Cisco Exercises Power over Ethernet with New 802.3af Modules

The company's Catalyst LAN switches now support the new IEEE PoE standard-but is the market ready to accept it?

Cisco Systems Inc. on Tuesday announced it is bringing its Catalyst LAN switches up to speed with IEEE 802.3af Power over Ethernet, thanks to a series of modules that support the new standard.

After building up an installed base of some 18 million pre-standard Power over Ethernet ports, Cisco chose to upgrade its Catalyst chassis switches, stackables and fixed configuration switches with new IEEE 802.3af standard compliant modules, the company said.

The new standard, ratified last summer, extends Ethernet support for inline power devices beyond IP phones and wireless LAN access points to connect power-hungry devices such as IP-powered video surveillance cameras, security systems and fire-protection or motion-detection devices, according to Steven Shalita, senior manager of worldwide product marketing at Cisco, in San Jose, Calif.

"Ethernet is very versatile, simple and flexible," Shalita said. "Adding power capabilities to it extends that versatility to enable new uses for the network."

But whether the market is ready yet for such devices is doubtful, said analyst Zeus Kerravala, vice president at Boston-based Yankee Group. "The market for Power over Ethernet is still limited to IP phones and access points. Eventually I expect to see a number of devices like cameras or small Internet tablets (exploit the standard), but that will probably be another 12 to 24 months away. There isnt much of a market for that yet," he said. Still, most enterprises are asking for such support for any new switch installations they are evaluating to future proof such purchases, he added.

The new offerings, which support the 802.3af standard for end devices drawing 15.4 watts of power, are backward-compatible with existing Cisco pre-standard end devices such as its IP phones, which only require between 6.3 and 7.3 watts of power. The new standards support also extends the systems beyond devices that employ Ciscos proprietary device-discovery protocols.

The new offerings also support the IEEE 802.3af standards optional Power Classification feature, which allows a LAN switch to identify the power requirement of the end device and reserve that power based on its class number. Ciscos new power-management capabilities extend beyond the standards classification system to give administrators more granular control over power consumption. They minimize power draw, restrict power delivery from specific ports and prioritize power delivery on specific ports if the switch runs out of power, Cisco said.

The Catalyst 6500 chassis switch gains a single-slot, 96-port 10/100 module with optional 802.3af PoE daughter card for high-density deployments. Cisco also made it possible to upgrade the pair of 48-port Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet line cards it launched last year for the Catalyst 6500 with Power over Ethernet through an optional 802.3af daughtercard.

Cisco enhanced the Catalyst 4500 with a pair of 802.3af-compatible, 48-port line cards for both 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet and 1-Gbit Ethernet links.

Cisco also expanded its stackable line of Catalyst 3750 switches with two 802.3af models. They include 24- and 48-port 10/100 Ethernet options. For small-enterprise or branch-office wiring closets, Cisco also added the non-stacking, fixed-configuration Catalyst 3560 switch with 802.3af and pre-standard Power over Ethernet. It provides 24- and 48-port 10/100 Ethernet connectivity, Layer 3 and Layer 4 intelligent services, and Layer 3 routing.

All the new offerings are available now and range from $2,000 for the optional 802.3af daughtercard to $14,000 for the Catalyst 6500 48-port, 1 Gbit Ethernet line card with 802.3af.