It's the Energiser Bunny of IT - Power over Ethernet (PoE) keeps devices fired up, juiced up and it's become more popular.
Let's talk about power: Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) technology safeguards systems from power outages, surges, sags, under voltage and over voltage conditions. And with power protection a constant concern, companies are looking to install a range of UPS devices.
Enter PoE, a technology standard that allows users to power IP-connected devices such as IP phones and wireless LAN access points over the existing LAN cabling infrastructure.
"This allows not only a very convenient and cost-effective powering of the phones [no local desk DC power needed), but also a simple, centralised power protection of the whole installation directly from the switch/wiring closet," MGE UPS national sales manager, James Fraser, said.
MGE UPS, along with PowerDSine, a main player in the development of the PoE standard, is spearheading the technology and rolling out a host of PoE products including MGE Midspan and MGE UPS Systems power protection devices aimed at IT managers and facility managers.
So how does PoE work? Providing a world of networked appliances, the technology provides power as well as data over existing Ethernet cables. PoE is supported by the IEEE802.3af standard, which enables a reliable power source to many devices to receive power as well as data over existing Ethernet cabling.
While the technology has been around for a few years, the standard was only ratified in June 2003, an event that gave the industry reassurance of a stable, uniform platform.
Essentially, PoE technology integrated data, voice and power over standard LAN infrastructure, Fraser said. "It is a means to supply reliable, uninterrupted power to IP telephones, wireless LAN access points, network cameras and other Ethernet devices, using existing commonly used Category 5 cable infrastructure," he said.
A PoE and UPS environment could work in tandem to boost power and act as the next extension in power management, Emerson Network Power channel manager, Peter Spiteri, said.
Fraser said the PoE technology saved time and the cost of installing separate power cabling, AC outlets and wall warts (AC adapters), as well as eliminating the need for a dedicated UPS for individual devices.
"A single UPS placed centrally close to the switches and the PoE source will protect both the switches and all of the connected devices," he said.
Happily, the PoE market is starting to take off. IDC estimated the Asia-Pacific market for PoE was $US96.09 million in 2004, and forecast that it would to expand to reach $US1.14 billion by 2009.
IDC claims PoE will become a de facto technology embedded in LAN switches.
"As enterprise IP telephony and wireless LAN technologies become more mainstream in 2005, PoE shipments are expected to more than double this year," IDC research manager, Grace Yeo, said.
So what's driving the market? New higher power standards, a broader range of PoE-enabled devices, and a host of new applications will drive demand for PoE-enabling technologies and enabled devices.
This demand is coming from a broad range of enterprise and consumer end-user markets.
Analysts claim the number of companies racing to meet that demand is also growing.
With enterprise IT networks undergoing major changes (such as the appearance of VoIP), it was crucial power management technology was well equipped to able to handle both data and voice environments, Emerson's Spiteri said. "There's a huge opportunity for us and resellers," Spiteri said. "Essentially with VoIP, we are taking what used to be in a telco environment and making it in-house." This was complicated by the fact that the IT manager was responsible for power management, Spiteri said.
"IT managers are putting these things in and they are not electrical engineers," Spiteri said. "We are the ones who wear the big glasses, long socks and cardigans, but we [and our partners] understand power, heat, and the things that go bang. We can help customers with the changing market dynamics. The underlying platform is the power but, in general, the IT manager doesn't understand the nuances of power." As such, partners can help companies ensure the data and voice network is up to scratch.
"The main opportunity for resellers is power protection for data. Now it also involves moving up to consider mission-critical power protection," Spiteri said.
In addition to a host of UPS technologies, partners can add PoE into the mix, working out what's best for a company's VoIP deployment.
"Up until now, power management was important but not a major issue for businesses. With the advent of voice, this is all changing," Spiteri said.
Typically, power management tools do a good job of handling data network, but with voice entering the fray, the availability and quality of service is more complicated and the user doesn't get a chance to reconstruct.
"With voice, if I drop a few packets, it becomes unintelligent," Spiteri said. "So there's a paradigm shift."
There were high requirements for quality of service and availability when dealing with VoIP deployments, he said.
D-Link business development manager, Garen Casey, said PoE provided a way to distribute low-voltage power across a network with existing Ethernet cable. The technology offered security, quality of service, low infrastructure cost and easy deployment.
"You can deploy PoE in areas where there's no existing power - a warehouse environment is an ideal example," Casey said. "It gives users a lot more flexibility in powering up devices."
Since the adoption of the IEEE802.3af standard, D-Link has been tailoring product to the PoE space, mainly in the adapter space. Today, the company is expanding into the PoE switch arena. D-Link expects PoE to take off across the board from the SMB space to large enterprise.
"It is particularly attractive to the SMB space as it can run one cable and have it all," Casey said. "And you don't have to fork out a lot of cash."
On the VoIP front, PoE makes deployments simple and highly available. By using the technology, IT managers will get the same level of availability from their VoIP architecture as they experience with the traditional circuit switched telephony systems.
Fraser said there were two ways to install PoE - by using either a PoE midspan system or PoE Ethernet switches.
"When supplied by a UPS, both solutions provide a level of availability and reliability equivalent to conventional switched telephone networks, but with all of the advantages of IP telephony," Fraser said. "The technology offers two advantages: it provides a more practical, economical supply for the connected equipment; and the whole installation can be protected centrally from the distribution panel."
Talking up the PoE benefits
Customers could expect to spend less money on cabling thanks to PoE technology, D-Link's Casey said. This was another selling point for resellers. "You can reduce the cost of cabling by having it all powered by Cat 5 cabling," he said.
Other top benefits associated with PoE technology included centralised power and increased reliability, Casey said. "It gives users a centralised architecture so the network administrator doesn't have to run around everywhere," he said.
With the Web Smart range, you can configure and manage the technology on a Web browser. The PoE proposition was also good for partners in terms of future sales, Casey said.
"Partners implementing future technology - working with IP technology including IP phones - can leverage a single item, place a single item into a network and add other devices," he said.
In the past, it was only important to keep mission critical applications alive and kicking, but with many businesses implementing VoIP it was critical all devices were continually juiced up.
"If the phone loses power, you lose business, but with PoE, companies can continue to earn money even when the power is down," Casey said Emerson's Spiteri said there was an additional opportunity for resellers to sell more power and more sophisticated networks.
"Because there is more power being drained through the network, we need more of it," he said. "As we move from a data network to a voice network, it needs to be a high level of sophistication and more power."
For APC, a main pitch in the reseller arsenal is to offer a complete solution that will help IT managers ease the angst.
PoE and UPS technology was part of the mix, APC channel manager, Yasser Elgammal, said. The company had a range of solutions, which were all sold through the channel, to provide power protection in PoE environments.
"The IT manager is more pressured to make sure there's available power, particularly with VoIP applications," Elgammal said.
The InfraStruXure system, for example, gave partners the ability to order and install integrated rack, power and cooling solutions for their IT environments, he said.
"These systems provide a complete solution for their network critical physical infrastructure from one vendor," Elgammal said.
It was beneficial for the reseller, who was aware of power management issues, to offer businesses a complete solution with manageability and scalability as top features.
"Power management is more than a UPS, more than a battery in a box," he said.
The company's UPS solutions for a PoE environment covered all the bases when it came to keeping devices up and running, Elgammal said.
"Solutions begin with UPS units to protect the wiring closet which powers the IP-connected devices," he said.
"APC also offers devices to monitor the temperature and heat of wiring closets in addition to intrusion and tampering detection - often overlooked areas of maintaining a PoE environment."