Cisco Systems Inc. is embracing a global standard for powering network-connected devices over Ethernet, allowing its customers to take advantage of a potential flood of third-party products such as sensors and wireless access points that don’t require a conventional wall socket.

Cisco powers up Ethernet ports with standard

Cisco Systems Inc. is embracing a global standard for powering network-connected devices over Ethernet, allowing its customers to take advantage of a potential flood of third-party products such as sensors and wireless access points that don’t require a conventional wall socket.

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

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 Internet Protocol (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 used for Ethernet. 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, he said.

“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 US$100 and US$300 each, a cost that may be saved if a remote device can work without one, according to Shalita.

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 traveling users. Though it can’t deliver enough energy to fully power a typical notebook PC, it could help extend battery life by trickle-charging a notebook — or an MP3 music player, Shalita said.

It’s still early days for power over Ethernet, with a broad market emerging only since last June when the 802.3af standard was approved, but the technology is likely to come in handy, not just in “green field” sites but in existing buildings, according to Meta Group Inc. analyst Chris Kozup.

“With the advent of power over Ethernet and with it being the first universal power standard, there is a lot of potential here for emerging applications,” Kozup said.

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.

“You’re kind of killing two birds with one stone,” Kozup said.

Though standardization may clear a path for some kinds of new devices from a variety of third parties, it’s unlikely there will be a free-for-all with other technologies, such as IP phones, in Kozup’s view. Those will need to work with higher level functions to work with platforms such as Cisco Call Manager software, he said.

On Tuesday, 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 10/100Mbps 10/100/1000Mbps modules priced from US$6,495 to US$14,000. It also offered the daughtercards by themselves, priced starting at US$2,000, for upgrading of some existing modules.

The company also rolled out the Catalyst 3560 Series fixed-configuration switches, which are routing switches with 24 or 48 10/100Mbps ports, priced at US$3,795 and US$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 US$4,795 and US$8,495, for its Catalyst 3750 Series. All are available now.

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, Shalita said.

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