Evolution of Carrier Ethernet, & the Role of Ethernet Exchanges

Evolution of Carrier Ethernet, & the Role of Ethernet Exchanges

Adam Janota of Equinox
Adam Janota of Equinox

Why is Carrier Ethernet taking off and what role do Ethernet Exchanges play? Adam Janota, EU Director, Global Networks at Equinix looks at the issues.

Before looking at the carrier-exchange relationship, it is worthwhile to define Ethernet and look at its background and evolution. Ethernet is the standard protocol for data connections and the current rapid rise in adoption of Ethernet is driven by a number of trends.

From Local to Global

Initially Ethernet was designed for LAN use and until relatively recently, data was only a fraction of global traffic, with most of the bandwidth used for voice. These networks were therefore designed for voice and have since had to be retrofitted to carry data traffic. With the explosion of the Internet and the success of applications like VOIP and video, the volume of data traffic has grown exponentially and Ethernet has been adopted for consumer devices and applications like broadband access points.


Ultimately the simplicity and affordability of Ethernet ports has pushed operators to adopt Ethernet technology globally. The ever growing demands for private data from industry as well as the public internet provide fertile ground for Ethernet to flourish.


Ethernet as a cloud enabler

Efficiency of shared hardware infrastructure drives deployment of applications in the core of the network; the Cloud. Clouds provide public infrastructure services and use oversubscription to make them cost effective and flexible. This architecture requires the users and infrastructure to be connected via a functional, agile network. The performance of the cloud is proportional to the functionality of the interconnection between application and user; if the network cannot cope with demand, the cloud model fails and performance degrades.

Cloud requires guaranteed network performance. Private line layer-2 Ethernet provides this by enabling packet-based quality of service, so rules and priorities can be assigned to specific applications on the same network, rather than setting rigid standards under which equal priority is accorded to routine email and vital trading information.


Mobile backhaul

Smartphones have exponentially increased bandwidth requirements and latency demands on networks with 3G and 4G/LTE technology. While part of the network is wireless, most data still travels through copper and fibre cables which connect the wireless antennas to the core of the network.

Mobile backhaul relies on legacy TDM networks designed for voice traffic and is unsuited to a modern IP-based world. Carrier Ethernet connections between 3G/4G antennas are a logical and increasingly unavoidable development which can scale to meet the demands of both specific applications and individual data consumption.

Today’s demanding consumers expect ubiquitous access from their smartphones. They want to stream music, download maps and read emails in real time whilst simultaneously running chat and social apps. So mobile carriers are looking to Ethernet to revamp their backhaul networks. Essentially, Ethernet delivers competitive advantage by offering the best access to information.


The role of the Ethernet Exchange

Considering these trends, Equinix saw an opportunity to accelerate and streamline the adoption of Ethernet through its neutral data centres. Perhaps before the terms ’Ethernet Exchange’ were even coined, neutral data centres were already operating. A neutral data centre is a location where all constituent network parts reside; network operators, mobile network operators, managed service providers, enterprises, cloud providers, and content providers. They form a teaming ecosystem within a neutral data centre.

The Ethernet Exchange brokers deals between Ethernet buyers and sellers, providing a venue and platform through which business goals can be reached. There are no carriers with truly global Ethernet coverage – no network goes everywhere – so when a carrier wants to offer an end-to-end solution for a customer in an area it doesn’t physically cover, it connects with another carrier with the required reach. All types of carriers can forge mutually beneficial arrangements, leading to increased revenues by extending their reach without new infrastructure costs, while monetising their own unused capacity.

Cloud providers can locate in a neutral data centre, offering services via Ethernet exchange with a variety of carrier Ethernet partners. This ensures they deliver services over optimal network conditions, offer redundancy and avoid reliance on a single carrier. Mobile operators can connect directly via Ethernet to meet customer demand, giving the best possible access to YouTube, Google, Facebook or any of the content that is located within the ecosystem. To access content outside the data centre, the mobile operator has a choice of Ethernet carriers through which to connect.

The Ethernet Exchange forms the interconnection platform for building and connecting multiple ecosystems. It’s an example of Metcalfe’s law at work; the value of a telecommunications system is proportional to the number of participants using it; those already in the data centre ecosystems are already reaping the rewards of collocation and, as others join, residents old and new will benefit.

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