|Topic:||Ethernet WAN could answer the enterprise video challenge,
but has still some way to go
|Title:||Global Head of Carrier Services|
Ms Tejaswini Tilak is Global Head of Carrier Services at Telstra International, and heads up Telstra International’s transmission (IPL, EPL, EVPL, Wavelength) and internet (GID, IP Transit) product portfolio on a global basis. Ms Tejaswini was responsible for launching Telstra International’s suite of Global Ethernet services, and is now driving continued enhancements of the portfolio. Prior to Telstra International, Ms Tejaswini worked with Tata Communications in a product management role.
Tejaswini Tilak holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Lucknow, one of India’s premier business schools.
Ethernet WAN is a cost-effective solution for the enterprise that allows upgrading their networks gradually, to cope with the increasing demand for video, cross sites and cross regions. However, there are no widespread implementations. The adoption of Ethernet WAN depends on availability of international interconnection between network providers, i.e. building Ethernet ‘exchanges’, with Network-to-Network interfaces, alleviating the need to provide inter-connection agreements individually. This necessitates additional security, privacy and reliability measures and compliance to standards, which are developed by the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF). Adoption also depends on Enterprise customers’ awareness of the new services, such as Ethernet Private Line (international line) and Ethernet Virtual Private LAN (instead of IP-VPN).
The emergence of video as the biggest and fastest growing strain on network capacity is not only due to the delivery of end-user applications. With the growth of video as an enterprise application – from telepresence and video streaming to distance learning – companies across EMEA are realising the benefits that video can bring to their organisations in terms of productivity, cost-efficiencies and increased collaboration between regional offices.
These developments are causing serious headaches for CIOs and IT managers across the region in ensuring corporate networks can deal with the added demands of these applications. As enterprise demand for video and other complex applications grows, so in turn does the requirement for cost-efficient bandwidth over large geographical areas. At a time when capital and operating budgets are still under constraints, many enterprises are finding it difficult to balance the need for increased investment in infrastructure to ease this network congestion with the need to reduce overall costs.
In many ways, Ethernet WAN could be the technology to relieve these concerns. With its support for higher bandwidth and its ability to reduce total cost of ownership without additional infrastructure requirements, Ethernet has the promise to improve the efficiency of a company’s network. This could deliver efficiently video services or other bandwidth-intensive applications globally, as well as helping the bottom line.
The next logical question therefore is ‘why is enterprise adoption of Ethernet WAN not already widespread?’ Any enterprise looking to implement bandwidth-hungry applications such as video over large geographical areas has the potential to benefit.
Despite its promise, the global market for Ethernet WAN services is still in its infancy. It is certainly gaining traction but the market needs to mature significantly – especially in terms of availability, interoperability and standardisation – if these expectations are to be met, and the technology becomes a viable solution for enterprises to meet the challenges of the bandwidth explosion.
The promise of Ethernet WAN
Ethernet has been ubiquitous in company Local Area Networks (LANs) for years, and the prospect of extending the simple, cost effective technology over larger areas and between both regional and global offices has enormous potential. It offers granular speed options, which makes the technology both cost-efficient and scalable, enabling companies to pay for what they need, whilst having the flexibility to increase bandwidth as business needs change.
Market forecasts support this prognosis – research firm Infonetics predicts that the combined global Ethernet and IP MPLS VPN markets will draw revenues of US$68.2 billion by 2014. The growing Ethernet market will comprise a significant proportion of this – worldwide, service providers generated US$20.8 billion from Ethernet services in 2009, a 23 per cent jump from 2008, while IP MPLS VPN service revenue increased by just 12 per cent in the same time period .
While the industry is certainly moving in the right direction, if these forecasts are to be met, more work must be done to ensure Ethernet WAN is a viable international technology.
The importance of interconnection
Prior to 2008, the lack of Ethernet WAN services over wide geographical ranges had been a major hindrance to market take-up. In the past three years however, this situation has improved vastly, as providers have increased the geographical scale of their offerings. Companies in EMEA looking to expand eastwards by opening up offices in the emerging markets of Asia, for example, now have a large range of options.
However, the geographical range of these services must continue to expand if the market for Ethernet services is to grow significantly. Due to the capital expenditure involved, providers are simply not able to build infrastructure to every corner of the globe.
