Ethernet Mulls Interface Standard
The Ethernet network-to-network interface (E-NNI), describing how networks will hand off Ethernet services to one another, will be among the topics hotly pursued at the quarterly MEF meeting that begins today in Scottsdale, Ariz.
It's not the only issue the MEF will be hashing out. A standardized list of services is on the to-do list, as is work on the ordering and billing front.
But the E-NNI touches on an issue that's going to dog Ethernet services for a while: Services just don't reach every potential customer. That means carriers have to borrow one another's networks in order to reach some customers -- which in turn means they have to agree on some way to maintain service-level agreements and QOS while the traffic is crossing someone else's network.
That's why E-NNI was a frequent topic of discussion at last week's Light Reading Ethernet Expo. (See Ethernet Expo in Pictures .) In fact, there is some urgency to the MEF's E-NNI effort, which is being led by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Enterprise Solutions .
Members of the E-NNI committee "got so into it that they actually met at the beginning of the month, in Newark, I think, to get more traction before the Scottsdale meeting at the end of the month," said Margaret Chiosi, director of AT&T Labs, during her Expo keynote speech.
Lack of an E-NNI isn't paralyzing anyone, as carriers are already negotiating deals to send Ethernet traffic across one another's networks. San Francisco-based Yipes Enterprise Services Inc. has done this in several cases, including partnerships in Europe with Colt Technology Services Group Ltd and Exponential-e Ltd. (See Yipes, Exponential-e Hook Up.)
The problem is that E-NNI right now is a custom job, Chiosi said. Each carrier has different needs, and not every carrier is willing to open its network to competitors -- so a new E-NNI agreement has to be hashed out every time one carrier wants to create a partnership with another.
An E-NNI would theoretically speed up the process by standardizing it, in a sense. But carriers still might differ in how they want networks to interact.
"The larger challenge beyond the standard is: How are the large PTTs and carriers going to open their networks?" says Keao Caindec, chief marketing officer of Yipes, during an Expo panel. "How is that going to work -- or is it?"
Steve Alexander, CTO of Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), thinks the end result will be a set of optional hooks in the E-NNI standard. "What you're going to see are basic features that can be turned on and off," he told Light Reading at the Ethernet Expo.
Not that the other items on the MEF agenda aren't valuable too. The creation of standardized services would be an immense help, some carriers said. Ethernet speeds, for example, are pretty much arbitrary -- there's no common slate of "N-Mbit/s" services that every carrier offers. That's in contrast to the old TDM world with its well understood speed gradations.
"I could go anywhere and order DS1 or DS3 endpoints" for a given service, says Mike Tighe, MEF chairman and Verizon Business director of strategy. "The challenge with Ethernet is that I can't order that common set of endpoints. That's probably two years off."
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading