How Ethernet enables cloud connectivity

Rosemary Cochran, VSG

Cochran (Image source: VSG)

Enterprise IT managers cite cloud computing as among their most important initiatives this year. Nearly two-thirds of them have already begun transitioning their business-critical applications to the cloud. A driving force is the exponential rise of big data that requires massive storage, virtualized computing and ready accessibility from anywhere in the world.

Carrier Ethernet has emerged as a strategic technology for enabling cloud connectivity in this environment. Worldwide demand for business Ethernet services will reach $45.1 billion by 2016, based on Vertical Systems Group's projections. An evolving market driver is the migration of legacy wide area network architectures to a new generation of public, private and hybrid cloud computing models. 

Ethernet is the service of choice for higher bandwidth applications due to lower costs per bit as compared to legacy services, plus scalable connectivity to multi-gigabit speeds. As illustrated in this network trends graphic, global business Ethernet bandwidth has surged beyond bandwidth for legacy data services and will continue to climb during the next several years. The U.S. market was slightly ahead on this trend, with the Ethernet vs. legacy bandwidth crossover occurring in 2011.

VSG global Ethernet trends

Click here for a larger view of this network trends graphic.

Cloud models map to application and connectivity requirements. The most common cloud offerings are SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service). Public cloud services (e.g., AWS, Google, etc.) support shared applications, accommodate distributed users and are generally accessible via the Internet. Private clouds are designed for use by a single entity and accommodate business-critical applications with specific security or performance requirements. Private clouds reside at enterprise data centers, off-site data centers or collocation facilities, or are managed by a cloud service provider (e.g., AT&T, CenturyLink Savvis, Verizon Terremark, etc.). Connectivity for private clouds is deterministic, so deployments primarily rely on Ethernet or other dedicated network services. Some private cloud designs integrate wireless access to selected applications.

The reality is that many enterprises have a mix of applications, requiring the use of multiple public or private clouds. Hybrid implementations that incorporate both public and private cloud functionality are also gaining traction, with advanced deployments integrating resources and cross-domain data sharing.

Ethernet enables cloud connectivity through several service types:

  • Ethernet Private Lines (EPLs) and Ethernet Virtual Private Lines (EVPLs) are the top services for private cloud and inter-data center connectivity. EPLs provide point-to-point connections, while EVPLs also support point-to-multipoint connectivity using EVCs (Ethernet Virtual Connections). Traffic prioritization is provided through CoS (Class of Service) features. 
  • Ethernet DIA (Dedicated Internet Access) services are used primarily for connectivity to public cloud offerings.
  • E-Access to IP/MPLS VPN implementations are increasing for hybrid Ethernet/IP VPNs that link to public services or to private clouds.
  • E-LAN services are used for private cloud connectivity between on-net enterprise sites and data centers. Metro LAN services connect sites within a metro area, and WAN VPLS services support wide area topologies.

Ethernet-based cloud connectivity is also heating up for collocation companies (e.g., Equinix, Telx, etc.). Exchange services offer vendor-neutral connections among cloud providers, content/media providers, network service operators and enterprises. Ethernet simplifies physical connections for exchange participants and enables virtual interconnectivity. These capabilities facilitate new business models that disrupt the economics of traditional wide area networks. Look for exchange ecosystems to expand their cloud offerings during 2013.

Standards for Ethernet-based cloud connectivity continue to advance. The MEF's Carrier Ethernet 2.0 (CE 2.0) initiative provides guidelines for cloud-ready Ethernet services and equipment. Developments are focused on multi-network Interconnectivity, end-to-end SLAs (Service Level Agreements), application-aware QoS (Quality of Service) and dynamic bandwidth provisioning. A new CE 2.0 certification process aims to ensure standards adherence.

There is also strong momentum for Software Defined Networking (SDN). Ethernet providers are evaluating the benefits of SDN to support their IP networks, data centers and cloud services as well as to facilitate the delivery of enhanced capabilities like on-demand service provisioning.

What's really clear about the shift to cloud computing is that network connectivity is essential, and increasingly more complex. Cloud users want high speed, reliable, secure, manageable access to their applications. Monetization opportunities abound for Ethernet providers that can successfully deliver innovative cloud services and flexible connectivity solutions.

Rosemary Cochran is the principal and co-founder of Vertical Systems Group, a market research firm located in Norwood, Mass.