The secret special green sauce to its switches, according to Brocade principal engineer Tom Clark, isn't really that secret or special. He says the company has carefully selected the components, such as 85 percent efficient power supplies and more power-efficient NICs. "When you start with a less-efficient design, you end up with a box that consumes substantially more energy," he said.
The switches also employ front-to-back airflow, so the boxes can be easily racked in a datacenter that employs hot and cold aisles -- a fairly standard practice.
Network as a green vehicle
Cisco, however, hasn't overtly taken the bait that Brocade has set down. For one thing, the company has a policy of not talking specifically about the competition (though Cisco notes it does employ 90 percent efficient power supplies in its products).
But perhaps more important, Rob Aldrich, Cisco's senior manager of Cisco's datacenter solutions marketing group, echoed a sentiment that's raised time and again in the context of measuring energy consumption and efficiency for servers: Essentially, measuring power consumption doesn't have much meaning unless you're taking into account the work that the hardware is doing; that is, the service it's delivering.
"Measuring what sort of power per port a switch or router requires is a good indication of how to plan for power capacity," Aldrich said. "But if you take power per port to measure efficiency, you're missing an important element: power per port to do what? What does a particular footprint get you in terms of service?"
That's why organizations like The Green Grid (of which Brocade and Cisco are both members), Energy Star, as well as analysts such as InfoWorld's own Tom Yager, are grappling with meaningful "green" benchmarks.
Cisco, which has been quietly studying energy efficiency in the datacenter over the past year, views the position of the network as being "unique among the IT infrastructure segments," a notion it outlines in a white paper it recently published titled "Cisco Energy Efficient Data Center Solutions and Best Practices" [PDF].
In it, Cisco advises planners not to view the network in a piece-meal fashion but rather, "where possible planners should look to extend the touch of the network to gather as many relevant data sources as possible to monitor power efficiency. These sources include monitoring of power, temperature, and humidity... ."