Ethernet gets its MAN

SAN MATEO (04/14/2000) - To address the fact that voice networks are ill-equipped to handle the ever-increasing volumes of data travelling via MANs (metropolitan area networks), networking vendors are attempting to capitalize on the familiarity and flexibility of Ethernet.

Extreme Networks this week will roll out its Alpine 3808, a carrier-class switch that extends Ethernet to the MAN. And last week Appian Communications introduced hardware that uses Ethernet to replace rigid TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) links in the MAN. Big name support may soon join as well, as Cisco Systems last month quietly launched a new Metropolitan Services Business Unit to focus on the metropolitan space.

"There is so much fiber going in these days, and the bandwidth is becoming readily available. So the question becomes, what is going to drive the packets onto that fiber infrastructure? And a lot of people are looking at Ethernet," said Mary Petrosky, principal analyst at, in San Mateo, California. "If you think of the cost of a piece of Ethernet equipment vs.

[that of] a SONET interface for a router, there is no comparison. It is dirt cheap to buy Ethernet."

Known for reliability and redundancy, SONET was designed to support the predictable flows of voice but lacks the flexibility to manage bursty packet-data traffic. SONET is also expensive and cumbersome to upgrade to higher bandwidth.

Several new service providers have sprung into action to seize this opportunity. Yipes Communications builds regional fiber networks to provide bandwidth-on-demand for enterprises and ISPs. Yipes' networks provide Ethernet interfaces, and the company is currently testing Extreme's Alpine 3800 switch.

"[Extreme's product] brings a lot more flexibility and scalability to what we are doing. It allows us to enhance the capacity in the local ring, creating more routing flexibility in the local environments," said Kamran Sistanizadeh, vice president of network architecture at Yipes, in San Francisco.

Mary Petrosky also pointed out the additional benefit of cutting out operations overhead from separate technologies in the MAN and LAN, saying that, "Ethernet is pretty simplistic, and there are many people who understand how to run Ethernet networks, [whereas] traditional MAN/WAN technologies usually require a separate staff."

Extreme Networks Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., is at

Going to Extremes

MAN features in Extreme's Alpine 3800 switch include the following.

* Bandwidth by the slice, which divides Ethernet capacity into fixed increments* Usage-based billing, which provides information to charge users based on capacity and traffic types* IP TDM, which adds fixed latency circuits for different traffic types over the WAN* SONET characteristics, which delivers link redundancy for increased reliability

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