If the Internet is a sprawling series of “best effort” tubes and today’s Carrier Ethernet is the private highway for enterprise communications, then the concept of a “Third Network” proposed by the Metro Ethernet Forum is a little bit of both: ubiquitous, but reliable in security and performance.
The vision by the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) is for a new type of network that enables on-demand services, supports multi-domain technologies (wired and wireless access networks), allows demarcation to be separated from a single physical location and emphasizes virtualization for multi-layer and multi-service programmable infrastructure.
“Now what we see is the network moving to an application-centered [approach],” said Rami Yaron, VP of strategy and business development atTelco Systems (BATM) and co-chair of the global marketing committee for the MEF, at a workshop on Carrier Ethernet for the Cloud preceding last week’sBig Telecom Event.
Yaron was waving the MEF flag, outlining the tenets of the Third Network initiative and discussing some of the recent progress made in bringing the concept closer to viability.
Yaron also gave an example of how this new type of network could be used. A company might need to host a high-bandwidth video conference call one day for a total of two hours. In a world of programmable and on-demand network services, the company would be able access the required high-bandwidth and low-latency connection just for the period of time needed to complete that conference.
According to the MEF’s supporters, there are a number of reasons why telecom operators should be supporting the Third Network initiative — not least of which is that they risk having a non-traditional communications company beat them to the punch.
“Amazon is very, very close to having a globally competitive network that can compete with telcos… very, very close,” said Leonard Sheahan, senior director at Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) during another BTE session on cloud and Ethernet services. Citing the biggest threats to traditional carriers, Sheahan brought up names other than Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), includingFacebook , Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and even Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).
Sheahan also gave his own very succinct explanation of what exactly the MEF is trying to do. As part of Carrier Ethernet 2.0, the MEF has created a standard External Network-to-Network Interface, or ENNI, for enabling Ethernet services that span multiple physical networks.
“The goal,” said Sheahan, “is to be able to expose to an enterprise customer an offer that gives them Ethernet connectivity both across your network and across multiple networks.”
However, the MEF is not only driving interconnection between carriers, but also defining APIs that link that connectivity to different types of technologies. These technologies include everything from specific business applications to OSS/BSS systems and network orchestration tools. Taken together, they help to create a framework for Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO).
At TM Forum Live! event in Nice, France, earlier this month, Sheahan was part of a demonstration designed to show the “art of the possible” in well orchestrated network-as-a-service implementation. The demo was powered by Oracle, InfoVista SA (Nasdaq: IVTA) and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), and “championed” by the MEF, PCCW Ltd. (NYSE: PCW; Hong Kong: 0008),Axtel S.A.B. and Charter Communications Inc. ‘s Spectrum Business division. It showed how a customer could request price quotes for NaaS (network-as-a-service) offerings through a single portal, configure the desired service across multiple networks managed by different operators, and ultimately place an order and have it fulfilled. (See TM Forum Catalysts Target NFV Management.)
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