Ethernet: It's not just for the LAN any more

CHICAGO'Ethernet was developed as a local area networking technology, but it has begun pushing out to the metro and wide area arenas.

'Over the last several years, we've been building up the elements of Ethernet outside of the enterprise,' said Mark Fishburn, chairman of the Metro Ethernet Forum.

The forum, an industry organization that promotes carrier class Ethernet, has completed work on 12 specifications for implementing existing standards into products. The goal is to enable and certify interoperable Ethernet networking products.

'There is more work to be done,' Fishburn said.

But the work has progressed to the point that the forum is conducting its first interoperability demonstration with equipment from 30 companies at the SuperComm trade show this week.

The demo covers eight technology areas intended to enable real-world delivery of what the industry calls triple-play services'voice, video and data. These are:

  • Guaranteed rate Internet access

  • Circuit emulation

  • Service-aware infrastructure

  • Connectivity between businesses

  • IP television

  • Multigigabit Internet access

  • Voice over IP

  • Broadband services convergence.

The forum cites analysts' predictions that the market for carrier Ethernet equipment will double by 2008, to $7.6 billion in annual sales. Service revenues are expected to exceed $19 billion by 2007.

'It's really the cost that is driving this,' said David Lee, vice president of marketing and services for Telco Systems Inc. of Foxboro, Mass.

Ethernet, developed in the early 1970s, has grown up with the Internet. The chips and networking equipment are ubiquitous and cheap; the technology is reliable; and it is well understood by network administrators. Ethernet is estimated to be 40 to 60 percent cheaper than asynchronous transfer mode.

Telco's entry in the interoperability demo is an IP Ethernet ring solution with recovery from network outages under 50 milliseconds. Quick recovery is necessary for delivering time-sensitive applications such as voice and video. Achieving this recovery time was not a trivial effort.

'Inherent in Ethernet is a distaste for loops,' where duplication of traffic confuses it, Lee said. Fine tuning the spanning tree algorithms that find and block redundant data paths accomplished this fast switching.

'It really isn't simple,' Lee said.

It has taken Telco years to prepare the major software upgrade to its T5 Compact family of IP switches. 'We're one of the early vendors to come into the market,' he said.

The Metro Ethernet Forum is slowly getting its certification program under way for interoperable carrier Ethernet products. Iometrix Inc. of South San Francisco, Calif., is performing the initial testing.

The first batch of certifications, for forum member companies that have submitted products for testing by June 9, will be announced in September at the Carrier Ethernet World Congress in Berlin. Eventually, multiple testing labs will be added and nonmember companies will be able to submit products.

Although standards and specifications still are evolving, carrier Ethernet technology is mature, Fishburn said. 'There's no need to wait' to deploy it.

Time Warner Telecom Inc. of Littleton, Colo., began offering metro Ethernet services in 2001 with Ethernet over SONET. In 2003, it began offering switched native LAN services over Ethernet fiber ring, which can also include managed intercity services.

Although ATM has a good grip on wide area networking, Ethernet is cheaper and easier to manage, said Ann Mahoney, a vice president of marketing for Time Warner's data and Internet services.

'You can pass more traffic than you can by frame,' Mahoney said. 'Ethernet is a great vehicle for moving large amounts of data quickly and easily.'

The government market, particularly the military segment, has been slow to adopt Ethernet in the WAN because of the ATM installed base, said Jim Johnson, senior director of Time Warner federal programs.

Still, 'we've been most successful in the DOD side,' where the company is not competing with contract holders in the General Services Administration's Metropolitan Area Acquisition telecom program, Johnson said. 'We're starting to see this asked for in contracts.'

The Air Force and the Energy Department, who use it to move files between government labs, have been the early adopters of the technology. Large files can be accommodated without adding additional equipment in the LAN and at a lower cost than buying a private line.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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