Auto shutoff switches save money, tighten security

Learn how auto shutoff is a good way to secure unused network ports

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If your company is going to make one major security investment in 2009, we suggest looking inside your wiring closet first. Why?

While locking down unused network ports doesn't sound very sexy, auto shut-off is a good way to secure your unused ports, by keeping prying PCs from entering your network at unexpected places. It also can be a big physical security issue, especially in publicly accessible buildings such as hospitals and government offices.

First, do a quick census of all the gear inside all of your wiring closets. You don't have to be too anal here: just quickly estimate the number of ports, regardless of whether or not they are in use. Now use some fudge factors for the number of watts per port -- if you have this information, fine, otherwise for the purposes of this tally, use 50 watts for unpowered Ethernet and 500 watts for powered ports, and add in the power consumption figures for anything else that is plugged into an electrical outlet.

Now, add up the kilowatts, multiply by 8760 hours/year and multiply by the cost of electricity in your area. If you don't know, say 15 cents per kwh. Surprised at how big a number this is? Now here is where the hero part comes into play: replace some of this gear with switches that can turn themselves off automatically during off-hours.

Huh? "Our networks have to operate 24×7" you say. "We can't turn anything off. What about the people that come in on the weekends?"

Still, think about it. Adtran and D-Link, among others, have switches that do this. You can set up profiles for particular ports on the switch to shut off at certain times of the day, or to provide less power to those ports that are just running to ordinary PC endpoints. You wouldn't think this would add up to a lot of saved juice, but if you have a lot of powered Ethernet ports--say, supporting Wi-Fi access points and VOIP phones--it can really add up quickly, into the tens of thousands of dollars a year. This could easily pay for part of the upgrade to your infrastructure.

Granted, this upgrade can get pricey, particularly if you have a lot of ports to replace. Still, we've heard where customers have seen less than one year ROIs on these switches, and the paybacks are immediate and very measurable and directly are seen in your lower utility bills.

Switches aren't the only things that can cycle their power loads down these days. Intel's latest multicore chips have the ability to turn off several of their cores to save on electricity, or to funnel processing to particular tasks to match their computing loads. There are virtualization provisioning products that will automatically spin up virtual servers to match increased loads, and then spin them down when the loads drop.

It is funny: Going green these days means getting a more powerful box and turning stuff off. Makes you stop and think, doesn't it?

David Strom is a St. Louis, Mo.-based author, speaker, podcaster and consultant who writes frequently about information security topics.


This was first published in February 2009

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