The Ethernet path to Network on Demand

Ethernet is the network computing gift that keeps on giving. From its inception in 1973 as a 3 megabits/sec copper wired local area network technology, it has evolved to accommodate 40 gigabit/sec and 100 gigabit/sec speeds, fiber optic cabling, and wide area networking. The race is on to reach 400 gigabit/sec speeds and enable more on demand Ethernet-based services.

Ethernet has achieved its success based on the foundation of openness and standardization and that is an ongoing process enabling continual innovation. Achieving end-to-end on demand Ethernet services that span multiple service providers is a key element in realizing the promise of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) for geographically dispersed organizations.

The success of Ethernet-based metropolitan area networks led to the adoption of Carrier Ethernet services that enable providers to deliver seamless links between enterprise LANs and a fully compatible Ethernet-based wide area network (WAN).

TDM Eclipsed

As a result, the era of time-division multiplexing (TDM)-based networking has been eclipsed. WANs are evolving from proprietary technology to open, standards-driven technology that meets the needs of today’s enterprise for flexibility and agility. But we’re not all the way there yet.

The MEF industry association (formerly known as the Metropolitan Ethernet Forum) is striving to complete the standardization effort needed to deliver services over automated, virtualized, and interconnected networks. Its efforts are intended to create the Third Network – a network that combines the assured performance and security of carrier-grade networks with the ubiquitous, on-demand availability of the internet.

Two very important MEF specifications that AT&T is contributing to are MEF 54 – the Ethernet Interconnection Point (EIP) specification, and MEF 55 – the Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) specification.

Standard methods to interconnect

EIP is important because we need a standard method to establish an external-network to network interconnection (E-NNI) between different service providers. As Sean Buckley of FierceWireless observed, “While the MEF has created multiple specifications (including MEF 33) to create a foundation for "plug-and-play" CE 2.0 interconnections, most service providers still use non-standard, custom-built, network-to-network interconnections (NNIs) that are slow and costly to set up.”

Championed by AT&T and the MEF, EIP will bring together service providers and operators with a common framework to interconnect their wholesale Carrier Ethernet services.

LSO is probably even more dear to the hearts of our enterprise customers. “An LSO platform would handle everything from provisioning the customer order to controlling the delivery of the service to gathering metrics and ensuring guaranteed performance levels to remediating fault to providing usage reports to offering analytics to customers,” wrote IDG Communications Network contributor Alan Zeichick.

“One way to think of LSO is as the glue that binds together legacy OSS and BSS services, newer SDN and NFV software, and telecom hardware infrastructure,” says SDxCentral. “Next-generation software systems will include more standardized LSO components, creating native LSO applications.”

Global service with end-to-end management

In order to be able to provide an enterprise customer with services globally with coordinated end-to-end management and control, a provider has to be able to order and provision wholesale services from other providers around the world, which requires orchestration among all the participating service providers, operators, enterprises, and subscribers involved. Without LSO, it could take weeks or months to provision new network services.

AT&T recently introduced a tool that follows the LSO model and helps wholesale customers move faster in qualifying Ethernet-based services. Automating a previously manual process, service providers using the tool can check the availability and speed of select Ethernet-based services by address – all in near real time. The tool combines two AT&T Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that allows wholesale customers to seamlessly and quickly retrieve the information most relevant to their customers.

The MEF efforts are in alignment with AT&T’s efforts to extend its Network on Demand beyond its own network to meet the needs of customers. Network on Demand reinvents the customer experience by putting customers at the center of the network with modern, cloud-based architecture that empowers IT managers to control the network design with the click of a button. Benefits include:

  • Simple and quick click-through contracting and ordering of network services
  • Dialing up or down bandwidth speeds in near real time instead of hours or days
  • Provisioning new communications ports quickly, typically in days compared to weeks

Beyond one provider's network

It’s one thing to offer those services within our own network, but to deliver that on a global basis requires standardization and cooperation across the universe of service providers. MEF is doing crucial work to bring standardization to this new environment and has more than 30 ongoing projects and new initiatives aimed at providing an “on-demand, orchestrated, assured, secured, and cloud-connected experience.”

At MEF16 November 7-10, industry stakeholders will be able to take advantage of high-quality information and analysis, extraordinary peer-to-peer networking opportunities, and valuable insight into cutting-edge services & technologies that will take us where our customers need us to go. The industry is engaged in a major pivot from legacy TDM-based services to Ethernet-driven services, and it’s vital that those stakeholders get engaged before the train leaves the station.

Open standards are the glue that will enable the industry to deliver the solutions that meet the networking needs of the future. Earlier this year, we committed to releasing into open source the software platform that powers our software-defined network. Making our current Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP) platform available in open source lets service providers quickly add features and drive down operations costs. It gives service providers and businesses more control of their network services, and enables developers to create new services.

We’re doing our part and we want to encourage broad engagement by others. MEF16 is a good place to start.

For more information, please go to www.att.com/ethernet.

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