Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blueprint: The Third Network

by Nan Chen, MEF President

The Internet is everywhere, and available on-demand – but it offers no service guarantees, and leaves security to the user. CE 2.0 delivers assured performance and security levels – but it can take weeks to establish a service. The world needs a THIRD Network.

  In 2012, Ethernet bandwidth for business overtook all legacy WAN technologies, and it continues to surge ahead – Fig 1 Also, according to Infonetics Research, Carrier Ethernet revenue in services and equipment will reach $350 billion cumulatively during the next 4 years.  Effectively this means that Carrier Ethernet (CE 2.0) is now the universal “glue” holding global business together – a role once provided by the PSTN during the 20th Century.

 Just consider the two cases: the reliability, performance levels and relative security provided by today’s business services connecting offices across the globe, then compare that with the service mobile workers can expect in their own homes, hotels or on the move when using the Internet.

Of course the miracle of the Internet is that the latter services can still be immediately available almost anywhere, via fixed line or mobile connection, but the downside is that premium office services raise expectations of performance and Quality of Service (QoS) that make mobile business seem slow and frustrating by comparison. It is hard to maintain really effective business negotiations, or technical discussions, when the video image keeps freezing while the speaker talks on – let alone deal with the extra burdens of encryption and security required for safer business.

In both cases the real issue for the user is “connectivity service”. In the former case the service quality, performance and security is outstanding once the service has been established – a process that can take weeks, especially if the connection spans more than one service provider network. In the latter case the service is ubiquitous, immediate and on-demand, but falls short on quality, performance and security.

This is the challenge MEF is now addressing: to envision a THIRD Network that combines the best of both; a THIRD Network that delivers business-class connectivity as a ubiquitous, on-demand service – rather than as a laborious and lengthy installation and commissioning process.

In the words of Bob Metcalfe, Inventor of Ethernet, Professor of Innovation at the University of Texas and Advisory Director of the MEF: “Today we are embarking on the next stage of this remarkable journey with a new vision of the future of network services, building on CE2.0 capabilities. MEF is announcing a new network paradigm, a new THIRD Network vision for Agile, Assured, and Orchestrated services worldwide, one which is based on emerging Network as a Service principles”.

A fertile ground for innovation

It is all very well to express a vision for the future, but is the environment ready and able to make the vision a reality? It was 2010, four years ago, when I gave a presentation comparing Ethernet with the global PSTN, calling for: “a public service Ethernet network bound to provide Ethernet connectivity across the globe as easily as making a telephone call”.

A lot has happened since I expressed that long-term vision. For a start CE 2.0 E-Access provision has made it so much easier to extend services across multiple carrier footprints – the service is increasingly ubiquitous, although it still takes time to establish business SLAs.

Then there is market preparedness: as I write this we already have over seventy companies offering over three hundred CE 2.0 certified services and products – and that is merely since last year’s launch of the certification program – and this number is fast expanding. The importance of this technology is no secret to the business world – we already have over two thousand five hundred MEF Certified Professionals across sixty-five countries worldwide, and that represents a tenfold increase since the launch of CE 2.0.

Next there is the question of need. Humans can be very adaptable, and mobile workers have so far been managing to cope pretty well with the Internet connectivity available, considering its limitations, but the pressure for reform is mounting. It is not just the business-class expectations raised by CE 2.0, there is also the pressure of cloud adoption. As a universal solution – and that ultimately is a vital part of the Cloud’s value proposition – cloud computing will demand all the agility, assuredness and orchestration promised by the THIRD Network. Then there is M2M communications as the next “cloud on the horizon” – while human workers may adapt to whatever best effort service is available, machine to machine communications will demand automatic and immediate delivery on demand.

The THIRD Network

To summarise the argument, business today is served by two types of data networks:
·         Virtual Private Networks based on CE 2.0, MPLS etc., delivering services with assured performance and security, but taking days if not months to initiate across multiple providers.
·         The Internet, delivering on-demand, ubiquitous services but leaving users to deal with security and performance issues.

The MEF believes that there is a need for a new THIRD Network, delivering Agile, Assured and Orchestrated services worldwide, where:
  • Agile means delivery of real-time on-demand services.
  • Assured means delivery of performance and security guarantees
  • Orchestrated means automated delivery of services across multiple service providers.

 How is MEF planning to realise this vision? The solution begins with a simple question: “What makes it so hard to deliver the above type of service today?”.

The answer is that in today’s telecom operations we do not yet have “layered abstraction”. In computing, Hardware is separated from Operating Systems and from Applications, so that each layer can innovate without impacting layers above or below. In telecom operations, however, different systems are in functional silos – with separate inventory, provisioning performance and fault management systems, for example. Each such functional system must hold detailed information of all domains – like Optical, Ethernet or IP. A change in any one domain would result in changing all systems – and that takes extraordinary effort, time and money (see Fig 2)

But using Network as a Services (NaaS) principles, we can develop a layered approach for telecoms operations, to break down complex problems, domain by domain, layer by layer. To achieve this, the industry is working together in three major initiatives – NFV, SDN and Service Orchestration – to develop more responsive and adaptable solutions.

NFV allows us to use general purpose VMs instead of vendor specific network elements, for every network function. SDN is moving control functions in network elements into central controllers. Both NFV and SDN, while providing fundamental building blocks for the THIRD Network, are concerned with network element functions and control – but not the connectivity services businesses or individuals actually purchase. This is where the MEF’s Standardized Service Orchestration comes in – (Fig 3).

Service Orchestration manages the entire lifecycle of connectivity services: Fulfillment, Control, Performance, Assurance, Usage, and Analytics. It holds detailed service inventory of all services in a layer or domain, providing the necessary APIs for information exchange between service providers and internal systems operating at other layers.

Such Service Orchestration is the MEF’s immediate objective. Initial work so far includes: the definition of Service Orchestration lifecycle elements; extending information models to be dynamic and protocol independent; and developing open-standards-based APIs where needed.  All new capabilities leverage and build upon CE 2.0 as the services platform, and this ensures an optimal migration strategy.

It is important to remember that this new THIRD Network can only come into being if we work closely with many and diverse industry leaders. So an expanded collaboration program has been established, called “Unite”, involving key industry standards development bodies. Unite is critical to the acceleration of deployment and realization of the anticipated benefits for all stakeholders, for the THIRD Network – much like CE 2.0 and the Internet/IP Networks – will profoundly change the way we work, live and play.

How we will work, live and play

First imagine the impact of the THIRD Network on anyone taking a business trip. Just by connecting, whether in a hotel or on the move, your personal NaaS performance profile will be automatically loaded, a business-class connection automatically setup – and you are ready for business.
Performance-assured network experience will be available to millions of users with enormous market potential – an exciting prospect for all stakeholders.

Next consider an Enterprise network where customer orders, placed via APIs or portals, initiate automated instructions that flow through to interconnected operators – provisioning virtual service connections where available and physical installations at remote user sites where not. This shows the power of standardized service orchestration, it creates a pervasive virtual network as a platform for on-demand businesses services.

Cloud service delivery will become seamless, with service on-demand network services that interconnect user locations to their virtual machines or Virtual Network Functions running on blade servers inside a remote data center. Automated inter-carrier service orchestration will manage all connectivity – inside and outside the data center.

Finally, to give a taste of what the THIRD Network could mean for society beyond the world of business, I refer back to that presentation I gave in 2010, where I also introduced a concept I called ”Personal Ethernet”.

I gave a single household as an example: Dad, is a media executive needing massive bandwidth to download hi-def video samples; Mum is a social worker, highly reliant on VoIP for counselling and departmental conference calls; Daughter needs reliable fast Internet for schoolwork; Son is crazy about on-line gaming and needs massive bandwidth plus minimal latency and packet loss.

The THIRD Network could deliver all these personalized requirements “as a Service” that would be available equally at home, at work, in school… or even while on vacation. Personal Ethernet would be the ultimate prize for fixed and mobile convergence, and the THIRD Network will make it a practical proposition.

As Bob Metcalfe said in summary at the launch of this vision: “Once again we stand at a new beginning for the world of networking. The THIRD Network auto-orchestrates dynamic, performance-assured services and brings significant growth in the market for all stakeholders. Wouldn’t it be great to have Network as a Service personalized, virtualized and mobilized with an SLA that meets your every need? That’s the promise of the new THIRD Network.”

About the Author

Nan Chen

Nan Chen

President, MEF
Executive Vice Chairman, CENX
Nan is known in the telecom/networking industry as the founding President of the MEF. The MEF has profoundly shaped the telecom and Internet industry by establishing Carrier Ethernet as the predominant technology and service, reaching $60b in revenue, for businesses, homes, mobile infrastructure, and for next generation networking of the Internet.

About the MEF

A communications industry alliance consisting of more than 225 member organizations, the MEF is the defining body for Carrier Ethernet and the driving force behind the global market for Carrier Ethernet services & technologies.

The MEF operates through a powerful collaborative framework where service providers, network solutions suppliers, and other member companies contribute to the development of technical and operational specification, certification, and marketing programs. The MEF has enabled Carrier Ethernet adoption and tremendous communications-related cost savings and productivity gains for service providers and end-users worldwide over the past decade.

Building on this success, the MEF is now focused on enabling a new generation of agile, assured connectivity services that are orchestrated over more efficient, automated, and interconnected global networks. For more information about the MEF – including details about services, network equipment, and professional certification – please visit

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