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Cisco adds 60-watt Power over Ethernet standard in Cat 4500

Shamus McGillicuddy

Cisco Systems, which has traditionally led the industry on advancements in the Power over Ethernet (PoE) standard, introduced a new version this week that doubles the power output of the current standard.

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Universal Power over Ethernet (UPoE), available now in new line cards for the Cisco Catalyst 4500 modular wiring closet switch, transmits 60 watts of power over a Cat 5e cable. If it becomes the next-generation Power over Ethernet standard, UPoE will expand the field of devices that can be powered by data networks. As with previous generations of PoE, Cisco will work toward standardization with the IEEE.

Two manufacturers joined Cisco's UPoE announcement to offer a preview of the new generation of products that could be powered with a 60-watt Power over Ethernet standard. Samsung unveiled the NC220, a "zero-client display" that is essentially a virtual desktop client that can be powered by UPoE. BT introduced the Netrix turret, a financial trading floor client device. Cisco will shortly add support for UPoE on a half-dozen of its own devices, including personal telepresence systems, compact Catalyst switches and IP phones, said Rob Soderbery, senior vice president for Cisco's Ethernet Switching Technology Group.

Cisco will sell a UPoE splitter that will allow devices with only traditional AC power adapters to derive power from UPoE. Cisco has tested several devices on the splitter, including the Oracle Sun Ray thin client. It will also integrate UPoE with its EnergyWise power management technology to give enterprises more granular control over power consumption by network-connected devices, Soderbery said.

"If that power level becomes readily available, I have no doubt there will be creative vendors introducing products that will leverage it," said Don Lester, senior engineer for Wenatchee Valley Medical Center in Wenatchee, Wash.

A 60-watt Power over Ethernet standard would allow Lester to power more of his physical security infrastructure via network power, rather than running AC power infrastructure to remote areas, he said.

"We have deployed quite a few PoE cameras for security. For general cameras the [current Power over Ethernet standard] has been fine. If we want a PTZ [pan/tilt/zoom] camera, we have had to run utility power," Lester said. "Our security card readers could work on standard PoE, but their actuators frequently need the kind of power that UPoE would provide."

However, UPoE-compatible, low-power computing devices like the Samsung NC220 will conflict with other trends around mobility, Lester said.

"Portability is a very strong driver in the market and anyone making such a device would likely have a user base that would also want to pick it up and walk around with it," he said. "Perhaps someone will try to leverage UPoE to recharge those devices, no matter where they are plugged in, eliminating the need for AC adapters or docking cradles."

Next-generation Power over Ethernet standard: Game-changer in some niches

While it's not likely UPoE will drive a new market, “it holds great promise” in the context of specific applications such as VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure]," said Mike Spanbauer, principal analyst at Current Analysis.

Spanbauer identified BT's Netrix turret as an opportunity for financial exchanges to consolidate infrastructure. Trading turrets are highly-critical devices that are deployed on a trading floor with local uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). Spanbauer said those costly UPS devices won't be necessary with UPoE.

"You no longer have to have a UPS system out at each of these trading kiosks," he said. "You can move all that infrastructure back into your closet and only run the Ethernet line out. By consolidating, you can get some significant economic benefits by going to a much larger UPS system [in the wiring closet] rather than have a bunch of small ones at each kiosk. You've also eliminated the need to pull power wiring for some of these installations."

Yet at the same time, many organizations won't need a next-generation Power over Ethernet standard any time soon, at least until UPoE ports and UPoE-compatible devices become more widely available.

"This is an interesting development, but I don't think it changes anything for us," said Tim Ryan, technical operations manager for City College of San Francisco. "Most systems that require PoE are working fine within the current power levels. We use it for telephones, surveillance cameras and Wi-Fi radios. Some of the new 802.11n radios require higher power, but even then the vendors have adapted their products to work with the existing power levels."

UPoE: Proprietary technology today, maybe a Power over Ethernet standard tomorrow

For now, UPoE is a proprietary Cisco technology available on only one of its switches with no other networking vendors offering support. Cisco has led the way with each new generation of the Power over Ethernet standard, offering it initially in a modular switch and adding support to fixed-configuration switches later.

In the meantime, don't expect other switch vendors to add UPoE to their devices until a new Power over Ethernet standard is ratified by the IEEE. In the past, other vendors have road-mapped a draft Power over Ethernet standard, only adding it to their products after standardization.

"I think most other vendors will probably be a bit more prudent and look to the market and its interest before investing in this," Spanbauer said. "If 60 watts becomes something that gains traction in the market, then you can be certain they will not be close behind."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor.


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