ESnet’s Michael Bennett Recognized by IEEE for Work in Energy Efficiency

Michael Bennett

December 12, 2013

 Michael Bennett, head of ESnet’s Network Engineering Group, has been awarded an IEEE-SA Standards Medallion for his work in helping to create energy-saving standards for devices with Ethernet connections. The standards are expected to help save terawatts of otherwise-wasted electricity by automatically switching networked components to energy-saving modes when not in use.

The award was presented by the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) at its annual awards ceremony on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013. IEEE-SA Awards distinguish recipients for their contributions and leadership in standards development. Bennett was recognized for his role as chair of the IEEE 802.3az Energy-Efficient Ethernet Task Force and for his contributions promoting the adoption of energy-efficiency techniques in Ethernet projects after 802.3az.  

 Adopted in 2010, the IEEE 802.3az Energy-Efficient Ethernet (EEE) standard defines mechanisms and protocols designed to reduce the energy consumption of network links during periods of low utilization, by transitioning interfaces on computers and network switches into a low-power state. 

When IEEE 802.3az-compliant products have been fully deployed in new and existing Ethernet networks, it is estimated that power savings in the U.S. alone can reach 5 terawatt-hours per year, or enough energy to power more than 145,000 homes in California annually (based on average usage).

 “It’s exciting to see the standards-based feature showing up in equipment such as switches and routers,” Bennett said. “In 2005, a lot of people thought we were nuts for even floating this idea.”

 That idea, Bennett notes, came from Bruce Nordman, a researcher in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Berkeley Lab who has long been examining the problem of energy use by idle electronics, including computers, printers, game consoles, etc. Even when the systems are in sleep mode, they are still consuming – wasting – energy. Nordman and his collaborator Ken Christensen, a faculty member of the University of South Florida, have developed various approaches for cutting power consumption in idle devices. When Nordman learned that Bennett, then a member of the Lab's internal networking group, was involved with IEEE’s Ethernet Working Group, he contacted Bennett and things started rolling.

 After giving a talk at Google in 2005 in which the topic of energy efficiency in networked devices came up, Bennett arranged for Nordman to give a tutorial on his research at an IEEE plenary meeting in San Francisco. Under IEEE’s procedural rules, a study group was formed to consider developing a standard and after more than six months, a project was authorized, resulting in the formation of the IEEE 802.3az Energy-Efficient Ethernet Task Force.

“We’re very proud of Mike,” said ESnet Director Greg Bell. “This award is a testament to his leadership and vision, and it shows what’s special about Berkeley Lab – where experts from multiple divisions routinely come together with the goal of changing the world.”

Bennett said he’s looking forward to a time when manufacturers extend the approach to save even more power. For example, the standard is now implemented by devices which idle the transceiver on a component. But in the future, that could also trigger a shutdown in the associated memory of the device, which uses even more electricity.

 “The beauty of developing technologies for Ethernet is that you just don’t know where the innovations will go and what people will do with it,” Bennett said.

 One area where Ethernet-connected devices are expected to begin showing up in the coming years is the automobile. As vehicles comprise increasing numbers of processors and memory, they are likely to include Ethernet connectivity for fast communications. This communication could be between components like GPS, music and operations on the car, wireless connectivity between a car and cloud-based systems, or even wireless connections between cars. “This opens up all kinds of fascinating possibilities,” Bennett said.

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