Green networking Part 1: Selling the idea to executives

The network consumes a lot of power. In part one of this interview, Gary Audin discusses ways to conserve energy and save money.

Gary Audin knows the network consumes a lot of power. But Audin, president of network consulting firm Delphi, also has some radical ideas that could change that and cut network-related power consumption to a fraction of what it is today. And though some of his theories and potential solutions seem far-fetched, used correctly they could truly cut costs and conserve energy.

Over the course of several conversations, SearchNetworking ANZ asked Audin about ways to cut the amount of power the network uses; and who within the enterprise is ultimately responsible for paying the power bill. This is part one of a two-part question-and-answer with Audin about power issues and the network.

Why should an enterprise care about the network's power consumption?

Gary Audin: Let's start off with who pays the bill. If you're an IT executive and you're not paying the bill, you have far less incentive to worry about that unless someone puts pressure on you. But if you are paying the bill and it keeps going up, that can hamper new projects; it can hamper getting staff; it can hamper education. It dilutes what you can do with your budget.

What does a company stand to gain if IT is paying the power bill?

Audin: Probably, IT would be forced to look at the power of everything they buy and operate.

Why would that be important?

Audin: Because if I can reduce the costs of what's in my LAN closets, my networking equipment, what's on my desktops, I reduce the power bill and therefore I can control my budget better.

On the network side, if they're not paying the bill now, why should they be concerned with the amount of power they're consuming?

Audin: Let's look at it from a selfish viewpoint: CIOs, in most cases, do not want to be CIOs for the rest of their lives. They would like to move into the business side -- that's where they get further promotions and the like. If they're forward-thinking and they take the initiative to reduce their power costs and demonstrate that effectively to the executive committee, they look much more like businessmen than technologists.

When companies are looking at reducing power consumption, are they doing so from an environmental perspective or for the bottom line?

Audin: I would say mostly for the bottom line, but they can also count the value of the good they're doing for the environment. Environmental isn't good enough unless that's a corporate policy to begin with.

At a time when financial resources are stretched about as thin as they can go, how can this idea be sold to the person who authorises the purchasing? How do they justify that added cost now?

Audin: Here's the way I would do it. I look at the financial life I have for whatever I buy, three to five years. I look at the power consumption. The first thing you're going to learn is you rarely ever turn off routers and LAN switches. They're running 24 by 7 by 365. So it's relatively easy to look at a years' worth of power consumption and calculate the power bill for that and compare two product installations with each other: This one takes 135W per LAN switch, this one takes 240W for a LAN switch. It's 105W more expensive for one product. What's that going to cost me over the life of this product? And we're not forgetting that you're going to have an escalating energy cost. We all agree on that. How much it will escalate is a matter of opinion, but it's going to happen. So that 105W will cost me more each extra year of the life of the product. They don't use more energy, but I'm paying a bigger bill.

Let's go back to your first point. What changes when IT is paying the power bill?

Audin: Are they paying the bill? If they're not paying the bill and they're not doing energy conservation, are they really a responsible member of their enterprise? Eventually, this will come around because the plant and building people are paying this bill, and right now it's just a pure cost that the plant people have little control over when it comes to IT. They can control the air conditioning outside the data centre and LAN closet, they can control the lighting and so forth, but they can't control the power a phone takes up, they can't control the power in the LAN closet, they can't control the power of the data centre. They just have to provide that power because they're not buying the product.

What are the devices and appliances out there now -- LAN switches, routers, desktop phones -- that consume less power but still offer the features and functionality of the ones that are gobbling up a lot of power?

Audin: Let's look at it this way: The box just requires less power to run, that's a very simple way of looking at things. One box requires 240W, another one requires 135W and does exactly the same thing. That's one way of looking at it.

The second way of looking at it is this: Can the boxes manage the power and reduce their power consumption based on what's terminated on them? If I don't plug anything in the LAN ports that have PoE, then the LAN ports should never get power and therefore they should consume less power. In other words, the LAN switches should do self power management based on what's connected to them. That stuff does exist. If I fill up all the ports, my power consumption goes up; if I don't use all of the ports for PoE, my power consumption goes down.

Has power consumption become a criterion when an enterprise is having a "bake off" with different vendors?

Audin: Typically not, unless it's a very big data centre. Let's say someone like IBM or Computer Sciences is running huge centres and they have a fixed price contract with their clients. If they do better power consumption, it goes directly to their profit. Going away from the enterprise and going to the service provider, they have a greater incentive to do power consumption management because it directly affects their overall profitability.

Does it make sense for companies concerned with power consumption to outsource their networks?

Audin: Yes and no. If I outsource to a company that has a completely fixed-price contract, I don't care what they do about power. But I know that in the U.K. -- I read this a year ago -- some outsourced contracts now put power consumption as a separate line item, and it's like a fuel surcharge that goes up and down. That's another way of looking at it: Will a lot of outsourcing contracts now make power a separate line item that's variable depending on market costs, rather than fixed price? And the reason to go with outsourced is cost control. What if I can't control all of the elements? I don't know anyone doing that in the U.S., but that was occurring about a year ago in the U.K.

What strides are being made to cut down on IT-related power consumption?

Audin: The U.S. government thought this was enough of an issue to mandate an EPA study, which came out in August. The federal government said: "Our power bills are getting too high; what can we do for ourselves to control our power consumption?" The government's doing this and the government's usually behind what the enterprises do, rather than forward thinking, and so it's really become a major issue. And whatever the federal government is doing in trying to conserve power will eventually trickle down to state and local governments.

So when it all comes down to it, who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that companies, by running their networks, aren't consuming what's considered too much power?

Audin: It really comes down to the owner of the network, whether that's the service provider or the enterprise. A service provider usually buys 10 or maybe 100 times more of these products than an enterprise does. So the multiplication factor is even greater. But the other problem service providers have is that it's not all in one place. The network is all over, meaning you're managing a lot of rooms, closets or whatever in a highly distributed environment, and you really have to create a policy, not just simply look at your data centre. Yes, the data centre is a big consumer, but that LAN closet is getting more and more stuff stuck in it.

What do you think will finally get all enterprises thinking about power consumption?

Audin: I think what it's going to be is that some state, like California or New York, will see its power rates rise much faster until someone says: "Why are we paying for all of this power? Should I move my data centre from New York City to somewhere else just to save on power?" It's not going to be a catastrophe. A catastrophe would mean losing power entirely. What it really comes down to is the escalating costs, where eventually people start to realise that they cannot afford to mismanage this.

One of the things I would love to see ... is rebates or considerations from utility companies. I don't see that happening for the IT portion of companies. That would be a great incentive for a utility company to say: "I'd rather not build a new plant; it's going to cost me a fortune. If you guys use less power than you did last year, I will give you some incentive for that." That might be another way to stimulate this .... Like Energy Star -- wouldn't it be nice to have Energy Star ratings on networking equipment? Once these companies do put out a product that does reduce power, they should have some way of demonstrating the value of that. The question would be: "Can I get an Energy Star-certified network infrastructure?"

NEXT: Networks in need of a green thumb


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