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Optical/IP

Metro Ethernet Showcased in Demo

ATLANTA -- Supercomm 2003 -- A large-scale demonstration of live metro Ethernet services is on view here this week, in yet another testament to growing interest in the topic.

The demo, sponsored and built by members of the Metro Ethernet Forum, features products from 22 vendors set up in point-to-point and virtual LAN configurations as defined by the group. (Six other vendors contributed test equipment, software, and other kinds of support to the demo, for a total of 28 participants. For a list, see Supercomm Demo Mania). The gear has been running a range of applications live all week and includes a show of network management, 50ms redundancy, and other carrier-friendly features.

It's the most aggressive effort yet to prove key industry forces are serious about Ethernet's future as a carrier transport technology. "We're telling the world Ethernet is ready for carriers and enterprises, and we're showing how the industry can rally together... We want to show service interoperability," says Nan Chen, director of product marketing for Atrica Inc. and president of the MEF.

Does the demo succeed? Well, it looks good. Using a conglomeration of boxes, participating vendors used the forum's specs to create their own individual networks, feeding into a 10-Gbit/s core.

The network segments and core are configured to run the two types of services defined so far by the MEF: Ethernet LAN (E-LAN), providing point-to-multipoint connectivity at a committed information rate (CIR, meaning a minimum guaranteed bandwidth) of 20-Gbit/s; and Ethernet Line (E-Line), providing high-speed, point-to-point access to the public Internet using a CIR of 10 Gbit/s.

Note: Right now, the MEF's specs are for Ethernet services in which users contend for bandwidth on a shared backbone, just as they do in Frame Relay networks. Hence the use of terms like CIR.

The E-Line services in the MEF's demo are based on 11 pairings of vendors, chosen at random. The vendors also are divided into four random E-LAN groups.

Vendors attached a range of equipment to the network to make it run live multimedia traffic -- multicast streamed video, instant messaging from the Internet, stored movies ("Theater Cam"), and IP telephony (computer-configurable voice services such as Web-enabled voicemail).

The whole thing was set up under the supervision of Bob Mandeville, president of Iometrix Inc. and an expert on Ethernet testing and lab methodology (Bob is also Light Reading's resident Ethernet Project Director). Test gear from Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and Spirent Communications was used to bring the demo to the "hot stage."

So who's doing what? It's not that easy to tell from the setup. Nearly every vendor's in-demo boothlet features whirring machinery and computer screens displaying clips from "The Matrix" (first version) and reruns from the History Channel. (The strangely uncompelling life of Britain's Prince Charles seemed to be underway Tuesday afternoon.) Nonetheless, some notable features were added behind the scenes, according to Chen:

So what's not to like? While the demo is certainly an impressive milestone in the progress toward deployment of metro Ethernet services, it's still early days. There's no real sense as to how or when big carriers will adopt the Forum's specs. For one thing, they're not finished yet: Full ratification is set for October, members say.

It's also notable that of the Forum's growing membership (up to 67 distinct organizations have joined to date), fewer than one-third visibly participated in the demo. Chen argues that figure is misleading, since some of the forum's members are component makers, service providers, and enterprises without their own equipment.

Still, it's clear some MEF members aren't standing up to be counted.

Despite this, it looks as if the Forum's gaining converts. Korea's KT Corp. recently joined -- a notable show of support from a carrier whose region is arguably furthest ahead in widespread broadband deployment. Other newbies include ADC Telecommunications Inc. (Nasdaq: ADCT), Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT), and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE), to name a few.

In all, the project signals the Forum and its work are being taken seriously in the industry. One indication is the sheer effort vendors put into the demo in a time when every cost is counted and every public exposure scrutinized.

While Chen says there were no actual participation fees above the $15,000 annual MEF membership fee, the costs of shipping, equipment setup, dedicated personnel, and even marketing and management of the demo were no doubt substantial for the vendors. Certainly, industry watchers will be keen to see if the MEF continues to build support and more demos of equal heft follow.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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