In an effort to make interconnection of Ethernet services ubiquitous, the Metro Ethernet Forum has organized large Carrier Ethernet providers in an initiative to streamline interconnection services through active prototyping and testing.
In a separate initiative, the MEF is allowing smaller wholesale providers to participate in certification of their key services without the expense of joining the organization. (See MEF Interconnect Program Targets Small Carriers and MEF Brings Ethernet Carriers Together on Interoperability.)
The Services Interconnect Program (MEF-SI) targets carriers with less than $50 million in revenues a year, which includes hundreds of companies, according to the MEF. The idea is to get broader adoption of the current E-Access and future E-Transit service certification, so Ethernet ubiquity is easier to choose.
The participating carriers' motivation is simple, says Dan Blemings, director of product marketing management for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) Mobile & Business Solutions, one of the larger carriers participating in the MEF Ethernet Interconnect Points (EIP) project to actively test interconnection.
"We are all being driven by our customers who are coming to us and saying, 'We are looking for more and more Ethernet footprint,' " he tells Light Reading in an interview. "They see the advantages of Ethernet over TDM; they want it, and they want us to help them get there. So we have that common goal of helping to get Ethernet services as widely deployed as possible, and we started to understand very quickly that it wasn't something we could do ourselves."
Typically, large enterprise customers want to connect all of their locations in an end-to-end service, and helping them do that is a struggle for either the enterprise or their primary carrier, since it requires one-to-one interconnect processes with dozens of smaller companies.
In many cases, depending on the generation of equipment that is deployed, those Ethernet deployments are slightly different in minor aspects but those small variations complicate interconnection and make it more time consuming and costly to do, Blemings says.
"Our customers expect a plug and play experience and, within AT&T, there are a lot of people doing complex things to make Ethernet easy for our customers," he adds. When every operator is adding their own special flavor to Ethernet, the result can be more complicated interconnection.
Working at the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (IOL) and using the existing MEF specifications for Carrier Ethernet such as MEF 33, the EIP project will do prototyping of interconnection and use rapid feedback from that process to develop a common approach to all the significant aspects of Ethernet interconnect, in an end-to-end service. According to the MEF, those include "location selection, External Network-to-Network Interface (ENNI) parameters and alignment of business processes." The project will develop use cases that represent typical network topologies and services that carriers can then adopt.
Getting carriers and their equipment -- being provided by their vendors -- into a room to do live testing is an efficient way to develop implementation guidelines that will work in the real world and help "any carrier, whether it's a small company in rural America or a large one on the other side of the globe" do interconnection more seamlessly, Blemings says.
For example, the testing will show what happens when carriers try to interconnect a service with a Committed Information Rate (CIR) with a best-effort burstable Excess Information Rate (EIR) service and what can be done to interconnect those, he explains.
The goal of the two initiatives is to bring more carriers, particularly smaller companies, into the Carrier Ethernet fold so that the service can be more widespread, which would make more customers happen, Blemings says.
One of the things holding some companies back is the concern over the cost of replacing older Ethernet gear into order to match the service profiles of larger service providers with newer equipment. If, by the testing process, the EIP project can show how it's possible to make interconnection on the older generation gear work, that would encourage a smaller wholesaler to deploy Carrier Ethernet faster.
The work is starting with the simplest connection -- a point-to-point Ethernet private line connection -- and working up from there.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading