Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Blueprint: What’s Next for Carrier Ethernet?

by Stan Hubbard and Members of the MEF

More than 1,000 service providers and network operators worldwide now rely on Carrier Ethernet (CE) to support high-performance Ethernet & Ethernet-enabled data services, to interconnect network-enabled cloud services, to underpin 4G/LTE mobile and consumer triple play services, and to meet internal networking needs. Tens of thousands of businesses and enterprises in every industry vertical have transitioned to these CE services in order to control communications costs, efficiently scale with traffic demand, improve business agility, and boost productivity.

As the dominant protocol of choice for affordable, scalable, high-bandwidth connectivity, Ethernet has overtaken TDM in the wide area network (WAN) and has emerged as the indispensable digital fuel for accelerating communications-related business transformation. According to Vertical Systems Group, global business Ethernet services bandwidth surpassed installed legacy services bandwidth in 2012 and is projected to exceed 75% of total global business bandwidth by 2017. In short, CE has transformed the WAN network over the past decade.

CE’s key drivers

The twenty-first century’s accelerating bandwidth consumption paved the way for Carrier Ethernet and continues to drive demand. It was not just the size of the available bandwidth, however, but also the granular way it could be delivered.

Taking mobile backhaul as an example: as pressure on the network increased there was nothing to stop the operator from ordering further leased lines from the cell tower to core, but each extra line meant a big jump in cost, it took time and manual labour to install, and the effort needed to be justified in terms of future expected demand. But with a CE connection bandwidth could be raised immediately in small increments as needed, without field installation, and it could just as easily be lowered if the demand boost turned out to be temporary. This moved business from CapEx towards more flexible OpEx pricing model.

From a carrier perspective, CE’s flexibility gave similar benefits: enterprise custom could be attracted with “bandwidth on demand” services, and CE offered enormous scalability to accommodate new customers and rising demand.

Another advantage of Ethernet were that customers were already familiar with Ethernet in the LAN, so it was easier to understand and adapt to CE than to gather expertise in legacy WAN protocols like ATM and Frame Relay. The fact that enterprise customers typically wanted the carrier to link their Ethernet LANs, also made CE attractive as an end-to-end Ethernet solution.

Given the above drivers that helped launch the uptake of Carrier Ethernet, there arises another type of driver, and that is market momentum. As CE went mainstream, the relatively simple CE hardware (compared with legacy WAN systems) gained mass sales and became increasingly cost-effective. This further accelerated CE’s performance-price benefits.

The reason that cost was such a strong driver for CE was that its uptake coincided with a serious economic downturn, putting cost-efficiency high on the buying agenda for much of the first decade. But it was never the only factor: flexibility and simplicity are also very much in demand in times of high competition, and CE also majored on those benefits.

Lastly, sales exploded as standards were established – but that is a topic in itself.

Standards and the role of the MEF

Founded in 2002, the MEF is a global industry alliance with the aim to accelerate the worldwide adoption of Carrier-class Ethernet networks and services. The MEF develops Carrier Ethernet technical specifications and implementation agreements to promote interoperability and deployment of Carrier Ethernet worldwide.

As well as being responsible for the creation of Carrier Ethernet, the combined effort of MEF member companies has been to define, develop, and encourage worldwide adoption of standardized CE services and technologies. During the 2008 recession, even with CE offering massive benefits in cost and flexibility, business would have been far more nervous about migrating to a relatively new technology, had it not been for the MEF’s certification program, firstly to certify equipment to global CE standards, then services and then professional expertise.

According to Marie Fiala Timlin, Director of Marketing, CENX: “Vendors have converged on common CE standards, advocated by the MEF, so the SP has multiple options of standards-compliant infrastructure equipment, which will interoperate cleanly in the network.  Those benefits get passed on to the end-user in the form of high quality Internet connections, supported by CE service performance attributes.” Timlin added: “Furthermore, the specifications are continuously updated as technology and experience evolves, hence ensuring that vendors and SPs can innovate and yet remain standardized.”

And Christopher Cullan, Director of Product Marketing, Business Services, InfoVista, explained: “We’re in the standardization phase today with defined best practices from the MEF. MEF 35 is available with the basic support of Carrier Ethernet network and service performance monitoring, and MEF 36 and MEF 39 provide two constructs to enable MEF 35 using SNMP and NETCONF respectively. Some leading vendors are already moving forward, with MEF 35 compliance, and MEF 36. These cut the integration effort for an Ethernet device to enable full, MEF-aligned performance monitoring – valuable to both the internal stakeholders like operations and engineering as well as for end customers.”

The current suite of standards has been labelled “CE 2.0”. As Zeev Draer, VP Strategic Marketing, MRV explained: “The combined effort to ratify CE 2.0 was paramount in CE’s adoption in wide area and global international networks. CE 2.0 provides the right toolkit for legacy network replacement based on multiple Classes of Service (Multi-CoS), interconnect and manageability.”

“Interconnect” refers to CE 2.0’s E-Access, as Madhan Panchaksharam, Senior Product Manager, VeryX, explained: “The wholesale interconnect process has been tremendously simplified by MEF E-Access. The combined effort has resulted in overcoming delays in the wholesale interconnect process. This has enabled bigger carriers to quickly expand across geographies, and provided business opportunities for many smaller carriers to interconnect with bigger players and maximize their revenues.”

Already 26 service providers in 12 countries now offer more than 74 CE 2.0-certified services, and many more are in the process of services certification and/or have been building out CE 2.0-compliant services.  Meanwhile, 34 network equipment companies now offer 145 devices that are CE 2.0-certified and thus capable of powering CE 2.0 services. More than 2,300 individuals from 257 organizations in 62 countries have now been recognized as MEF Carrier Ethernet Certified Professionals (MEF-CECP or MEF CECP 2.0) – a population that has nearly tripled in the past 12 months. With MEF-CP standards, SPs can identify knowledgeable professionals to manage data network operations across a multi-vendor infrastructure.

