The evolution of Carrier Ethernet

Carrier Ethernet is no longer the new kid on the block. Its many virtues, from flexibility and scalability to lower operational costs and greater simplicity and interoperability, are now well understood and widely attractive to carriers and, more importantly, their customers.


June 30, 2009

5 Min Read
The evolution of Carrier Ethernet
The evolution of Carrier Ethernet

Carrier Ethernet is no longer the new kid on the block. Its many virtues, from flexibility and scalability to lower operational costs and greater simplicity and interoperability, are now well understood and widely attractive to carriers and, more importantly, their customers.

A number of business trends have emerged that are changing the traditional nature of telecom products and services and driving new demand curves. For example, the maturation of virtualisation and cloud-based applications is driving significant changes in user behaviour and network resource utilisation.  Since virtualisation is a demand trend that is shifting IT resources from the Local Area Network (LAN) into an operator or application service provider’s network, it stresses the network to adapt and scale quickly while ensuring quality and performance, particularly for those mission critical applications for which the enterprise user is now trusting someone else to support.  Service providers are left with no choice but to evolve their business model to one that more effectively manages the demand for new services and network traffic distribution as well as bandwidth growth requirements, all of which can be addressed with Carrier Ethernet technology.

The MEF groundwork

While initially attractive due to its cost, Carrier Ethernet’s adoption is now primarily driven by the shift in emphasis to top-line revenue growth through the creation and deployment of new Ethernet services with greater velocity, automation and customisation.

For this to happen effectively, operators should build on the foundations laid out by the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) and work with the industry to focus on a comprehensive and sophisticated form of Carrier Ethernet that addresses operational complexity.  If done successfully, operators will have open to them new levels of speed, differentiation, operational scalability and reliability in delivering revenue generating Ethernet business services.

The MEF laid the foundations for Carrier Ethernet by establishing five areas which distinguished it from LAN Ethernet. These are: Standardised Services, Scalability, Reliability, Quality of Service (QoS) and Service Management.  These attributes provide carrier-class capabilities to transform traditional LAN Ethernet into a technology suitable for deployment in service provider Metro and Wide Area Networks (MANs and WANs). Providers can use Carrier Ethernet-based business services to deliver these capabilities while minimising the cost of delivery, compared with other technologies.

The MEF also defined three key service types associated with Carrier Ethernet:  E-Line services to provide a secure, point-to-point connection between two customer locations, E-LAN services to enable an extension of a business LAN to multiple locations and the emerging E-Tree service type supports multicast services, such as business IP television (IPTV).

With the breadth and flexibility of the key Ethernet business service types, service providers have the means to customise a wide range of value-added Ethernet applications and services that can drive top-line growth and profitability.

Building on the standards

The Carrier Ethernet story is today moving on.  New capabilities and features are being deployed that go further than the minimum requirements established by MEF, ushering in the age of what we at Ciena define as True Carrier Ethernet.

In a nutshell, True Carrier Ethernet goes beyond standardised service definitions into technology and operational advancement that improves an operator’s ability to deploy, provision and manage cost effective Ethernet based solutions.  True Carrier Ethernet brings about additional benefits in each of the core five Carrier Ethernet qualifiers set out by the MEF.

For Standardised Services, True Carrier Ethernet enables operators to optimise bandwidth, network paths, and reliability alternatives without sacrificing service quality or selection.  This is enabled by supporting all MEF services across any topology and different tunnel encapsulation formats. True Carrier Ethernet supports 802.1ad Provider Bridging and can deliver and transport MEF services using MPLS/ H-VPLS and PBB-TE technologies, along with SDH-like 50ms restoration capabilities.  By supporting these important technologies, True Carrier Ethernet enables carriers to leverage existing network investments and select, mix, and match the wide-area services that best meet their needs today and in the future.

Network and topology limits are easily overcome through True Carrier Ethernet, addressing the scalability requirements of the MEF standards and building on them and including features such as ‘discovery’ and ‘automated service activation’. Bandwidth can scale to very large capacity, but in very granular steps. It is still in its early days, but virtual switching technology will play a big part in this and will enable flexibility and interoperability with existing and emerging technologies.

True Carrier Ethernet improves reliability for the service. By using a multi-tiered tunnel approach, operators can add, service, and upgrade sites without having to touch all layers of network elements. Only the lowest tier of PBB-TE tunnels must be reconfigured. This capability simplifies the provisioning and ongoing maintenance effort, reducing operations costs while still easing the transition for those trained in SDH management environments.

The fourth MEF standard, QoS, can be built upon further by delivering unprecedented levels of service classification, enabling rich service stratification for broader customer appeal and higher revenues. This can be achieved through service aggregation switches that allow for up to 64 service class levels.  Additionally, QoS can be improved by segmenting bandwidth using hierarchical QoS enforcement at each level: service category, customer, department or user, and application.

Finally, there is service management. True Carrier Ethernet dramatically improves the time to discover network elements and resources, and to provision services and tunnels. This ability enables rapid and accurate provisioning of flexible services. Service provisioning has been simplified through the use of provisioning wizards. For instance, an operator can select two endpoints for a point-to-point service and run the provisioning wizard to set service-specific fields, automatically creating the service and configuring any intermediate elements. Service attributes, such as QoS parameters-committed information rate, excess information rate and burst parameters-can be configured and later changed automatically through the use of service templates defining those parameters.

With True Carrier Ethernet advances delivering a wide range of capabilities and features that enhance the key Ethernet business service attributes, service providers can realise new levels of speed, agility, and performance in the deployment of revenue-generating services.  Ethernet has already proven itself as one of the most successful networking technologies ever in the LAN space and it has now proved that it can mature into a true carrier proposition.

Vinay Rathore is senior marketing director at network specialist Ciena

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