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HP goes Gaia with new Energy Efficient Ethernet

Rocking unused ports to sleep

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HP says it's the first networking-gear makers to support the IEEE 802.3az Energy Efficient Ethernet spec, which will eventually make its way into all kinds of Ethernet devices in desktops, laptops, and servers, and will allow their networking electronics to be put into a sleep mode – not just an idle state – when network traffic is low enough to justify it.

HP is the world's dominant server maker, and it has aspirations to be the biggest seller of networking gear in the data center, as well. (Good luck passing Cisco Systems, chums.) That means getting out on the front-end of networking standards, like IEEE 802.3az.

According to Mark Hilton, product line manager at HP's networking business unit, the initial adoption of the 802.3az spec will be put into HP's E-Series modular switches and into the circuits known as PHYs, which is short for the physical layer in the Ethernet stack.

The PHY chips are on the front-end of a switch, detecting packets as they come in from the outside world, then doing some processing before passing them back to the ASIC on the box that actually does the switching. Under the new 802.3az standard, the PHYs can detect when a port has no traffic on it and put it to sleep. This is significant, says Hilton, because in normal usage and loading, Ethernet ports have no traffic on them about 80 per cent of the time.

By the way, the fifth generation of HP's ProVision networking ASICs already have power-saving features such as smart clock gating that can turn off portions of the chip when they're not being used, thus helping to cut power bills. The 802.3az features in the PHY provide incremental power savings. HP doesn't have to change the ASICs on its switches to get this 802.3az capability, which is why it can be rolled out in ten new switch modules.

HP was already selling a four-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet blade for the E-Series modular chassis, and this week it is being upgraded to eight ports with only a 16 per cent price increase to $4,599. However, under normal loadings, this new card with the 802.3az support can reduce power consumption by 56 per cent on a per-port basis, dropping from 9.3 to 4.1 watts per port.

As another example, a new 24-port Gigabit Ethernet module, which costs $3,299 for a plain-vanilla switch and $3,599 for a version that supports 30-watt Power-on-Ethernet (PoE+) Ethernet device power, the power consumption drops by 30 per cent to 1.2 watts per port. You can find out more about the new modules and their E5400 and E8200 switches here. ®

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