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Faster and Nimbler: EADs Evolve to Support Network Transformation
- Evolution of Ethernet services is accelerating – 10GbE is becoming the new norm for enterprise connectivity, and 100GbE client ports are needed for DCI and wholesale interconnection, driving adoption of 100GbE uplinks.
- EADs need more than higher transmission speeds – programmability and SDN support is as important to guarantee agility and flexibility in service deployment.
For many operators, Ethernet services are their enterprise-oriented business’ platform for future growth. To operators and customers alike, Ethernet services, usually provided under Carrier Ethernet (CE) services frameworks, bring standardized and simple, high-speed connectivity. However, the Ethernet access business is evolving, primarily driven by two factors:
- Increased capacity needs: Enterprise use of video and cloud services, and the move of their own data centers to the cloud, mean that many operators need to deploy higher capacity Ethernet services across their footprint. Along with providing higher capacity links for connecting large enterprise sites, like campuses or HQs, operators increasingly provide high-capacity services to connect enterprise data centers, where cloud applications reside. Mobile backhaul – one of the Ethernet access primary use cases – has also evolved to higher speeds. With 5G deployments around the corner, backhaul capacity requirements will go up by an order of magnitude compared to 4G – most radio equipment vendors expect that 100GbE connections to the central unit (CU) will become the norm.
- Expanded agility: An increasing number of Ethernet access use cases (orchestrated services, high-capacity mobile backhaul, or wholesale inter-carrier connectivity) have led the industry to develop the newest MEF services framework – MEF 3.0. This set of standards is focused on providing cloud-centric Ethernet services with dynamic performance, security, stringent timing, and user- and application-directed control over network resources and service capabilities. Network slicing – one of the key 5G mechanisms – also relies on virtualized, cloud-centric connectivity.
A confluence of these two trends has brought a step change in development of Ethernet access and demarcation devices (EADs). The new generation of EADs must provide high enough capacity – in the current marketplace this translates into supporting 10GbE client connections, and 100 GbE uplinks. For use cases such as data center interconnect and inter-operator connectivity (defined in MEF 3.0 as External Network-to-Network Interface (E-NNI)), where EAD serves primarily as a demarcation point, the device needs to support 100GbE clients as well.
To support required cloud-centric service capabilities defined by MEF 3.0, EADs need to be programmable, with the ability to change service parameters, such as bandwidth, QoS, latency, or security-related features on the fly. Ideally, the device should expose these capabilities to higher-level SDN control and orchestration layers through a set of standardized open APIs, simplifying operator OAM workload, and ensuring agility in service provisioning. For direct access to device capabilities, support for the widely used NETCONF protocol and YANG modelling language is a must. Finally, in line with operator focus on reducing OpEx, the device needs to allow for zero-touch provisioning to ensure accelerated and efficient device and new services deployment.
The combination of these two types of device capabilities – increased capacity and expanded agility – defines the next generation of EADs. Operators should evaluate how well vendors’ offerings satisfy these two sets of requirements and take these results into account when making their buying decisions.