This blog is part of our series that focuses on the people behind Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at Cisco. Each blog highlights a different Cisco employee whose work makes a positive impact on people, communities, or the planet.
As a large, global company, we have a responsibility to decrease the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from our operations and products. This starts with understanding the contributors to our emissions footprint. Customers’ use of Cisco products accounts for our most significant share of GHG emissions, which was 75 percent in 2021.
Cisco is looking into how our products can use less energy while performing at the same standard. According to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Energy efficiency is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, reduce energy costs for consumers, and improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses. Energy efficiency is also a vital component in achieving net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide through decarbonization.”
At Cisco, we realize that our industry has an essential role in reaching net zero, and we embrace helping our customers decrease their environmental impacts. Increasing the energy efficiency of our products reduces not only our footprint but also our customers’ footprints. An essential first step when it comes to energy efficiency is design. That’s why we reached out to Beth Kochuparambil, a Technical Lead in Cisco’s Common Hardware Group (CHG). She shares her expertise in design, her passion for diverse representation in engineering research, and how we can use tech to create a more sustainable future.
Q: Tell us a bit about your journey as a woman in engineering
Beth: I went to St. Cloud State University in Minnesota for electrical engineering, and I was 1 of 2 women in our graduating class of about 30. I was always different in how I approached problems, conversations, and teamwork. Different but just as capable.
My 12-year journey here at Cisco as a female engineer has been very positive. I might be the only woman on my team, but I see other female engineers in the wider organization and have several support networks available to meet even more. I am fully welcomed in groups I work with and don’t feel like I’m treated differently. My biggest block is often myself; putting myself out there or stepping outside of my comfort zone is a daily choice in this space. I usually tell other women I mentor that you must step outside your comfort zone and be a bold, yet authentic you.
Q: Tell me about your interest in product design – when did it begin, and how has it evolved?
Beth: Right out of college, I found a huge passion in high-speed backplanes and circuit board technology used in telecom systems and data centers. My initial research and design was in signal integrity, making sure a signal could get from one chip to another using 25gbps, that is, 25 billion 1’s or 0’s every second. Through my career I have studied how a signal moves through the backplane, linecard, and even in optical transceivers. I recently finished leading an IEEE standardization project of 100gbps and now studying 200gbps.
In recent years, I’ve gotten to take a step back on the system level, look at all those pieces I worked on individually, and see them as a whole. It’s been neat following the signal through the system. I’ve been focusing more on innovation and sustainability for the years to come. Yes, we need to perform and have the best products out there, but one factor that makes Cisco the best in the industry is the power efficiency at this performance level.
Q: For people who may be unfamiliar: What is energy efficiency?
Beth: Energy efficiency is how much power a product uses to perform its function relative to how much power it consumes. An efficiency number is usually calculated very simply: power out over power in. In this case, the “out” are chips such as the application specific IC (ASIC), central processing unit (CPU), memory, the optics or power over ethernet (POE) circuitry sending communication out of the box, and other components like fans to keep the product cool. Efficiency is about losing as little power as possible throughout the system; some of which is simply unavoidable as energy moves through components and materials.
Q: Can you tell me more about Cisco’s Common Hardware Group (CHG) and your role on the team?
Beth: The Common Hardware Group owns 80-90 percent of the hardware design throughout Cisco. Our team has designed generation after generation of our products such as the Carrier Routing System (CRS) platform to Catalyst and Nexus and even through our server and access point businesses. My smaller team’s official title is Innovation and Standards, and where I get to focus is ensuring all the tools are in the toolkit when our design team needs to make the next product. I get to take a cross functional look at our roadmap and what our products will look like in the future, and we also drive industry standards for this forward-looking technology.
The other part of my role is driving, encouraging, and teaching innovation to others. I run a couple of different programs within CHG and across Cisco that encourage people to learn the patent process and bring up a diverse innovation community at Cisco. Innovation is integral within our design process, and I get to help show colleagues the importance of taking time for that creativity.
Q: What is the most power-hungry component, and what are you doing to optimize its energy consumption?
Beth: It depends on the system; however, we’re finding that today’s system power is often divided 1/3 for optics, 1/3 for ASICs, and 1/3 for the rest of the system. The demand for speed and throughput has increased the necessary power for ASICs in recent years and continue to push boundaries in the optics as well.
What are we doing in that space? It’s constant internal innovation to ensure that we’re balancing power and performance. We’re pushing ourselves to the next speed, using our creativity and making the impossible possible.
One example of searching for that innovation within the internal team is a Net Zero Challenge we held where we asked anyone within CHG to brainstorm ideas for energy efficiency and ways to reduce power needs. We got new ideas from improvements in design simulation, to improved fans, software/hardware interaction, to customer environments, and more. We have a lot in the works for reducing energy consumption, but unfortunately I can’t share too many details due to intellectual property (IP).
Q: Improving energy efficiency and reducing energy consumption is a key priority for Cisco. What benefits do we see from this commitment for the company and the world?
Beth: Industry wide, companies have been making commitments to reducing their carbon footprint, but this is only the beginning. At Cisco, this has helped us raise the conversation in all aspects of our design. Sustainability is now discussed at every stage from concept to customer and has allowed us to re-evaluate every step of the way. For a company our size, we have a unique opportunity to make a big impact and to partner with customers to drive energy efficiency throughout the internet.
Emissions are an urgent issue for our world’s health and future generations. Starting with companies and products now is a great first step. My hope is that people take it all to heart and begin to evaluate behaviors and usage at home just as seriously. Both will be needed to combat climate change.
Very informative. Thank you Beth for your contribution.
Beth is awesome, and I really like this story.
A very informative read. Helps us understand what goes on in individual business units when it comes to sustainability !
There is no more urgent requirement in the world today than our carbon footprint reduction. Thank you Beth and all of the Cisco design and engineering teams for what you are doing to make this happen.
Beth, you are inspirational!
I really like this story.Thank you Beth!
You are great, Beth.
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