Improving the Enterprise Network with Carrier Ethernet


Part one of a three-part series addressing how private Carrier Ethernet can benefit the campus network and the specialized WAN.

Beginning in the early 2000s, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) pioneered the development of Carrier Ethernet—Ethernet for use in wide-area networks (WANs)—by classifying several significant carrier-grade attributes that distinguish it from the more familiar enterprise local-area network (LAN) Ethernet. Since then, the well-documented success of Carrier Ethernet services worldwide has many of today’s IT managers looking to find out how this technology can be used in the context of their own WANs.

For most small to medium-sized enterprises and government agencies, a carrier-managed Ethernet service is the most cost-effective and low-risk approach to site interconnection, cloud access, data center interconnection, direct Internet access, and other data-centric applications. But Carrier Ethernet services are also an option for those who operate their own infrastructures by preference or necessity.

The Campus Network

Many large IT departments are responsible for supporting voice, data, and video applications in a campus environment. These environments usually include a grouping of physical locations, often housing hundreds, if not thousands, of employees, partners, students, and similar end-users across a given service area or campus. The networks serve multiple buildings, laboratories, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, or field sites, often with multiple communities of end-users with varying network demands.

They may or may not be “billed customers,” depending on individual accounting practices and the general nature of the enterprise. Nonetheless, end-users’ expectations from the network must be met to maintain smooth operation.

The Enterprise WAN

More specialized IT networks can be seen in industry segments such as utilities, municipal government, military bases, regional hospital systems, and many others. The common requirement among these is the need to control some or several technical aspects of the network. Reasons might include:

  • A heightened level of concern for network security (such as network command and control)
  • The need to control and monitor application-specific network parameters (such as bandwidth, priority, latency, loss)
  • The need to closely integrate end applications with network designs (such as video monitoring)
  • A desire to monetize or derive competitive advantage from the owned infrastructure

Drivers for Change

The drivers for change in both of these environments boils down to the need to support the explosive growth of bandwidth usage by end-users, especially in terms of video and other rich media content transmission and distribution, as well as machine-to-machine communications driven by the “Internet of Things.” The great majority of this content, along with critical enterprise applications, now resides in a mixture of private and public cloud data centers and must be accessible at all times.

The network manager is at the front-lines of supporting a variety of demands, including increasing proliferation of mobile technologies and related Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies, business intelligence systems, and big data analytics, as well as cloud-based infrastructure and application hosting. The conventional response has been to continually add increasingly complex functionality into traditional Layer 3 (L3)-based router platforms. This approach adds significant cost and complexity to an already costly platform as today’s IP/MPLS routers are among the most capital-intensive parts of the enterprise infrastructure, both in terms of capital and operational expenditures (CAPEX and OPEX). They require frequent and costly upgrades to keep pace with bandwidth and scale requirements. New features are slow to emerge and often do not interoperate in a multi-vendor environment, thereby requiring extensive and time-consuming testing cycles— along with very specialized technical personnel—before deployment in the “active” network. At the same time, the number of users dependent on the network for reliable access to growing numbers of applications continues to grow steadily.

The Bottom Line

Enterprise IT teams are in an arms race to keep up with end-user demands that require scaling the network, keeping it safe and maintaining five nines reliability, lest end-users themselves roll out their own solutions. The network has become critical to business, entertainment, healthcare, public safety, energy delivery, national defense, and virtually every area of everyday life. In my next post, I’ll address how enterprise and government entities can improve their networks and control costs by leveraging Layer 2 Carrier Ethernet technology.

Beginning in the early 2000s, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) pioneered the development of Carrier Ethernet—Ethernet for use in wide-area networks (WANs)—by classifying several significant carrier-grade attributes that distinguish it from the more familiar enterprise local-area network (LAN) Ethernet.

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