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Keeping it green: Design principles for efficient network architectures

Green networking often equates to making networks more efficient. Efficient network design combines improvements in consumption and consolidation to achieve increased manageability and lower lifecycle cost. In this tip, learn more about the specifics of efficient network design you can implement to keep your network green, as well as avoiding wastes of bandwidth, power and budget.

Green networking means efficient networking. Efficient network design combines improvements in consumption and consolidation for increased manageability and lower lifecycle cost. In this tip, learn more about the specifics of efficient network design you can implement to keep your network green, as well as avoiding wastes of bandwidth, power and budget.

In recent years, the call for "green" has grown louder. We hear it in the news and see it on billboards and in...

magazines -- and, unfortunately, feel it in our pocketbooks (it cost $65 to fill up today). Regardless of your political affiliation or environmental beliefs, it's impossible to deny this fact: The cost of energy is increasing. As consumers, we feel the results of our inefficiencies in our daily budgets. As individuals responsible for designing network architectures, our employers feel those inefficiencies in their operating costs.

Why is that important? In the late 1990s, when the Internet bubble burst, the companies that survived were those that found a way to become efficient. These same businesses are now looking at ways to further increase their efficiencies without cutting their workforce -- and that includes every aspect of how they think and operate. In this article, I'm going to outline some elements contributing to this "green wave" as it relates to network design.

The "green" factor

What does it mean to be green? It depends on who you ask! For the purposes of this article, I'm not going to go into detail about carbon footprints or the residual impact of IT infrastructure as it relates to the environment -- but I will say that the basis of being "green" comes down to efficiency. Efficiency is a broad term, especially in network architectures, but there are several key elements:

  • Consumption
  • Consolidation
  • Manageability
  • Lifecycle cost

Each of these elements is related, and their synergies create the semblance of a "total system."

The following figure illustrates these relationships:

green architecture relationships
Figure 1 -- Green Elements

There is a reason each of these elements is portrayed with a shading effect. The purpose is to show that there are in fact different shades of green, and though it may be possible to create a design that encompasses all of these factors, benefits can result from focusing on just one.

Breakdown

From a design perspective, there are really two elements that can be thought of as inputs to network design:

  • Consumption
  • Consolidation

"Consumption" is the broadest of terms used most often to describe the power and space usage of network elements such as servers, routers, switches, firewalls and SANs. There are, however, other points that can be related to this term, but they aren't as easy to differentiate. This table outlines the common and alternative thinking points in terms of consumption:

Efficiency Factor Industry Description Additional Factors Design Principle
Consumption Power (KW) usage and space
  • Port density
  • Media type (Fiber vs. Copper)
  • Wireless capability
  • Redundancy overkill
  • GBICs vs. SFPs vs. WDM
  • Design around technologies which use the latest in energy-efficient components. Focus on simplified yet scalable designs which utilize multi-service network elements that don't need additional equipment to take advantage of new features or functionality.

    Figure 2 -- Consumption Design Principles

    Consolidation is a distinct design option that can mitigate your consumption issues and provide an avenue for increased manageability -- and subsequently decrease your cost of support. Here are a couple of technologies that consolidate infrastructure:

    • Virtualization (includes server, firewall, SAN, routers, switches, desktops)
    • Chassis-based installation (FWSM, WSM, RSM, VPNSM, etc.)

    Efficiency Factor Industry Description Additional Factors Design Principle
    Consolidation Server virtualization
  • FW virtualization
  • VSANs
  • Chassis-based elements w/ modular services
  • WDM technology
  • If tested, stable and viable, consolidate network infrastructure into a single element. Keep the design simple and allow the technology the chance to meet your requirements.

    Figure 3 -- Consolidation Design Principles

    I will note that there are caveats to this approach that shouldn't be taken lightly. Notably:

    • Security
    • Scalability
    • Implementation time

    The true trick to "getting green" is applying the principles without sacrificing these factors, or you risk losing the gains forged within the design itself.

    Results

    Lower consumption through consolidation results in increased manageability and lower lifecycle cost -- or a "green(er)" infrastructure! The desired result of instilling some of these principles into the minds of engineers is that organizations can start taking advantage of savings gained through efficiencies.

    Doug Downer
    About the author:
    Doug Downer (CCIE #9848, JNCIS #881) is president of H2H Holdings Inc. and Principal Consultant at Dynecon LLC. H2H is a premier provider of comprehensive mission-critical solutions, from the facility through IT, specializing in efficient, intelligent and advanced integrated solutions. Find out more at http://www.dynecon.com.


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