Practical Analysis: Cisco Should Open Proprietary EnergyWise Spec

Cisco's doing this work in conjunction with a relatively small group of partners rather than bringing the idea to a proper standards body in an early stage.

Art Wittmann

February 19, 2009

3 Min Read
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There's a constant tug of war in our industry between the value of intellectual property to originating companies and the potential of standards to either create or greatly accelerate the growth of whole new industries. You can pretty much pick your industry, and the creation of standards will be an inflection point for broad acceptance and greater overall economy and efficiency.

Certainly, TCP/IP and HTML are great examples of standards that changed our world. Usually, companies get this. It's pretty clear, for example, that society benefits when there's a limited range of outlets into which you can plug appliances. But it's not just at a level so mundane. When compatibility and cost stifled the wireless communications market, clever vendors formed the Wi-Fi Alliance and brought the technology to the masses.

Open standards are so important that their mere existence has created some of the biggest and most influential companies in our industry. None is larger or owes more to open standards than Cisco. It's this history that makes Cisco's announcement of its EnergyWise initiative particularly disappointing, at least so far. Cisco's goal with EnergyWise is commendable: Use existing standards such as Power over Ethernet to manage the power consumption of network-attached devices now, expanding to other devices such as PCs by summer, and finally achieving broad automation of building-level systems by early next year.

The problem is that Cisco's doing this work in conjunction with a relatively small group of partners rather than bringing the idea to a proper standards body in an early stage. Its partners include SolarWinds for overall management, Verdiem for non-PoE device agents, and Schneider Electric for HVAC management. So if you happen to be a Cisco, Schneider, SolarWinds, or Verdiem shop--lucky you! You may be able to save 20% or more on your power usage with EnergyWise. The rest of us, not so much.

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As I made these points on a conference call with Cisco, company officials countered with a few points: This spec has been in development for three years; Cisco has a significant investment in it; and the goal is to incorporate the technology into IOS for Catalyst switches--no Catalysts, no EnergyWise. The group makes freely available the "northbound" specification that SolarWinds uses. And once the system is complete early next year, Cisco will consider standardizing in a body like the International Telecommunication Union.

The ITU is exactly the place for this specification, and it's where Cisco should have started. In the short run, we can reduce carbon emissions far more by conserving energy than by increasing use of renewable energy sources. If Cisco had taken the idea straight to the ITU three years ago, we'd probably have a road map for universal EnergyWise compliance about now. But, hey, there was a buck to made, so Cisco decided not to go that route, and in a year we can start the ITU process from scratch, putting us four years behind where we could have been.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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