in line with their overall green ideal.

When it comes to networking gear, common questions include "What is this doing? What is this consuming?" Marcoux said. Cisco hopes to devise a common language based on a set of standards and metrics answer those questions and offer the ability to take action. He said companies will soon be able to track, monitor and manage energy consumption through the network.

"We can't just say we've collected the data, we have to make it actionable," he said. "You have to collect the data, analyze it and take action."

Though Marcoux is an enthusiastic proponent of going green, he admitted that greening is still considered by many to be a cottage industry. It will take time for green products and technologies to make their way into most networks, likely in the five year range or based on refresh cycles. On Cisco's side, green products will likely take one complete design cycle to go to market, which is about three years.

"We have asked our customers and partners what it means to them and they've responded positively," he said. "But green is really a social problem first, more than an engineering problem. Greening issues are a long process. They require research, analysis and engineering before it gets to product release."

Marcoux said the culture first has to adapt to the green state of mind and then make the necessary changes. As an example, Marcoux cited the state of Oregon, which consolidated its data centers ultimately saving 30 percent in power consumption costs across the state.

Ladi Adefala, practice manager with systems integrator WorldWide Technologies, a St. Louis-based Cisco partner, said he's noticed Cisco has been aggressively promoting green initiatives over the past few months -- even going so far as pointing out how many gallons of water are conserved by the water-free urinals they have at some sites -- but so far he's heard little about added incentives or motivational SPIFs for resellers and customers who go green.

"I don't think customers are there yet, but soon we'll start hearing about additional benefits from contracts for going green," he said.

NEXT: VARs Talk Going Green

Jeff Wolach, president and CTO of Sinnott Wolach Technology Group, a Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based solution provider, said he's heard chatter from his client base about going green, though those weren't their exact words.

"We've been hearing that for a while, but they haven't used the terminology 'going green,'" he said. "But a lot are looking to reduce the amount of hardware and its costs and power consumption."

Wolach said his clients have been looking at alternate ways to consolidate hardware, using virtualization and utilizing co-location instead of a separate space for disaster recovery.

And while Wolach said green initiatives may not be top of mind, he said he expects more vendors and clients to find better ways to conserve energy in the coming year.

"It's not like we walk into an organization and for 2008 they're saying their big initiative is to go green," he said. "But, it's absolutely going to happen soon."

Along with virtualization and server consolidation, Wolach said tools like WAN optimization are also helping cut down on the hardware footprint for many of his clients, allowing them to use smaller pipes and tools that consume less power.

"We're trying to be very conscious," he said, adding that power consumption and reducing carbon emissions is becoming not only a concern for his clients, but internally within his firm. "We're taking major steps in trying to cut down on travel to different sites."

Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks, a San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based solution provider, said he's heard from vendors about green strategies, but customers' queries have been few.

"I do think I'm going to get more and more questions about it," Hiebert said. "This is a very dynamic concept that's going to change dramatically. It's not going to be snapping my fingers and I'm there."

One step toward green networking, Hiebert said, is the recent spate of vendors, including Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Juniper Networks and Cisco, opening up their network operating systems to third-party application developers. He said opening APIs to third-parties can lead to the creation of applications that can automatically cut power to ports when they're not in use, ultimately cutting power consumption, which in turn can lower the total cost of ownership for clients.

"To support a green strategy I need more intelligence to control that infrastructure," he said. "I just don't know if I'm going to be making a lot of money from it in the near term. But it makes a lot of logical sense."

Overall, Marcoux said, Cisco is looking to IT to be part of the green solution. The goal is sustainable development.

"You'll have the tools to understand your consumption, what it costs in dollars and the environmental impact," he said. "The ultimate goal is to provide information to people and let them act on it. The data is sorely needed. Good science is sorely needed. And systems and architecture to provide that information is sorely needed. If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."