WorldCom steps up wide-area Ethernet coverage

Giving the idea of using Ethernet beyond the LAN a boost, WorldCom Inc. last week unveiled a nationwide data networking service that offers Ethernet across metropolitan- and wide-area networks.

WorldCom isn't the first to make that kind of service available. Other vendors, including Denver-based Qwest Communications International Inc., already support Ethernet above the LAN level. But WorldCom is launching the broadest national coverage to date, said Marian Stasney, an analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston.

Houston-based law firm Andrews & Kurth LLP went live as a beta-test user of the WorldCom metro-area service late last month. Lynn McGuire, IT director at Andrews & Kurth, said the service will let the firm move its IT and accounting operations to a cheaper location in the city and connect them back to its headquarters.

"We're interested in it because we're comfortable with Ethernet," McGuire said. "You can make a major change like moving people to a new building, and it will seem like a nonevent for your users." By contrast, he added, the frame-relay networking service that the firm was using before didn't have enough bandwidth or throughput to handle its billing system.

Almost all transactions start and end using Ethernet data transfer protocols, Stasney said. But as they head out over wider networks, they often have to be converted to frame-relay or Asynchronous Transfer Mode protocols. Extending Ethernet "eliminates all kinds of garbage in the middle," Stasney said.

WorldCom Group, the firm's data network unit, will offer LAN-to-LAN services in 84 U.S. metropolitan areas and make Ethernet services available for Internet or virtual private network (VPN) connections in seven cities. The services are built around technology from Brampton, Ontario-based Nortel Networks Ltd.

Clint Fast, network administrator at Allied Building Products Corp. in East Rutherford, N.J., said he plans to use a similar metro-area Ethernet convergence service by MegaPath Networks Inc. in Pleasanton, Calif. Currently, Allied runs its network on 75 separate Digital Subscriber Line connections. Linking those as part of a single Ethernet-based VPN will let the company proceed with voice over IP and supply chain projects that require a more robust communications backbone, Fast said.