MEF standards clearly help to harmonise the technical aspects, but they also make it easier to communicate between regions and business cultures, as Olga Havel, Head of Product Strategy and Planning, Amartus explains: ”We are creating the common industry language that specifies CE services, and therefore significantly reduces the cost of delivery for these services.” Christopher Cullan also says: “The more that CE standards are communicated to the buyer market (e.g. Enterprise), the greater the level of understanding, and hence adoption.”

Where next for CE adoption?

Zeev Draer says: “We are at a maturing stage in the networking industry... It’s no longer about big pipe connectivity, but more about application-driven intelligence with strong end-to-end multi-layer provisioning of services, performance monitoring across layers, and high elasticity of the network that should scale to millions of subscribers and services.”

Christopher Cullan agrees, adding: “Cheaper-than-TDM, is no longer good enough, it must be proven through simple, easily understood SLAs. As margins shrink with market maturity, over-provisioning cannot solve the needs of the enterprise business cost-effectively... Communication Service Providers need SLAs that align with the market and are standardized such that services are less bespoke and more cost effective.”

There is general agreement with these comments about the growing demands of cloud computing. Marie Fiala Timlin said: “CE is a means to connect enterprises to the cloud with guaranteed SLAs.  Within the data center itself, CE is the mechanism to provide quality exchange connectivity between tenants, and between the tenant enterprise to the cloud-based application server.  Also, CE serves to interconnect data center locations”.

For Zeev Draer: “The next step for Carrier Ethernet adaption will be highly focused on BSS and OSS integrations along standardization in CE 2.0 APIs. This is the most critical area that will save OPEX and enable new services such as the "Internet of Things" and services that didn't exist up to now. Now that we see maturity in CE definitions and more stringent technology factors than required from any large service provider, the focus will be on automation and monetization of CE services.”

Olga Havel agrees: “Automation is the key word right now, Service Providers and MEF must now focus on automation of full Carrier Ethernet delivery lifecycle (Design->Provision->Operate) in order to monetize their today’s networks and be ready to operate tomorrow’s virtualized networks. The next step for CE adoption is real-time OSS – service-centric orchestration platforms with open APIs that enable Software-Defined Service Orchestration.”

Towards agile, assured services orchestrated over efficient, interconnected networks
One way for SPs to compete is by reducing OPEX and increasing service lifecycle efficiency for interconnected SLA-oriented networks. Customers will pay more for performance guarantees, especially in cloud access networks with SLA dependency. But it requires a rich set of OAM capabilities for end-to-end service visibility.

Carrier Ethernet needs to evolve further to accommodate and facilitate new services  oriented towards business applications and needs. These require flexibility, agility, inter-connectivity and security in networks. Achieving these will require new CE attributes, interface definitions and APIs to enable greater programmability and automation.

Madhan Panchaksharam believes: “There is an increasing need to articulate MEF’s vision to bring together various players in the eco-system such as enterprises, cloud service providers, carriers and infrastructure providers, to demonstrate how this agility and dynamic delivery models can be achieved”. He sees the convergence of Carrier Ethernet, NFV and SDN as carriers transition towards agile, on-demand and flexible service models especially for cloud-type applications: “Carrier Ethernet has inherently better capabilities that can enable these goals to be achieved without sacrificing the quality of experience for users.”

However, NFV sub networks or overlays add further complexity according to Marie Fiala Timlin, who sees a corresponding need for next generation service orchestration systems: “Today’s OSS are siloed by function: inventory, fault, provisioning, performance monitoring.  One needs a holistic view of the network for end-to-end service fulfilment and assurance.  Also APIs between technology domains, and between carriers, are needed to help automate workflows for service agility”.

For Olga Havel too: “What needs to happen next is standardization of MEF Service Orchestration APIs. This will open the way for MEF certification for CE service orchestration platforms and interfaces. These APIs would enable users, applications and OSSs to design, provision & operate MEF services over single and multiple operators’ networks. MEF Service Management Reference Architecture must take into account integration between multiple Operators, but also with NFV Orchestrators and Cloud Managers for providing delivery of end-to-end connectivity services between Carrier Ethernet and Data Centre VMs and/or VNFs”.


The MEF has a reputation for moving quickly to anticipate business needs and deliver solutions and standards at the right time. Recognising that the issues go beyond technology and tools, the MEF launched its Service Operations Committee (SOC) last year to define, streamline and standardize processes for buying, selling, delivering and operating MEF-defined services.

MEF GEN14The SOC has established several projects to develop process flows, use cases and APIs to support all aspects of the ordering and provisioning of MEF-defined Ethernet services and accelerate delivery of MEF services to customers.

The MEF is also shaping a Vision and White Paper towards standardising delivery of dynamic connectivity services via physical or virtual network functions orchestrated over multiple operator’s networks. The MEF is also addressing the need for standardised service orchestration APIs. Later this year the MEF will be announcing more detail about its industry vision and various strategic initiatives.

The MEF Global Ethernet Networking 2014 (GEN14) event will be held on 17-20 November at the Gaylord National in Washington, DC.  GEN14 is a global gathering of the CE community defining the future of network-enabled cloud, data, and mobile services powered by the convergence of CE 2.0, SDN and virtualization technologies.

More information about GEN14 is available at www.gen14.com

About the Author

Stan Hubbard, Director of Communications & Research, MEF is a veteran Carrier Ethernet analyst Hubbard, who was previously Senior Analyst at independent research organization Heavy Reading for 9 years.


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