While the rest of IT products and services are moving toward more dynamic and demand-driven models such as cloud computing and cloud storage, wide-area networking is stuck in the tech stone age. There bandwidth is relatively expensive, parceled out in odd increments of 1.544 Mbps or 44.756 Mbps, and can take weeks or months to install.
Carrier Ethernet has been hailed as a WAN technology that enables carriers and ISPs to offer faster installs and greater bandwidth than traditional WANs. While carrier Ethernet services don't include anything like a cloud computing self-service portal, carrier Ethernet's lower cost, higher bandwidth and flexible options make it an excellent alternative to SONET and MPLS.
Brian Lamoreaux, director of IT for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Citizens Bank Park, has seen bandwidth demands rapidly grow over the years. In 2004, the stadium had a single T1, 1.544 Mbps, for both the Phillies and guest networks. By 2006, they had bonded three T1s together for a 4.5-Mbps Internet connection. In 2007, Comcast ran new fiber and delivered Ethernet to Citizens Bank Park. Today, the stadium has 1-Gbps fiber to its data center, carrying a 30-Mbps Internet connection for the Phillies organization and a 100-Mbps Internet connection for the guest network. That leaves 870 Mbps for future bandwidth demands.
Stan Hubbard, senior analyst and Ethernet Expo chair, Heavy Reading, says, "Most Ethernet service providers will try to offer a service that is priced competitively versus a TDM service, but offer far more capacity. If you are buying a T1 now, you can get a 10-Mb Ethernet service for about the same cost." Lamoreaux estimates he's saving 30% to 40% with carrier Ethernet, compared with a similar traditional WAN connection, and he can add bandwidth as needed--up to at least 1G bps.
Traditional WAN capacity is expensive to install and operate because it requires specialized networking gear at the customer premise and on the provider side. In addition, the last mile wire--from the carrier's point of presence to the customer site--has traditionally been run in fixed capacities. This means when you need more capacity, you might need more cable runs.
Carrier Ethernet changes the deployment model because service providers can install fiber capable of carrying 1- or 10-Gbps Ethernet, even if the customers use far less. Most carriers haven't reached the ability to add or remove bandwidth instantaneously, but Hubbard notes that Yipes, which was acquired by Reliance Communications in 2007, and Verizon do have a portal through which customers can manage their provisioned bandwidth.
Even without self-service, Lamoreaux says adding more capacity is as simple as a phone call to his sales representative. While Comcast representatives we spoke with wouldn't commit to a time frame for completing a service request, Lamoreaux indicates they are usually completed in about a week. Compared with the time required to upgrade WAN services, which is often measured on months, a week is very fast. Typical increments are 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps, in whatever increments your carrier decides.
Carrier Ethernet has other benefits for service providers and customers alike. Earlier in the year, another sports franchise rented the stadium for an event. That franchise was able to work with Comcast on a short-term (30-day) carrier Ethernet lease. Since the fiber has excess capacity, Comcast engineers simply provisioned a few additional ports on the on-premises switch and added the service to the existing fiber. Comcast admits that short-term services like this are rare, and the services have not been productized, but the deal was workable because the company didn't have to roll a truck to the stadium to provision the network.
Today, the last-mile carrier Ethernet connection to Citizens Bank Park is not redundant, leaving a single point of failure. Lamoreaux was assured that the rest of the Comcast network--beyond the last mile--is redundant. Ensuring connectivity is critical, so the Phillies maintain dedicated TDM circuits for backup in the event of a failure. In addition, AT&T and Verizon have 4G/3G cell sites in the stadium with their own circuits.
Whether you can get carrier Ethernet depends on two factors: whether the service is available in your area and whether there is a fiber drop to your building. For example, while Comcast is in many metro areas--including where it already has broadband and cable franchises, such as Atlanta, Boston and San Francisco--it is not in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Other carriers, such as AT&T, Qwest and Verizon, likely have a larger coverage area since they are not confined to cable franchise areas. If you are looking for just carrier Ethernet for Internet access, any provider will do.
The other factor is whether your building has fiber. Unlike telephone or cable service, there are no government mandates dictating that providers pull fiber and offer carrier Ethernet everywhere. They light up buildings where they think they can get a return on their investment. If one of the other tenants in your building has carrier Ethernet, chances are the carrier installed enough fiber for the building and can easily set up your service. If your building doesn't have fiber for carrier Ethernet, then you may have to foot some or all of the bill for the installation.
If you want to connect offices or data centers together via carrier Ethernet, you'll want to ensure that you have the same provider that can serve all locations. While the carrier Ethernet standards support network-to-network interfaces (NNI), the carriers themselves are not set up to support them.
Carrier Ethernet, where you can get it, offers faster service at a lower cost than other WAN technologies. Depending on the carrier, you will be able to adjust your bandwidth to meet your expected needs, but typically not without a service call. Whether you just want faster Internet access or a way to connect remote offices, see if carrier Ethernet is available in your area. Mike Fratto is a principal analyst at Current Analysis, covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. Prior to that, Mike was with UBM Tech for 15 years, and served as editor of Network Computing. He was also lead analyst for InformationWeek Analytics ... View Full Bio