More and more often these days, developers have to design their solutions with communications in mind. The Internet of Things (IoT) is an expansion of the network concept — adding machine-to-machine communications to the network and broadening the possibilities for many consumer and enterprise applications.
Now your solution cannot only deliver results, the information gained can be captured and insight extracted. But developers have a lot of things to consider with regard to communications. Issues like:
- Does my device include network connectivity? If so, what kind?
- What kind of network should I assume?
- How will the device be powered? Where will the power come from?
When it comes to providing power to devices on the network, taking advantage of Power over Ethernet (PoE) capabilities provides a wide range of benefits in terms of power distribution, power management, and efficiency.
If you choose to take advantage of the power distribution capabilities on the network, the next step is to decide how to implement it. To help you decide what kind of PoE solutions to use, I offer you the following two ideas:
1. Be lazy: Take advantage of standards and capabilities already broadly available, making your life easier.
2. Reduce friction: Eliminate proprietary or technical ‘gotchas’ for the end user/customer and make sales and implementation easier.
Be Lazy: A good developer is a lazy developer
Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work with some brilliant software developers … and one particular Engineering Director’s advice stood out. This director would passionately advocate that the best developers were “lazy” developers. This didn’t mean he was looking for employees with sloppy work habits who couldn’t get to work on time.
Rather, he meant that the best developers would find ways to leverage previous solutions, automate repetitive tasks, and minimize their efforts on ‘non-core’ work — focusing what was most important and most valuable. I find this advice to be true in many areas. For solutions connected to the network, for example, don’t spend time architecting and developing proprietary power delivery methods or unique protocols.
Instead, leverage the collective results in the industry. In the case of power in a network application, there are both standard and proprietary implementations of Power over Ethernet. Designing to the current PoE and PoE+ standards gives you a very flexible way to deliver and utilize power in your device. The current PoE standards already provide:
- Flexible power delivery options using either the unused twisted wire pairs in a cable (Alternative B) or sharing the existing data pairs in a standard CAT5 cable for 10Base-T or 100Base-TX (Alternative A). The Power Sourcing Equipment (PSE) can deliver power on either Alternative A or B according to the existing PoE standards
- Predefined voltage and power ranges to support most common applications. The existing PoE standards provide for a relatively wide range of power, up to 25.5W at the Powered Device (PD) with a voltage range of 37-57.0v.
- Integrated power management is included as part of the specification with 4 classification levels that can be negotiated at start up as well as advanced power management through the use of the LLDP-MED Ethernet protocol.
- Cable type and cable length definitions are predefined allowing power to be delivered up to 100 meters from the PSE to the powered device using standard Cat5 cabling.
These specifications and standards are easily available for developers to research, and compatible standard PoE solutions exist in the market from off the shelf PoE silicon vendors. Whether you are designing a PSE or PD, off the shelf PoE silicon provides several advantages including integrated PoE standard specifications, verified compatibility and interoperability with other standard compliant PoE devices. Off-the-shelf PSE silicon vendors offer additional power management options through use of a PoE microcontroller which typically offer automatic or semi-automatic power modes.
Automatic mode takes the guess work out of PSE management by relying on internal PoE microcontroller power management algorithms to balance power loads across muli-port PSE designs. Semi-Auto mode utilizes existing power algorithms combined with configurable options to allow host based designs to manage PSE ports according to customer interaction and management while maintaining PoE standards. The best part of this availability is that relying on a standard PoE implementation means you can simplify your development and QA process. So, when designing power into an application on the network, I encourage you to ‘be lazy’ and stick to a standard PoE implementation.
Reduce friction: Take the guesswork out of purchase and consideration
Making products and solutions easy to choose, easy to implement, and easy to buy are all considerations that you would think would be top-of-mind for any product team who intends to put their solution on the market. But, too often, as innovators we get wrapped up in ‘doing it right.’ We want to implement the perfect solution with purpose built components that do exactly what we intend them to do.
However, once you go to market, the reality is that every implementation is different. Customers’ environments are not all 100% the same — so what worked perfectly in your lab or during the beta may not be quite as perfect out there in the wider world.
Sticking to a standardized implementation will make it easier for customers to integrate into their own unique environments. Every enterprise seeks to avoid vendor lock-in; if you can deliver a device based on industry standards, pre-sales concerns will be eliminated early on in the process.
It’s also just a good idea not to force your potential customer into a lengthy spec review and design consideration process when you can eliminate some of those issues through standardization. By smoothing out the buying process, you reduce the friction of a potential sale.
Will a logo or certification help?
One way that customers can be assured that their solution is based on relevant standards is through certification testing. There are third-party laboratories (the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab is one example) that provide this kind of testing.
Making certification even more obvious through an industry logo will further simplify choices when purchasing solutions. This has been very successfully implemented by the WIFI Alliance, for example. Certification (with a visible logo or mark for the purchaser to verify conformance) is a wise addition to your solution — giving customers a visible indication of product capabilities and standards conformance. A logo then becomes a way for you to reduce the friction in the buying decision.
When it comes to a networked device, you have a few choices to make about how to provide power while remaining connected. I recommend sticking to the industry standard whenever possible. It’s an easy choice to make and it helps your customer make an easy choice as well.
To help customers identify products designed to industry standards, the Ethernet Alliance is exploring the creation of a PoE logo certification program. Such a program would help to improve the utilization of PoE in many different application areas.
On Wednesday August 27 the Ethernet Alliance will hold a conference call to explore the creation of a PoE logo certification program, and is seeking industry-wide input. The call is open to all, and further details regarding the call and registration may be found at: http://bit.ly/1A6Rrpd.
About the author: Jonathan Seckler is the Marekting Chair of the PoE Subcommittee Marketing Chair within the Ethernet Alliance and Director of Product Marketing for Dell Networking. Before joining Dell, Jonathan was the Product Line Management leader for Advanced Micro Devices’ Low Power Client Platform, where he launched AMD’s first system-on-a-chip, the AMD E-series APU.