Driving and Managing the Ethernet Operations Revolution

By TMCnet Special Guest
Darren Pralle, Product Line Manager, Spirent Communications
  |  March 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of NGN.

The carrier Ethernet revolution is under way. Ethernet is assuming the role once held by TDM transport technologies and is earmarked to support a globally interconnected world. End-to-end carrier Ethernet services are proving invaluable in today’s cloud environment, connecting enterprises, data centers and distributed applications. Additionally, Ethernet plays a key role and serves as the foundation for increasingly sophisticated wireless networks, delivering applications across the mobile packet core and the mobile backhaul. While Ethernet is still evolving and there are a number of hurdles, its impact on telecom networks is significant.

In 2010 several public tests explored the viability of carrier Ethernet, particularly in a global interconnected network environment and relative to the impact of a multi-provider, multi-service scenario on service quality. The main focus of the tests was to determine how well current standards from the Ethernet Alliance, MEF (News - Alert), IEEE and ITU are working together with multiple interconnected carriers to provide services at various QoS levels.

In spite of the complexity, the news from the public test is a resounding yes. There is game-changing progress being made with standards-based protocols for provisioning and maintenance, but there is a significant and somewhat overlooked impact.

It turns out that the demand for more Ethernet is outpacing the ability by carrier operations groups to turn up new services, troubleshoot existing service problems, and manage Ethernet performance to the level of legacy TDM networks. A recent carrier Ethernet global interconnect public test of live Ethernet service conducted by the EANTC came to the same conclusion, noting that “the act of coordinating equipment allocation and service provisioning across multiple providers in multiple locations and time zones proved to be a time-consuming exercise.”

The testing team’s function mirrored a service provider operations team as they were assigned to provision the services and troubleshoot/monitor service performance. According to the EANTC, “without agreed-upon interconnect agreements among the providers defining the service configuration and SLA levels in advance, completing and testing in three weeks would likely have been impossible.” In short, operations teams will play an integral role in the success or failure of carrier Ethernet services.

The basic operational function of service turn up is consuming field resources beyond current staffing levels and extending service turn-up schedules. The explosion of mobile backhaul is a perfect example of this trend, with wireless operators turning up thousands of new Ethernet-connected tower sites each year. Each new installation will require multiple dispatches and, if a third-party backhaul carrier is used, additional time is required to coordinate multiple service provider resources. Deployment schedules and manpower are quickly over run by relying on traditional dispatch models and the ongoing requirement of troubleshooting service calls.

Regardless of the service, there is always the need to efficiently troubleshoot and resolve network and service problems. Once again, the legacy model has been to dispatch field technicians to find and then resolve the trouble. But with an interconnected Ethernet service, dispatching may not locate the problem or, more accurately, identify who owns the problem. Relying on a dispatch model or focusing solely on network issues is not efficient or scalable. Remember, the same resources are also tasked with turning up new services in addition to managing service quality.

Ethernet services must incorporate QoS and SLA monitoring to support time-sensitive applications that were supported natively on TDM networks. Whether you are monitoring a best-effort service or a premium service with an SLA guarantee, the effort to monitor and manage service performance falls to operation’s resources. This requirement is not really new; rather it’s just more complex with an Ethernet service. Once again, progress has been made. Standards such as EOAM (Y.1731/802.1ag), Y.156sam, and TWAMP are providing the network operations team with the necessary test points and standardized test profiles needed to base line services across multiple networks and providers, but getting these tools deployed in an operations environment and using them efficiently presents a challenge.

As with any challenge there are multiple solutions. There are, however, three clear requirements for the carrier Ethernet operations team: reduce the dependency on field technicians to increase scalability and reduce operational expense, address the best-effort nature of Ethernet with QoS- enabled networks, and provide 24x7 visibility into network and service performance.

Darren Pralle is product line manager with Spirent Communications (News - Alert)

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi