MEF standardization drives development of Ethernet business services

Michael Kennedy, Network Strategy Partners LLCMomentum for the widespread adoption of Ethernet business service offerings has been building steadily for nearly a decade and now appears to be poised to make major inroads into the installed base of T1/E1, frame relay, and ATM legacy services. A nearly decade-long effort by the MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum) to define and standardize services and their essential OAM (Operations, Administration and Maintenance) underpinnings underlies this success.

Service offerings as opposed to technologies have a lot of inertia. In the United States, the service revenue derived from retail Ethernet business services is very small compared to that derived from T1, Frame Relay, ATM and PSTN voice services. In contrast, nearly all of the new investment in network infrastructure is directed toward next gen technology including carrier Ethernet products. Ethernet business services have faced particularly high adoption barriers due to Ethernet's origins as a LAN technology with the LAN's much lower reliability, manageability, and security requirements as compared to service provider technologies like circuit switching and SONET. Ethernet business services' early metro area network focus also was a barrier to adoption in that most enterprises require regional, national, or international network connectivity.

Maturation of Ethernet business services can be broken into three phases. The first phase, which took place from 2001 through 2004, involved service definition where the explicit goal was to create Ethernet analogs to legacy services such as point-to-point TDM/SONET private lines (E-LINE) and frame relay (E-LAN) services. An equally important milestone occurred in 2004 with the establishment of the Carrier Ethernet terminology and definitions that addressed head-on the need to extend services beyond the metro area and the need to comply with carrier (service provider) rather than IT reliability, manageability and security requirements.

The last six years have seen MEF efforts directed toward the implementation and certification of equipment for conformance with MEF specifications. The critical specifications include MEF 9--E-LINE/E-LAN service functions, MEF 14--E-LINE/E-LAN service performance, MEF 18--Circuit Emulation over Ethernet, and MEF 21--Ethernet link OAM compliance. The equipment certification program is essential, in my view, to building credibility for vendor claims of "Carrier Class" quality.

MEF certified service providersThese standardization efforts have created the framework needed to market, sell and support Ethernet business services. The ability to easily and seamlessly provide end-to-end retail services across multiple service provider networks as is done for E1/T1, PSTN and IP networks remains a barrier to be overcome before Ethernet business services can supplant the legacy offerings. For example, one reason Ethernet business services have had much less market success than MPLS VPN services is that MPLS VPNs employ easily interconnected E1/T1 circuits for transport in the access network and the ubiquitous IP protocol for networking functions. In contrast, most existing Ethernet business services are proprietary to a single service provider that must solve off-net connectivity issues on a case-by-case basis.

The MEF's standardization efforts are now focused on breaking down the network-to-network interconnection barrier. Completed work includes MEF 23--Carrier Ethernet Class of Service that defines standardized service classes. This simplifies transactions for both customers and service providers. MEF 26--External NNI (E-NNI) that creates a standard interconnection between two Carrier Ethernet networks. This allows two service providers to establish ENNIs with each other. Tier 1 providers typical develop such agreements. ENNI also enables the creation of an Ethernet exchange in which a third party provides a service that permits the interconnection of multiple service provider Carrier Ethernet networks.

MEF Ethernet interconnectThis is particularly attractive when a Tier 1 service provider needs to interconnect with many Tier 2 and Tier 3 service providers. From a marketing perspective, an Ethernet exchange is analogous to a stock exchange that provides the service of bringing many buyers and sellers together to facilitate the faster and easier exchange of stocks. E-NNI helps open the market for Ethernet business services by making it possible for an enterprise to obtain Ethernet business services at all of its locations regardless of the number of service providers needed to provide the coverage. Ethernet business services become just like the Internet or PSTN where service provider involvement is transparent to the end-user.

The MEF is now extending Carrier Ethernet network-to-network interconnection capabilities. Current specification development activities include Carrier Ethernet Class of Service Phase 2 that seeks to establish a small set of service classes that would be supported by all service providers, two Operator Virtual Service (OVC) activities that standardizes the provisioning of service provider interconnections such that they are independent of individual retail circuits, and E-NNI Amendment--Support for UNI Tunnel Access and V-UNI that addresses tunneling of Carrier Ethernet services through an intermediary Carrier Ethernet network such that the intermediary is not aware of the details of the retail service at the end-user's interface.

Ethernet business service demand is stimulated by breaking down the network-to-network interconnection barrier. This makes it possible for many service providers to participate in and profit from the sale of Ethernet business services.  This in turn makes the services much more attractive to enterprises by increasing service ubiquity. The net effect will be to make much more bandwidth available in many more places enabling enterprise computing concepts such as telepresence, storage and server virtualization, and cloud computing.

Michael Kennedy is a FierceTelecom columnist and is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Network Strategy Partners, LLC (NSP)--management consultants to the networking industry. He can be reached at [email protected]

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