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Cisco Rolls Out First 'Connected Grid' Solution in Major Smart Grid Push

Router and switch breakthrough streamlines communications networks, cuts utility operating costs by 45 percent

By Amy Westervelt

May 26, 2010

Networking giant Cisco announced the first offerings in its "Connected Grid" portfolio on Tuesday, a transformational router and switch for utility substations that can combine all communications functions onto an Internet Protocol (IP)-based network.

The technology would slash operating expenses at utilities by up to 45 percent by dramatically improving communications equipment, the company said.

"Right now [utilities] have to run different lines for different types of communication — data, voice and so on — and they're paying a lot in operating expenses for those leased lines," said Sanket Amberkar, Cisco's senior director of Smart Grid Strategy.

The much-hyped announcement, about a year in the making, gives Cisco more momentum in the booming smart grid space. 

Last May, the company first declared its intention to offer what it called an "end-to-end" smart grid solution for utilities — a secure, IP-based network that would enable communications between operations centers, substations and customers. Cisco said the coming breakthrough would also allow utilities to adopt a multitude of smart-grid functions, including smart metering, building automation and demand-response protocols.

Over the last year, the tech world saw a slew of Connected Grid advancements from the firm. It acquired a facility energy monitoring solution, which it later relaunched as ; added , which allows companies to set protocols depending on utility pricing and energy availability information; partnered with everyone from General Electric to Siemens to smart-meter manufacturer Landis + Gyr; and tackled the security issues facing IP as the communications protocol of choice for the smart grid.

But this week's launch of the router and switch marks Cisco's first real for substations.

A utility substation acts as a kind of regional electricity hub. Electricity comes from the power station and goes to the substation, where it is transformed and distributed to low-voltage networks. Cisco says it has tailor made the router and switch to meet these stations' needs, rather than taking an existing router and switch and repackaging them for utilities to use.

For Amberkar, that's an important distinction.

"The environment at a substation is rugged, it's not like a traditional enterprise deployment," explained Amberkar. "First of all, you'll see a wide temperature range because there's nothing there to manage temperature, and then there’s contamination and dust because the equipment is not protected."

To address the temperature issue, the new Cisco router and switch are built to withstand temperatures from 104 degrees Fahrenheit up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

The technologies are also "ruggedized," according to Amberkar, to withstand dust and contamination. They are also built with what's called a "hot swappable power supply" — a power supply that can be switched out while the switch or router is still running and is interchangeable between devices.

"When they put a switch in, they expect it to be there not for the traditional three to five years we see in IT, but really ten to fifteen years," Amberkar explained. "So there can be no moving parts. The requirements changed the whole design of the router and switch."


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