The Power and Promise of Energy Efficient Ethernet (EEE): A State of the Union Address By Wael William Diab

By Wael William Diab

Power-hungry IT equipment generates some 150 million metric tons of CO2 annually at a global cost of $16 billion[i]. With an eye toward reducing both energy costs and our carbon footprint, it has become increasingly imperative that technology developers and end users alike seek out and embrace environmentally sensitive solutions.

One innovative technology with the potential to mitigate IT’s impact on the bottom line as well as Mother Earth is Energy Efficient Ethernet, better known as EEE. By reducing power consumption during low data activity cycles, EEE can help lower the amount of energy required by more than half, without interfering with or disrupting equipment operations. It is a promising advancement enabling users to leverage Ethernet’s superior flexibility and reliability in a more cost-effective, environmentally conscious way.

So as the year 2012 winds toward its inevitable close, the time is right for a frank assessment of the ever-changing EEE landscape – how far we’ve come, and how much further we need to go before this powerful concept becomes a true reality. The good news is that this year has been fruitful for the forward-looking individuals and enterprises that are the driving force behind EEE’s continued growth and evolution. This dedicated group of key stakeholders has accomplished much throughout 2012, including the adoption of new EEE-focused objectives across multiple new IEEE 802.3TM standards projects.

For example, the IEEE P802.3bjTM 100 Gb/s Backplane and Copper Cable Task Force recently elected to modify its scope of work to include specification of optional EEE for 40 Gb/s and 100 Gb/s operation over backplanes and copper cables for both the newly specified interfaces by the P802.3bj, as well as the relevant interfaces specified in IEEE Std 802.3baTM-2010. However, the IEEE P802.3bj Task Force isn’t alone in its efforts to advance EEE across the IEEE 802.3 ecosystem; momentum is also growing within other IEEE 802.3 groups, generating a new round of interest and activity from group members.

Other IEEE groups following in the footsteps of IEEE P802.3bj are the IEEE P802.3bmTM 40 Gb/s and 100 Gb/s Operation Over Fiber Optic Cables, the IEEE P802.3bnTM EPON (Ethernet Passive Optical Networks) Protocol over Coax Networks (EPoC) and IEEE P802.3bpTM Reduced Twisted Pair Gigabit Ethernet (RTPGE) PHY Task Forces. All three groups have adopted new objectives covering the specification of EEE for their respective technologies:

  • IEEE P802.3bm: Similar to the IEEE P802.3bj project, the IEEE P802.3bm project is adding EEE capability to both the newly specified 40G and 100G optical interfaces by P802.3bm, as well as the relevant interfaces specified in IEEE Std 802.3ba-2010.
  • IEEE P802.3bn: This project seeks to expand the popular EPON access technology into new and existing coax networks so that the EPON protocol can transparently run over either fiber or coax. At the November plenary meeting, the group added an objective for EEE operation, reflecting wide interest from key stakeholders and industry in power savings.
  • IEEE P802.3bp: This project looks to expand Ethernet into automotive and other new markets by reducing the number of pairs for a gigabit link over twisted pair copper. With encouragement from participants affiliated with the automotive industry, the group is pursuing the development of in-vehicle Ethernet connectivity that incorporates support for EEE, which has been reflected in an EEE objective.

Additionally, we’ve seen new activity in the rest of IEEE 802.3, such as the Next Generation BASE-T study group, which is studying the next generation of the popular BASE-T family. As of the writing of this post, the group has adopted a 40G rate along with an EEE objective.

Ethernet has become the ubiquitous wired layer-2 connectivity. In an environment where energy consumption is at the forefront of users, manufacturers, and deployers minds, it stands to reason that there we will continue to see standards innovate to accommodate this concern. With the New Year underway, we’re ready to move beyond the question of can we make EEE a reality within these projects and instead focus on the “how”. As these projects progress through the standards development cycle, we’re ready to select needed technical proposals and produce the resulting standards. These efforts will help complement the EEE deployments associated with the widely adopted IEEE Std 802.3azTM-2010, making EEE a ubiquitous reality in all the major markets that Ethernet services.

About The Author

Wael William Diab, is a Senior Technical Director in the Office of the CTO, Broadcom Corporation, Vice-Chair of the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group, serving in that position since 2008, Vice-Chair of the IEEE-SA Corporate Advisory Group (CAG)

[i] Source: ITU World Summit on the Information Society