Why do service providers need Carrier Ethernet certification?

Carrier Ethernet services are seeing some serious traction among enterprise customers, and to make sure businesses feel comfortable buying this familiar technology from a telecom service provider, the Metro Ethernet Forum is offering certification not only for vendors, but for service providers, too. Service provider certification marks a revolutionary change in the industry. Since the program began in April 2005, more than 80% of the major carriers offering Carrier Ethernet in the U.S. have gone through the MEF's program designed to guarantee service functionality and performance. MEF-certified services help provide enterprises with guarantees on real-time applications like VoIP and videoconferencing.

The third phase of the MEF's Carrier Ethernet is now underway – educating enterprises around the world about the advantages of buying certified equipment and services. Bob Mandeville, president and founder of Iometrix talked to SearchTelecom site editor Kate Gerwig about the purpose of Carrier Ethernet certification for service providers. Iometrix is an independent testing lab endorsed by the MEF that developed and runs the certification program.

It's unusual for carriers to be certified to offer a service. Why do they need that to sell Carrier Ethernet?
The mission of the Metro Ethernet Forum's technical arm is to produce all of the standards that are required to make Ethernet carrier class. The standards, or the technical specifications, that the MEF has developed have done that by concentrating first on the definition of what Ethernet services are. By defining attributes such as multiplexing, it's become possible to define an Ethernet service that brings with it all of the advantages of Ethernet, low cost and familiarity, together with the topology familiar to Frame Relay users. One happens to be called EVPL, Ethernet Virtual Private Line. That's just one of the services as an example that has been defined by the MEF. One of the services is an upgraded version of Frame Relay, because it's offered over Ethernet. Was certifying vendor equipment the first step in the MEF's Carrier Ethernet program?
Yes, we use two different test specs developed by the MEF for vendor equipment to allow service providers to deliver compliant services. So the equipment that we certify addresses the need for service providers to have the guarantee that when they buy equipment, it is capable and has been verified to deliver compliant services.

The first test spec is called MEF9, which is a functional verification of the services, so there are a series of test cases that verify that the multiplexing function is compliant. That's only one of 244 test cases. The next test spec is MEF14, which looks at service performance. That's revolutionary in the industry. In the past, forums haven't backed a certification program that verifies performance. First the MEF wanted to give service providers assurance that when they buy equipment with a MEF-certified logo on it, the equipment will enable them to roll out certified services. Did service providers embrace the idea of being certified?
MEF membership has more than doubled since the launch of the certification program a year and a half ago, and more than two-thirds of the new members are service providers. There have been more than 320 services and systems certified since we started the program, and that includes all of the major U.S. Carrier Ethernet service providers and service providers in Europe and Asia. The origin of certification is in the strong growth of service provider members of the MEF. They wanted to know what the organization was going to do to help sell Carrier Ethernet to the enterprise. Now that they have a dominant position in the MEF, a certification program was created, and that's a good thing. Smaller providers are in the pipeline right now, and you're going to see more.

Certification was perceived as an opportunity for service providers to go through a rigorous process at the end of which that they could make a strong claim. They embraced the idea that their services be certified to Metro Ethernet Forum standards. That claim in the marketplace goes a long way, so the response to the program was great.

How does the Carrier Ethernet certification process for service providers work?
Service Providers have to go through a total of 404 test cases, for a combination MEF9 and MEF14 certification. That's achieved on real customer circuits. Probes are deployed, and each probe (called CNodes) runs the full series of tests. In so far as the performance service tests are concerned, we have established objective criteria for the principal metrics, which are loss, delay and delay variation. Those criteria are extremely aggressive and are generally perceived to be far more aggressive than commonly found SLAs in networking. We really put the screws down, and that's why service providers like going through the process. Why does the MEF care so much about Carrier Ethernet certification?
There's another way of looking at it. There are all of these fantastically gifted genius engineers that show up at quarterly meetings of the MEF. They pour all of their know-how, this genius into these specs. And they ask, then what? How do we know that these specs are being implemented properly? How do we know that it's all going to work together? Why don't we do something to make sure all of this work is followed through all the way to the end customer. The MEF as an organization really is the first forum to address these issues in an aggressive and courageous way. The board of the MEF has the guts. What's the advantage of certified Carrier Ethernet services for enterprises?
When service providers are certified, it gives enterprises buying Carrier Ethernet services the assurance that the services they're buying are compliant, and therefore they're interoperable. They can get services from multiple vendors and get the same service by all of the vendors nationally and globally. Services from different providers might be better or worse, but the basics will be the same. There is strong demand for certification from vendors because providers ask for certified equipment in their RFPs.

So the next part in the food chain is making sure that enterprises are aware of the certification program and that their service providers are in the food chain when large enterprises put out their RFPs. In order to make sure that that happens, the MEF launched a world tour road show in September. It's designed specifically for large enterprises to make sure they are aware of the program and that they buy Carrier Ethernet services rather than Frame or T1. In doing so, we want them to require that their services are certified. Ethernet is considered an enterprise technology. One of the great things is that enterprises are very familiar with Ethernet services. Because it's a Layer 2 service, they can build whatever they want on top of it. It's drop dead simple. If you're in a big data center and you have a massive backup facility 100 miles away, you introduce another machine and plug it into another Ethernet port that happens to belong to the service provider. That's the tremendous advantage of Ethernet service. At that level, it's simple. All the complexity is hidden from the end user. The end user ends up interfacing with a simple Ethernet jack. If you weren't using Carrier Ethernet, you would probably be using a leased line. That's much more expensive, and you have all this spooky carrier equipment in your data center. How long does the certification process take?
For a service provider to get MEF9 certification for the three services that we certify today, the total process from beginning to end takes four to five weeks. The testing process part takes about two weeks. For MEF14, the testing process takes more like three weeks. What Carrier Ethernet Services are included in certification?
For MEF9, there are two point to point services. There is EPL (Ethernet Private Line), a transparent service, Ethernet's version of leased or private lines. EVPL (Ethernet Virtual Private Line) features multiplexing. It is also point to point, so its corresponding topology is hub and spoke, like Frame Relay). Finally there's ELAN, which is a multipoint to multipoint service. These are all part of Carrier Ethernet. The right service depends on what the customer wants to do. If I want to hook two data centers together, I would buy EPL service because it's a big transparent pipe that belongs only to me, so I could blast my backup overnight. EVPL, for example, could be used by an HMO, where there are computers at headquarters and a lot of terminals spread out in different offices, clinics and labs. Is it true that when most people talk about Carrier Ethernet today, they're talking about ELAN?
ELAN seems to be the service that most enterprises are buying today. At the beginning, EPL sold very well because it could be done using Ethernet over SONET. Major carriers have SONET networks, and if they threw in a blade with an Ethernet front end, they could build a point-to-point service. But ELAN seems to be turning out to be the big seller today in Asia and North America in particular. It's kind of new. It's a full peer kind of network. You can do VoIP because it establishes the call on a peer to peer basis and ELAN is the network topology that can handle it. How will the emerging PBB standard affect ELAN and MPLS?
Many ELAN implementations are rolled out on MPLS/VPLS cores, so they work together. We're not advocating throwing out MPLS. We're saying that there are other ways of doing it. Upcoming standards called Provider Backbone Bridging (PBB) are creating a big debate in the industry. PBB is presented as pure Ethernet transport. What it does essentially is provide high scalability because carriers have to address millions of customers. Ethernet had MAC (Media Access Control) sourcing at the beginning, an outer tag or MAC address. PBB would add another outer MAC address called MAC in MAC. That's the key behind PBB, an outer MAC address that provides very, very high levels of scalability.

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