From Carrier Ethernet to the Third Network

From Carrier Ethernet to the Third Network

The GEN15 event in November brought together the leading innovators of carrier Ethernet technology, under the organisational umbrella of the MEF. Top of the agenda was the development of the MEF’s Third Network vision, which was unveiled a year ago. The Third Network builds on the ongoing roll-out of Carrier Ethernet 2.0 by service providers, bringing together SDN and NFV with lifecycle service orchestration, to define a new architecture for the networks of tomorrow.

Whereas the first network could be described as the Internet, a consumer-based best-effort approach, and the second network is business-focused and based on Carrier Ethernet 2.0 or MPLS, then the Third Network combines the best of both with Internet-like agility and ubiquity plus CE-like performance and security. That's the vision from the MEF, which was first articulated a year ago. Since then, the MEF has been encouraged by the response from industry, and is now working with other standards groups and the open source community to realise the full potential of the Third Network.

Guest of honour at this year’s event was Bob Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet back in the early 1970s. The technology has evolved ever since, and today's carrier ethernet standard, for example, is far removed from that very first iteration. He believes ethernet is now a "model of innovation". We have a culture of "build it and they will come", such as Gigabit Ethernet, but this provides new capabilities, drives innovations and encourages new applications. High speed networks are driven by high-speed apps, such as video. But they also need to support the proliferation of huge numbers of devices – such as IoT devices, which, on their own, require very low bandwidth, but collectively add up to extremely high bandwidth utilisation.

The arrival of SDN and NFV are the next logical steps in the new network architecture, moving away from proprietary hardware to software and open systems. How far can we take the ethernet in the future? The answer would appear to be as far as our desire to innovate requires.

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