Cisco adopts global standard for ethernet ports

Cisco Systems is embracing a global standard for powering network-connected devices over ethernet, allowing its customers to take...

Cisco Systems is embracing a global standard for powering network-connected devices over ethernet, allowing its customers to take advantage of third-party products such as sensors and wireless access points.

The standard, called IEEE 802.3af, is now available on a wide range of Cisco enterprise switching products. Cisco previously used its own power-over-Ethernet technology, developed in 2000, before the standard was ratified.

Cisco will continue to support that approach wherever possible in addition to 802.3af, said Steven Shalita, senior manager of worldwide product marketing for Lan switching.

Power over Ethernet technology is designed to ease the deployment of some devices connected to a Lan by eliminating the need to plug them into a conventional power socket. The 802.3af standard offers more power than Cisco's earlier technology, potentially extending the range of devices that can be powered over the network to include IP security cameras, motion detectors and card readers. It also opens the door to more advanced colour IP phones and multiband wireless Lan access points, Shalita said.

With 802.3af support, a networked device will be able to draw as much as 15.4 watts of power from an ethernet port over standard copper wire. Cisco's older technology supported about 6.5 watts. This is enough for some IP phones and wireless access points but not some other devices.

"There's going to be a whole new range of devices that are going to be able to use power over ethernet," Shalita said.

Traditional power outlets cost between $100 and $300 each.

Wall jack standards also vary from country to country. The 802.3af specification is the first standard for power that is uniform around the world. Besides opening up a broad market for gear that uses power over ethernet, it may, eventually, make life easier for travelling users. Though it cannot deliver enough energy to power a typical notebook PC properly, it could help extend battery life by trickle-charging a notebook, or an MP3 music player.

Meta Group analyst Chris Kozup said it was still early days for power over ethernet, with a broad market emerging only since last June when the 802.3af standard was approved, but he admitted the technology is likely to come in handy, not just in greenfield sites but in existing buildings.

As enterprises start harnessing IP to enhance functions such as building security and heating and cooling, being able to bypass conventional power systems simplifies deployment, he said.

Although standardisation may clear a path for some kinds of new devices from a variety of third parties, Kozup believed it was unlikely there will be a free-for-all with other technologies, such as IP phones. Those will need to work with higher level functions to work with platforms such as Cisco Call Manager software.

Yesterday Cisco introduced modules for its Catalyst 6500 and Catalyst 4500 modular switch chassis that are equipped with daughtercards for IEEE 802.3af. They include both 10/100M bps and 10/100/1000M bps modules priced from $6,495 to $14,000. It also offered the daughtercards by themselves, priced starting at $2,000, for upgrading of some existing modules.

Cisco also rolled out the Catalyst 3560 Series fixed-configuration switches, which are routing switches with 24 or 48 10/100Mbps ports, priced at $3,795 and $6,495, respectively. They support full power over Ethernet on 24 ports or lower power from 48 ports. The company also added 24-port and 48-port stackable switches with the technology, priced at $4,795 and $8,495, for its Catalyst 3750 Series.

In the next few weeks, Cisco also will provide web-based software for network managers to put together power budgets for their switches that account for how much power is needed for the switch's own functions as well as the energy it needs to deliver to devices.

Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service

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