This is why the environment for Ethernet interconnection will be a critical factor if the market is to mature as required. There needs to be a standardised, seamless way for providers to interconnect with each other. This will produce quicker processes, and in turn, more seamless and transparent services to end-customers.
There are two important developments which are fostering interconnection – Ethernet exchanges and developments in Ethernet standards, promoted by the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF).
Mirroring how IP exchanges were developed to provide common peering points to aid the development of IP services globally, new Ethernet exchanges are popping up in data centres around the world, aiming to simplify Ethernet external network-to-network interconnection (E-NNI).
Prior to these exchanges, carriers have had to manage interconnection arrangements on an individual basis – a lengthy and unnecessary process which has in turn impacted the end-user proposition.
However, despite the encouraging nature of these developments, the business models of these Ethernet exchanges will need to mature if they are to have the required impact on the market. Some providers are still going it alone, put off by restrictions in Ethernet exchanges’ ordering, billing and processing features. The Ethernet exchanges themselves must continue to develop if they are going to help ensure the global interconnection of all the major Ethernet carriers.
The other significant factor for seamless global Ethernet interconnection is the standardisation of service offerings. The work of the MEF, a global industry alliance comprising more than 150 organisations involved in the industry, is going a long way to achieve this.
Much of the problem in the development of interconnection standards dates back to Ethernet originally being a technology used for the LAN. This meant that the security and reliability features did not have to meet those required of an international service provider network. As the majority of enterprises now require regional, national or international network connectivity, these standards must be sufficient for seamless services over multiple service provider networks.
Global standards developed by the MEF, such as MEF14 which ensures that a Carrier Ethernet service meets certain performance characteristics for throughput, jitter, bandwidth and traffic management, are advancing this cause. These standards are creating the framework needed to market, sell and support Ethernet business services – it is crucial that service providers continue to make every effort to align with the MEF.
Testing and migration
Alongside the development of interconnection protocols, providers must themselves ensure that they can provide the services their customers demand – surprisingly this is still not the case in many examples.
Providers must make the migration process from legacy networks to Ethernet as painless as possible. Migration to a next generation WAN technology is a significant business decision as often both software and hardware need to be upgraded.
One of the most effective ways to smooth this process is to enable the use of hybrid networks – the simultaneous provision of Ethernet and legacy networks. Hybrid networks allow customers to enjoy a less fractious and slower migration process. They are able to pick and choose the features they want, test them, and then run larger scale implementations as appropriate.
Understandably, full-scale migration to next generation Ethernet networks takes in much business considerations. Unless service providers can allow the use of hybrid networks, many customers may be unwilling to make the full jump to Ethernet.
The customer proposition
For the market to meet expectations, providers will need to embark on greater customer education schemes about the benefit of Ethernet over legacy WAN technologies.
This need becomes clear when you investigate demand for specific Ethernet products. For example, Ethernet Private Line (EPL) services are experiencing strong customer demand, as enterprise IT managers already understand the benefits of International Private Line (IPL) services, and EPL is the natural extension for this.
Services such as Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS) are still immature, not least due to the level of customer awareness. Enterprises suitable for VPLS still automatically ask for IP-VPN networks in most cases, purely because it’s a technology with which they are familiar. However, VPLS offers clear advantages for many enterprises, such as its ease of management and the greater degree of privacy and routing control which it offers – especially relevant for companies that need to adhere to strict compliance laws. These factors need to be clearly articulated to customers if demand is to significantly increase.
To remove any lingering doubts about Ethernet, providers need to be able to provide thorough, end-to-end testing and monitoring of their services. This ensures customers will have no concerns about local access and eases the troubleshooting process.
Meeting the promise of Ethernet
It is clear then that despite the value that Ethernet can bring to the enterprise over the WAN, especially in terms of easing the video congestion on corporate networks cost-effectively, the market still has some way to go before it reaches full maturity. Breaking down the network-to-network interconnection barrier and increasing the sophistication of service offerings will be crucial steps in this direction. As the market reaches maturity, service providers and end-user customers alike can only benefit, and when this happens Ethernet WAN will finally meet its promise.