Cisco: Rethinking power for an always-on world

Over the past few weeks, I've been updating my knowledge of green tech perspectives by talking to the executives running sustainability efforts at some of the biggest companies. A couple of days ago, I updated you about Xerox.

Over the past few weeks, I've been updating my knowledge of green tech perspectives by talking to the executives running sustainability efforts at some of the biggest companies. A couple of days ago, I updated you about Xerox. Now, it's Cisco's turn.

Paul Marcoux, vice president of green engineering at Cisco, was hired last fall to help coalesce the various green strategies at the networking giant. I do some consulting work for one of Cisco's channel marketing divisions, which is something I feel I should disclose when I'm writing about the company. But, actually, not to write about Cisco in the green sense would be odd, since their CEO John Chambers is pretty passionate about it. Here's a link to video for the chat Chambers did with with Former Vice President Al Gore at a conference in mid-March. It should not be overlooked that this interview took place over its Telepresence system; using conferencing and video technology as an alternative to globe-trotting is a major push for Cisco, not just internally but as a go-to-market rallying cry.

When I spoke with him a few weeks ago, Marcoux said since he joined the company last year, he has interviewed literally hundreds of Cisco employees to gather ideas about how Cisco could improve its green profile. His focus will be twofold: first, centralizing support for social programs that help Cisco employees participate in sustainability efforts throughout their community (ala Earth Day on April 22, for which Marcoux was planning some specific activities related to mass transit and e-waste). Here's some more about the company's efforts from its "Eco-Board."

But where Marcoux is likely to make his mark more meaningfully is in the reengineering of Cisco's products. His principal focus, at least initially, will be on bringing more intelligence to the power supplies that Cisco gear uses, so that power management is an inherent feature and not an afterthought. The tricky part, of course, when y0u mess with networking equipment is that in today's computing infrastructure, 24x7 communications uptime isn't really an option. We are insatiable about being connected.

Still, there are definitely techniques data center managers can use to shift and lighten the load, Marcoux said. So, in addition to its own research, the company is studying low power design techniques and looking to peers in places like IBM, Hewlett-Packard Labs and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to share architectural ideas. We'll be keeping an eye on how those ideas express themselves.