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Cisco Putting Stamp On Smart Grid

I confess I can't get too excited about either green or smart grid technology, but that doesn't mean that both aren't legitimate new beachheads where -- to update Scott McNealy's famous aphorism -- the networking stuff will be the big deal. The whole deal, in fact.

The news point which prompts this post is Cisco's announcement last week, effectively kicking the activities of its Smart Grid Business Unit into high gear. It named Laura Ipsen general manager of the operation and announced a boatload of initiatives, which I guess are intended to centralize the focus of smart grid efforts around. . . Cisco. On the competitive front, GE is also a huge player in smart grid

Specifically, it created something called the Cisco Smart Grid Ecosystem and pulled in some 30 partners to join the group. These include not just software companies (Oracle, Wipro), but telecom (Cable & Wireless, Verizon) and power-generation equipment providers (Siemens), too. 

I know you're thinking the same thing I did when I read this -- that it's a bunch of marketing yadda, yadda, yadda. But if you look at its stated purpose, it's clearly not. The objectives of the ecosystem are:

"to support interoperability testing and enable industry migration to an IP-based infrastructure for smart grids and energy management applications;

to facilitate the adoption of Internet Protocol (IP)-based communications standards for smart grids that will benefit the energy industry as well as business and residential customers."

Such work is of considerable importance if smart grid is to succeed because, as those of us who didn't go into the power field nevertheless dimly remember from our engineering school days, there are fields where standards actually matter. The electrical grid, where you're talking multi-billion dollar capital construction projects, is one of them. Smart grid technology needs to interoperate from day one. The marketplace can't decide ex post facto, after multiple vendors have let differently formatted packets fly hither and thither, on the assumption that their superior designs will prevail in the end.

As another part of its efforts, Cisco has corralled utilities and energy companies into a Smart Grid Technical Advisory Board. (I guess those guys can't go into the main group because, hey, you gotta have some forward progress in a reasonable time frame.)

One other point: I've written this blog based on the tacit assumption that smart grid relates mainly to the electrical generation power grid. That's largely true. Yet if you dive into the collateral material on this stuff, you'll find there are also many threads talking about energy efficiency in the data center. 

So the interesting question here is, how directly does smart grid relate to data-center energy management? Are they two completely separate areas; is the data-center issue a subset of the larger field, and thus will use the same protocols, standards, etc? Or is the micro issue of data-center power efficiency important enough, especially when you have geographically separated centers, that it'll turn into an early driver for smart grid?

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