RealTime IT News

Metro Ethernet: It's Either Now or Later

NEW YORK -- Though Ethernet may be everywhere in the enterprise, it isn't everywhere in Municipal/Metro Area Networks (MAN). Yet.

Depending on whether you ask Verizon or AT&T, the time for Metro Ethernet is either now or still a few years away.

Mike Tighe the chairman of the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) and also director of strategy at Verizon Business joined Rich Klapman, product director of Ethernet services at AT&T, addressed just this issue to a well-attended session here at Interop.

Bob Mandeville, president of Iometrix, which is the firm that does the testing that certifies whether a particular deployment is Metro Ethernet Forum compliant. moderated the two carrier competitors.

Mandeville noted that since Ethernet first appeared in 1973, there have been more than 2 billion ports sold, and it clearly dominated in the enterprise space.

For the most part, Ethernet has always been a box, but carriers don't sell boxes; they sell services. Hence the need for the MEF.

The MEF has had to define what Ethernet as a service is, Mandeville explained. He also noted that scalability is a big focus, as well as reliability, protection schemes and management.

There are a number of MEF standards, but the key one according to Mandeville is MEF No. 10.

"It defines the building blocks that are required to define Ethernet services, and all other MEFs revolve around it," Mandeville said.

Even with standards in place, the question remains: When will Ethernet truly be everywhere? The answer to that may well be learned from the frame relay experience.

AT&T's Klapman was an active participant in the process during the late 1980s when frame relay became the dominate Metro Area interconnect.

"We've seen this movie before," Klapman said. "Every new tech must compete with existing technologies."

He added that what the industry learned from the frame relay experience is that there are a number of critical questions that carriers must ask.

"What are the apps driving the bits, what are the endpoints we connect to, and what are the economics."

Klapman argued, however, that even though most companies are switching from routers to switches, and Ethernet convergence on the MAN may seem obvious, there are some hurdles to overcome.

In Klapman's view, enterprises will save on capital and operating expenditure with Ethernet, but the industry ecosystem isn't quite there yet.

But Verizon's Tighe doesn't quite agree. Tighe commented that as Ethernet has expanded, thanks to standards from a best-efforts model to a carrier-grade quality service, it is now relevant across a broad array of industry verticals.

The quality of service that Metro Ethernet can offer was the subject of a terse question that a member of the audience asked.

The audience member wanted to know how the carriers were working to improve reliability and standardize the service level agreements for stringent enterprise deployments.

"If you're not happy with what we have on SONET you won't be happy with Ethernet," Klapman responded. "In the U.S. we just slip Ethernet cords into our SONET boxes."

SONET, or synchronous optical network technology, is a standard for fibre-optic data and voice communication and is widely deployed in carrier networks.

Klapman did say, however, that since 9/11 there has been increasing demand for improved reliability and higher update, and as such maybe SONET isn't good enough.

To that end AT&T is working on some initiatives to further improve reliability across its network, Klapman noted.

"The potential is there for Ethernet to be a bigger market, but the inflection point is two, three years away," Klapman said. "We couldn't handle the demand if it came today."

Tighe has a bit of a different view.

"There is tremendous demand for Ethernet services now because enterprises see the benefit, and service providers see the opportunity, " Tighe said.

"As opposed to two years ago when they had a wait-and-see approach and were worried about cannibalizing existing services."

"It's really not cannibalizing; it's being put in with other services, and it's actually growing our market."

In Tighe's view the tipping point for Metro Ethernet is now, which is a view that Klapman didn't agree with.

"I don't agree and I'm taking a more sober view. All I see is a lot of tire kicking," Klapman said. "Enterprises like the idea of Ethernet but they aren't going to rip out frame relay overnight."

That being the case, both men agreed at the panel wrap-up point that you can't bet against Ethernet.