There is, however, debate about how best to go about it. And at the moment, a good deal of that argument is centering around Cisco's EnergyWise initiative, which promises to eventually be able to manage a wide array of network connected devices.
The effort has drawn some praise since its launch in late January. But it's also elicited no small amount of criticism from Cisco's competitors, who argue that network-connected power management is already a function available on a number of other platforms. The critics also contend that Cisco's larger vision of EnergyWise -- with the system's API one day controlling infrastructure like lights and heating -- serves as a route to Cisco lock-in.
Cisco, the world's largest networking vendor, argues otherwise. "We're still developing the API program and the intent is to take an open architecture, open standards-based approach," Linda Horiuchi, a Cisco spokesperson, told InternetNews.com.
It might just seem like another war of words among competitors. But with cash-strapped businesses in dire need of ways to cut costly energy consumption -- and with IT long seen as a major contributor to environmental crisis -- the stakes are high.
"As far as I know, all the major infrastructure providers can implement the [power] capability today," John McHugh, Nortel's new vice president of enterprise solutions, told InternetNews.com. "The issue is that it's a relatively manual process."
McHugh said that much of Cisco's EnergyWise functionality relating to managing ports and devices using Power over Ethernet, or PoE (define), can be duplicated with existing technology.
"So Cisco has captured and branded their capability as EnergyWise," he said. "Nortel has the ability to do policy and port settings, including PoE on devices by setting access groups and port policy groups to do that ... and I know other network management vendors can as well."
Nortel itself has its own issues to deal with currently, as it restructures under bankruptcy protection. Yet other networking vendors agreed with his take on EnergyWise.
Sreeram Krishnamachari, worldwide director of green IT initiatives for HP's ProCurve product line, echoed McHugh's sentiment that network device power management is already being done.
Krishnamachari explained to InternetNews.com that HP offers several features today for network device power management. Among them is an offering called ProCurve Manager that provides a scriptable interface for scheduling and remote administration of power on a per-port basis.
For example, customers can schedule turning off a set of VoIP phones between 8:00pm and 6:00am when they are not in use, thus saving energy.
Networking vendor Extreme Networks is also among those who claim to be able to do network power management today.
"We noticed the EnergyWise technology launch and we applaud efforts to smartly reduce power associated with the network," Harpreet Chadha, senior director of product management, told InternetNews.com. "Extreme Networks offers its own pervasive version of power management concerning PoE ports, and we have done so for many months."
Chadha said Extreme Networks's Universal Port technology uses the Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) standard to find devices such as IP phones and cameras as they connect to the network. LLDP can also handle management of PoE ports for cutting energy use.
It's a standards-based approach backed by others like Nortel and HP -- the co-author of an enhancement to LLDP called Link Layer Discovery Protocol-Media Endpoint Discovery, or LLDP-MED.
Beyond PoE, Cisco has talked about using an API (define) for EnergyWise that would enable non-PoE devices to be controlled for power management. That phase of the EnergyWise program won't come before summer, according to Cisco's Horiuchi, who added that the networking giant would reveal further details then.
Though the API doesn't yet exist, Nortel's McHugh is already critical of Cisco's approach, alleging that it could be a potential route to vendor lock-in.
"I don't know how you deal with the API concept when dealing with building control functions," McHugh said. "I think it's much more rational if you have a standardized way that policy information is passed to you and then, as a device, you can act on policy. I just think it is a better way to do a protocol-defined standard ... to pass information between devices and not have network architecture turn into client-based agents."
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.