Even more than other industries, the tech world is unforgiving to large companies that can’t respond to external change. To keep up to date, Cisco last year revamped the Cisco Development Organization, a group tasked with innovation, making a number of key hires and and giving it greater leeway to act within Cisco. One of the hires was Paul Marcoux, a former American Power Conversion exec and founding member of The Green Grid, a non-profit group advancing efficiency issues in data centers and enterprise computing. Marcoux was tapped to be vice president of green engineering, getting Cisco up to speed with both environmental issues and efficiency. I spoke with Marcoux a few weeks ago, both to get an idea of how Cisco will update its routers, switches, servers and other equipment, and to hear his take on the problems that data centers face, as well as the opportunities startups have to make a difference (not to mention a profit). VB: How competitive are Cisco’s products right now, when it comes to efficiency and the broader issue of climate change? Quite frankly, I would say Cisco is even with the curve. We’re not ahead or behind. The development of green processes within companies is really something that a lot of the major corporations in our industry embraced no more than 18-24 months ago. You can jump across the pond and look at European companies, some of whom embraced climate change as long as 15 years ago and baked it into the culture. It will become part of our DNA also. VB: What will Cisco do to make itself a leader? As it stands, our high-end products are actually robust and efficient. But the real impact, on a global level, will come from our ability to effect meaningful change on our lower-end products, and that’s where you’ll see very rapid changes. The goal is to develop intelligence into our power supplies. If you have a virtualized process in the data center, and you need to access more capacity, today you go to a rack and grab another server. In the very near future, it’ll be entire racks. It won’t be 3,000 watts, it’ll be 30,000 watts. The management for that power is what we’re looking to develop, and for other people to develop. VB: You spend a lot of time talking to data center managers and technical executives. What are you hearing? They’re overwhelmed and frightened. A lot of their solutions, they feel, are only based around technology, around boxes. But some of the more advanced chief technology and chief information officers understand that it’s more than just boxes. They get that, but they need to acquire a solid understanding of hardware and software and a good understanding of power, cooling and networking. Sadly, a lot of these elements don’t exist in their bag of tricks. One of the important things we need to understand going into the 21st century is that most data centers are operating on a design that was started in the 60s and 70s. And organizationally, they’re not set up for meaningful change. VB: What are they looking for? They’re looking for methodologies to reduce expense, reduce risk, and also do it with a smaller footprint on the environment. The real issue is that within the last five years, the cost of electricity grew by 30 percent. Within the next 2-3 years, it will grow another 30 percent, and by 2020 it will be around 2.5-5 times what it is today. The cost of energy will be one of the gating factors of success in a data center. How you manage that success will clearly rely on your ability to install sensors and real-time monitoring systems, and how you handle all these as a system. VB: What do you typically find yourself recommending to data centers? If the focus is immediate power reduction, the first step is to enable energy saving features in your servers. The second is to take a look at virtualization. A big problem is that most people don’t fully understand virtualization. The industry forgot the other side of virtualizing, which is in the facility. So when they virtualize, they can drive energy consumption below the facility design limits. When you do that, your cooling systems become unstable and can crash, and so can your power systems. This is not well understood in the industry. The reason a lot of virtualization practices never show up as savings is because the facilities department, which is not part of IT, will do what they think is right: Install processes on their cooling system that add an artificial load in direct proportion to the load you saved in the virtualization process. The device they install is called a hot-gas bypass. They take the output of the cooling system and pipe it into the input. So it keeps the chillers operational. VB: That’s funny, in a sad way. And nobody realizes what’s going on? Most companies now, when they employ these solutions, aren’t metering and managing them. They have one electrical meter sitting on the side of the building somewhere. So they can’t tell what’s going on.