Has the time come for Ethernet as a WAN service?

For its entire existence as an entity, data networking has been a conglomeration of special interface and protocols. In stark contrast to the "plug and play" simplicity of analog telephony – where you simply attach the cord to an RJ-11 jack on the wall and everything "works," the intrinsic complexity of networking has forever called for specialists. Additionally, this need for special interfaces and protocols has been augmented by a ceaselessly shifting morass of governmental regulations that specified which services may and may not be offered by the "service provider."

The ultimate goal from many perspectives would be that data services would become as simple as voice services of old. In particular, there would be one standardized interface that everybody understood, you simply attached your equipment, and it works.

Admittedly, we're not there, yet, but we may be a giant step closer. And the lynchpin for these services may well be wide area Ethernet services.

Global Ethernet services are becoming a step closer to reality as multiple service providers, including Global Crossing, roll out Ethernet-based services that span not only the LAN and the Metro area but also cover the WAN. (In some cases, these services are also referred to as Virtual Private LAN Services, or VPLS.)

This is the culmination of years of compromise and conflict. For the youngsters among the audience, there actually was a time when it was not a "given" that Ethernet would become the de facto communications protocol for LANs. Strong competitors included Token Ring, ATM LANs, and a plethora of vendor-specific protocols. But in the long run, Ethernet has emerged as "the" protocol, even though there are many aspects of Ethernet that are far removed from the earlier limitations.

Consequently, with this one protocol, it's now possible for a network technician to need to know how to troubleshoot only one Layer 2 protocol, greatly simplifying the training and support needs. (Of course, within the network, the traffic may well be engineered to run over a different protocol, but that's a story for another day.)

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