Melding distant networks
The once-distinct lines between the local, metropolitan, and wide area networks are starting to blur as the equipment linking Ethernet to optical technology in the cores of service provider networks proliferates.
For example, Nortel Networks in upcoming months will announce new products that map Ethernet directly onto a SONet (Synchronous Optical Network) line card, providing a pathway for Ethernet into optical networks.
Connecting optical power to local-area Ethernet technology promises to bring enterprises and communities drastically increased bandwidth, flexibility, and control over QoS (quality of service), which has been difficult to impose on Ethernet, according to company officials and industry analysts.
"Ethernet is ubiquitous in the enterprise, low cost, and easy to provision," said Brett Sheppard, director of strategic planning for local Internet solutions at Nortel. "Marrying optical's strong distance and reliability [with Ethernet] combines the benefits of both."
According to one analyst, the quick provisioning of controlled amounts of bandwidth will be an important benefit of combining Ethernet and optical technology.
"With the speed and flexibility of optical networks, you can set up and tear down light paths faster in the network and pass that directly to the optical core," said Andrew McCormick, senior analyst at Aberdeen Group.
In addition, delivering optical power to the enterprise doorstep over a relatively inexpensive technology like Ethernet may eventually translate into serverless enterprises, 10Gbps networked storage, and geographical freedom from applications and data centres, observers noted.
Other equipment vendors, including Extreme Networks, Cisco, and Riverstone Networks, have deployed products that hook Ethernet into the MANs. These companies are now eyeing Ethernet's wide-area potential. Optical start-ups such as Appian Communications are pushing this space as well.
"[Ethernet in] the WAN is on [Cisco's] radar. We are at the beginning now, where Ethernet is becoming more accepted in metro areas. It is like a wave from the edge where Ethernet dominates, slowing moving to the core," said Andrew Greenfield, manager for IP and optical at Cisco.
How quickly the future networking landscape is constructed depends on the development of a standard interface to specify how Ethernet will run over WANs, according to McCormick. The issue is being hammered out by standards bodies and groups such as the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance, which plans to complete the second draft of a 10Gbps specification in November.
Members of the alliance, which includes Cisco, 3Com, Nortel, Extreme, World Wide Packets, Sun Microsystems, and Intel, share an "Ethernet everywhere" vision, according to Tony Lee, director of product marketing at Extreme, and president of the 10 Gigabit Ethernet Alliance.