The standardisation of Ethernet services and operations has taken a back seat while networks have been streamlined. But now the service side is being reinvented to create vital efficiencies for carriers.

Much of the effort that has gone into making Carrier Ethernet a global standard for the circulation of data over a wide area has focussed on the network. This should not be surprising. The challenge of taking networks out of the legacy era was always going to come before the standardisation of services and applications.

But with the specifications of Carrier Ethernet 2.0 in place, the process of streamlining and simplifying the network ecosystem can arguably take a back seat while attention is turned to doing the same job for the services that run over it. And not before time.

“Ethernet service providers currently have to spend a lot of resources establishing NNIs that maintain the integrity of their Ethernet services,” says Mike Hollands, director, connectivity segment at data centre and co-location provider Interxion. “It’s got to become simpler, faster and more standardised. Customers don’t want to be told that key features are only available to a subset of their sites.”

With this in mind, the Metro Ethernet Forum has established the Services Operations Committee in order to standardise the processes that carriers use to buy, sell, deliver and operate services.

“We’ve got equipment vendors, service providers and end customers speaking the same [networking] language,” says Shahar Steiff, AVP of business operations at PCCW Global and co-chair of the new committee. “Now we are defining the same for inter-carrier services.”

The challenge is that most carriers still apply their own individual logic to operations and services, which is fine for traffic that doesn’t leave their network, but complex when it comes to interplay between carrier networks, as is commonly the requirement.

Carrier A in North America might offer three classes of service, while Carrier B in Europe offers only two. Different carriers may well use different names for their services, even when it is essentially the same animal.

The prize now being sought is a common way of defining and standardising the flow of information between carriers during the full life cycle of a service. The result should be streamlined processes and shortened lead times for the delivery of services. Such streamlining will not only make existing services simpler and therefore more profitable, but could also potentially stimulate new business.

It is not impossible ultimately to imagine a fully integrated and automated global cloud of Carrier Ethernet networks, where delivery of services and the billing of those services takes place on demand, according to the fluctuating needs of the ultimate end user.

Automatic for the people

With connectivity as seamless as this, it should be straightforward for carriers and service providers to fully automate their dealings. Less time spent on setting up connections surely means more time for creating incremental revenue streams and the opening of fresh markets.

This is a dream that may lie some way off, but it is one that can already be conceived. Kevin Vachon, COO with the Metro Ethernet Forum, believes carriers at least already know what they need, even if they do not yet have a common name for it.

“People want simplification and streamlining,” he says. “They don’t want to have to employ a whole lot of experts. Ethernet is attractive because it is comparatively simple. Now we are facing the issue of taking conflicting services and how to manage them. We’ve done a good job at a generic level, but there are certain cases where complexity is still involved.”

Vachon believes carriers will be drawn into the taking the short-term pain of adapting their own processes to adhere to a centralised model by the promise of doing business more easily.

“There are revenue opportunities here,” he claims. “Getting more into Ethernet services opens new revenue sources. For example, we’re seeing service providers moving into the customer data centre and starting to get to grips with application platforms. This is a benefit for them and of course their customers too.”

He says the Services Operation Committee, launched in May last year, has started by considering all aspects of an Ethernet service life cycle, from end to end.

“We’re looking at the pieces of the process, starting with partnership management,” Vachon says.

The outcome that carriers are looking for is not one vanilla style of service, but a variety of services which share one Ethernet platform, says Henry Bohannon, senior director and head of Ethernet product management with Tata Communications.

“What we see in our larger customers is demand for a hybrid working model that lets them reach to distributed sites,” he explains. “There’s a core that’s high performance, low latency, secure, and then something else like MPLS over a wide area allowing them to combine a variety of services together.”

The trick, he believes, is to present a solution that is cost-efficient and manageable for customers, and appropriate for their needs.

“Networks need to be more modular too, since some things have to be more resilient than others,” Bohannon adds. “There are different needs on a site or application basis. This is how organisations in industries like finance and manufacturing work these days – a balance of different services on the same core.”

The advantage of simplicity
Vendors naturally have their part to play in making the simplified services vision a reality. David Noguer Bau is service provider solutions marketing manager for Juniper Networks. He says Juniper is already helping telcos take advantage of the service streamlining potential of new technologies, like software defined networking.

“We provide customers with an Ethernet architecture that virtually connects every server,” he says. “We can do an overlay of the network that uses a multitude of technologies, flowing over basic Ethernet: no need for a VLAN that falls short of requirements. In fact, it’s the underlay of Ethernet that makes it possible for us to do it all virtually. The SDN model orchestrates all the different elements.”

The telco, he says, then simply creates a service wrap into the cloud, including elements like security that their customers need to make it a success.

“We put the service provider in a better position in the value chain,” he claims. “How? On the one hand by focusing on the business edge, and on the other hand by providing service chaining orchestrated by an SDN controller.”

Jeff Cook, director of network products with co-location and interconnection specialist Telx, says that an intimation of the future can already be glimpsed by seeing what is already happening in the data centre.

“Telx has seen Carrier Ethernet evolve from a carrier-to-carrier VLAN approach – in other words the Ethernet exchange model – to a network that is more application and content aware,” he says.

According to Cook, Telx can provide an ENNI trunk connection, so that a carriers’ customers have access to cloud and IT provider applications within its data centres, and vice versa, so that Telx customers can enjoy access to the customers’ applications in the carrier environment.

“Features such as dynamic bandwidth allocation and disaster-recovery scripts can be initiated and provisioned quickly, since all the components are already in place,” he says. “Also, by establishing APIs between a data centre network and the carriers, network customers can build SDN-type networks.”

The ability to build an ecosystem providing customer access to private and public cloud providers, dynamically and on-demand, will create new revenue for data centre, carrier, cloud and IT providers alike, says Cook.

Utility status

Adam Janota, director of global networks with data centre company Equinix, also believes data centres hold at least one of the keys to streamlined services.

“Equinix already offers an effective way for carriers to monetise their services offer,” he says. “We’ve got the full rainbow in our centres – wavelengths, dark fibre, IP – all the way up the stack to WAN acceleration and computing and storage services.”

Data centres and Carrier Ethernet go hand-in-hand, he says, to streamline services and make them business-ready.

“Ethernet’s role is to move on from rigid and expensive TDM to a new world of services, where it helps to combine and aggregate everything over one large pipe under a simple NNI,” he adds.

Real success for Carrier Ethernet services will arguably only come when they are bought and sold like any other utility, a fully tradable item that can be sourced with a few clicks of a mouse just like a train ticket or some car insurance.

When an Ethernet service is a true commodity, it will be possible to go to a website and demand a price for an Ethernet connection between Point A and Point B, specifying how long the connection is needed for and how much traffic is expected per day. Up will flash a near-instant choice of three or four different providers for comparison, and the chosen one can get services operational in hours, perhaps even minutes.

Phil Tilley is the senior director with vendor Alcatel-Lucent, responsible for strategy. He believes that this level of simplicity is attainable once Ethernet is taken to the next level of automation.

“We need to get fully defined terminology, standardised products, and the right management interfaces,” he says. “You can already do testing now on services with OAM capabilities, so a service can be managed through its life cycle, and we’ve got reporting of failures.”

A vision of Ethernet services traded like gas or electricity – available on demand and provisioned in minutes – might sound like the distant future, but it is not an impossible dream.

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