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Bob Metcalfe Outlines Ethernet’s Next Act: Network-as-a-Service

Posted by Paul Desmond

Oct 3, 2014

Ethernet just keeps getting better. This week, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) announced its next iteration of carrier Ethernet service, an on-demand version it’s calling Network-as-a-Service.Ethernet Network-As-A-Service

The MEF is an industry consortium that defines the specifications for carrier Ethernet services. This week it announced the next such iteration of those specifications, which it calls the Third Network, the next logical step from the current Carrier Ethernet 2.0 spec.  This could play a powerful role in the future of Unified and Enterprise Communications.

None other than Ethernet’s inventor, Bob Metcalfe, took part in a video announcing the effort, which you can see on the MEF’s site. Metcalfe is now an advisory director to the MEF. 

The idea behind NaaS is that carrier Ethernet connections would be far more dynamic and available from a variety of different providers.  Andrew McFadzen, MEF Chairman and head of global marketing, network services for Orange Business Services, says in the video users would connect to the service from wherever they may be and their performance profile would be loaded onto their device.

Couple that with what the MEF is calling the enterprise VPN component. The vision is a “highly automated, orchestrated” service that can deliver end-to-end connectivity on demand, in close to real time, McFadzen says. And it can all be activated and deactivated by the end user.

Next Gen Ethernet: The Unified Communications Super Highway

Think about what that would mean for unified communications services. Road warriors in a hotel room or in a remote office would connect to the NaaS provider and get the performance profile they need to support video, voice, presence, data and all the usual functions they employ when in the office. And it’d all be delivered over a fast, familiar Ethernet connection, the same as on the office LAN.

To be sure, right now NaaS is little more than a vision and some early specs. To make it a reality the MEF has to figure out how to enable the kind of orchestration, service abstraction and delivery assurance that’ll enable the service to work reliably, across multiple carrier networks.

But the MEF has a track record of delivering. It’s certainly done well in pushing carrier Ethernet. Just this week industry watcher Vertical Systems Group came out with its latest numbers, saying carrier Ethernet services in the U.S. will reach one million ports in 2018, at speeds ranging from less than 10M to greater than 10G bps. Way back in 2011 the service surpassed legacy private lines and frame relay in terms of installed bandwidth, according to Vertical Systems.

I’m dating myself, but I can recall the days when Ethernet was in a pitched battle with IBM’s Token Ring scheme for king of the LAN (along with a few other entrants like Banyan VINES). In those early days, it was strictly a 10M bps LAN technology (up from its original 3M bps). In seemingly no time we had the now-ubiquitous 100M versions, then 1G bps and now 100G bps.  

“Once again we stand at a new beginning for the world of networking,” Metcalfe says in the video. “Wouldn’t it be great if network as a service were personalized, virtualized and mobilized, with an SLA that meets your needs.  That’s the promise of a new Third Network.”

Topics: Technology, networking, Business Case, Mobility