Cisco makes strong move on power over Ethernet

Cisco catches up to the industry by supporting the IEEE's 802.3af power over Ethernet standard in several of its Catalyst switch lines, paving the way for a new generation of cheaper, more advanced PoE-enabled gear.

Cisco Systems Inc. announced Tuesday that it will support an emerging standard for power over Ethernet in its Catalyst

family of switch products.

The company is supporting the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE's) 802.3af power over Ethernet (PoE) standard in several new products. Cisco is offering 10/100/1000 and 10/100 PoE line cards for the Cisco Catalyst 6500 and 4500, as well as PoE options for the Catalyst 3750.

Power over Ethernet allows electrical power to be transmitted to devices over the same wires as data, which can make it more convenient to plug in devices such as IP phones, wireless access points and security cameras.

The company also announced the availability of the 3560, a new family of PoE switches. Cisco has been providing PoE since January 2000, using its own proprietary approach. But because of hardware discrepancies, the company's proprietary hardware cannot be upgraded to comply with the IEEE standard.

Cisco's standards-based products are being launched more than six months after the IEEE ratified the standard. The delay was due in part to the company's desire to make all of its products backward-compatible with its proprietary technology, an important strategy for Cisco, said Dave Passmore, research director with Midvale, Utah-based research firm Burton Group. Now that it supports the IEEE's standard, Cisco will be able to offer PoE on all its future gear, while its pre-standard PoE technology could only support a maximum of 100 Mbps.

The PoE market has grown in part because of voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology, Passmore said. In a traditional phone system, the PBX provides power to phones so that they work in the event of a power failure. But that's not the case with VoIP systems. Those who installed early VoIP systems often had to find wall outlets for the phones.

With PoE, phones and other devices can receive power via the network, which can help businesses save money on cabling, since only one cable is needed for each device.

Though PoE products are between 15% and 20% more expensive than standard Ethernet wares, Passmore said they can still provide enough return on investment to justify the additional cost, primarily because companies do not need to hire electricians to install new power outlets.

Steven Shalika, product manager with Cisco, said that, with PoE, companies can save between $100 and $300 on the cost of deploying each end device.

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PoE also centralizes the distribution of electricity. Since all PoE devices receive power through centralized switches, the technology may require some upgrades in companies' electrical systems. Additionally, enterprises need to be aware of the power needs of their end devices, so they don't oversubscribe the system, Shalika added.

To help customers manage their electricity consumption, Cisco's products have power management functions, enabling network administrators to send power to critical devices first. The products also can reduce the power flow to devices that are not being used. The IEEE standard enables devices to classify themselves according to their power needs, so that they do not consume more power than absolutely necessary.

Cisco's products range from the standalone 10/100 Catalyst 3560 24- and 48-port switches, priced at $3,795 and $6,495 respectively, to PoE daughter cards for the Catalyst 6500 series, which cost between $7,995 and $10,500.

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