Carrier Ethernet standards promote metro Ethernet services

Irwin Lazar, Nemertes Research
24 Jun 2009

Ethernet service deployment is skyrocketing, and specifically, metro Ethernet services for enterprises are in highest demand. To prove the point, 73% of Nemertes Research benchmark participants are deploying Ethernet-based services, up from just 52% a year ago. Of the various types of Ethernet services, metro Ethernet is the most popular: 63% of research participants deploy it, typically linking to large sites and data centers.

Why the specific metro Ethernet interest? Two main reasons. First, bandwidth: Ethernet services typically deliver some of the highest-available bandwidth in the WAN. Second, simplicity: Ethernet services are often plug-and-play.

The single biggest drawback to Ethernet services? Lack of availability. "I'd use more of it if I could get it," is the common refrain. One reason providers are slow to deploy Carrier Ethernet (relative to its popularity) is that for carriers, it often represents a radical departure from their existing architectures.

Service providers continue to depend on traditional SONET/SDH-based access, metro and transport technologies, even as they watch demand increase for IP and Ethernet. That means they're managing separate transport hardware and provisioning systems to handle both their legacy networks and the new generation of packet-transport protocols that include Ethernet.

The current crop of Ethernet services is defined to run over multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). But from the carrier perspective, turning up new customers on MPLS-based services like Ethernet requires a complex set of steps involving multiple different operational support systems (OSS).

Carrier Ethernet standards designed to create single control plane

To streamline deployment and management of these new services, carriers are seeking a way to merge their Layer 1, 2 and 3 operations and management infrastructures so they can operate a single control plane for provisioning. Two emerging specifications seek to do exactly that:

MPLS-transport protocol (MPLS-TP) is an approach that started life as T-MPLS (Transport-MPLS) within the within the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Due to concerns about interoperability between the ITU's T-MPLS proposal and existing MPLS standards, the ITU turned over T-MPLS development to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

Provider Backbone Bridge -- Traffic Engineering (PBB-TE ) is the main competitor to MPLS-TP. This approach is based on leveraging existing IEEE 802.1 standards to enable carriers to natively deploy Ethernet services using existing Ethernet technologies.

The benefits of MPLS-TP. MPLS-TP is essentially an MPLS extension based on the concept of extending MPLS resiliency and provisioning mechanisms to Ethernet via a new transport-focused profile. With MPLS-TP, carriers can mix and match circuit or packet-based services in the same network, using a single control plane and operational support system (OSS) for service provisioning.

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