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Why Should You Join an Ethernet Exchange?

Ethernet is Far and Away the Most Popular Way of Interconnection Owing to its Flexibility & Cost Effectiveness

Recently we talked about scaling up for Zettabyte Era growth. However, what’s important to remember is that traffic will often be carried over many networks to reach its destination - and somewhere, somehow there must be a way to interconnect them.  Ethernet is far and away the most popular way to do that not just for its flexibility but also because it is the most cost effective.

As a Local Area Network technology, Ethernet (and let’s not forget to capitalize that “E”!) wasn’t originally designed for interconnecting carriers - a number of innovations were needed before it could be called “Carrier Ethernet.” For example, there was no easy way to troubleshoot connections, to scale the number of virtual local area networks, or VLANs, needed in a service provider environment, or even a set of industry standards that could be referenced to ensure that services across multiple carriers and equipment vendors could interoperate.

Today, those issues are gone. Now Ethernet Operations and Maintenance (E-OAM) is much more sophisticated to enable performance monitoring and fault management. Ethernet encapsulation standards such as 802.1ad and 802.1ah (you know, the things you too probably discuss at your weekend BBQs) define how to greatly increase the number of circuits that could be carried, and more importantly to allow for Ethernet tags to be carried across multiple service providers.

Most recently a new standard has been ratified by the Metro Ethernet Forum that defines how service providers should interconnect with each other. Our Cisco representative, Lionel Florit (who is also on the MEF Board of Directors and co-chair of the Technical Committee), reported that the Ethernet Network-to-Network Interface specification (known as “MEF 26” to Lionel and our standards team but is referred to by people like me as “that thing that Lionel worked on that, you know, made things work better together”) was ratified in January 2010. This will remove many obstacles that affect a service provider’s ability to easily exchange data, voice, and video traffic using a common Ethernet framework with other providers at Layer 2.

All of this is leading to the creation of a new, innovative type of service provider - the “Ethernet exchange” Provider. An Ethernet exchange is a carrier-neutral facility that enables both carriers and enterprise customers the ability interconnect using Ethernet interfaces using standardized service agreements. Somewhat like an airport terminal - everyone meets at the airport but has a choice of different carriers and destinations once they get there. The exchange concept is how carriers will meet the challenge to expand Ethernet service availability to all required customer endpoints while reducing time-to-revenue and reducing operational expenses. The Ethernet exchange also aids providers to scale more quickly and profitably, because connections to the exchange can be augmented as traffic increases.

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More Stories By Don Nelson

Don Nelson is the moderator and Program Manager for the CiscoSP360 Blog. He is a member of the Service Provider marketing team at Cisco Systems, Inc. Don has more than 10 years of experience in web site development, design, information architecture, and web-based marketing. In 2008, he transitioned from webmaster to exploring and managing social media marketing for B2B.