The father of Ethernet has an idea for how that networking scheme might one day embrace the radical notion of software-defined networking.
Last week's announcement by the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) that 20 vendors have been certified for its 2.0 release opens the way for Carrier Ethernet to play a big part in connecting a new generation of datacenters. But it also threatens to open up a future Pandora's box.
Due to growth in cloud-based services, mobile data, and video apps, Carrier Ethernet traffic passed legacy bandwidth (frame relay, ATM, and T1, mainly) in 2011, and something had to be done. The answer is CE 2.0, whose multiple classes of new service, improved manageability, and smooth interconnectivity for eight standard service types promises to open the way for many more access providers to join the Carrier Ethernet market. Another 60 vendors are expected to pass the rigorous certification process by the end of this year.
The featured speaker at the MEF meeting, held in San Diego, was Bob Metcalfe, the man credited with co-inventing Ethernet while working at Xerox PARC 40 years ago.
"Many 'new Ethernets' were born since its humble 2.94Mbit/s beginnings in Palo Alto," Metcalfe told the audience. "Ethernet continues to innovate. CE 2.0 gives service providers and vendors the ability to drive global interconnection and deliver a whole host of services to enterprises rapidly and with multiple classes of service."
Indeed, the new release expands from three services defined in CE 1.0 to eight services, two each in E-Line, E-LAN, E-Tree, and E-Access.
Metcalfe then proceeded to drop a bomb when he suggested a new role for CE 3.0, the next iteration of the MEF spec: "I don't see why MEF doesn't just adopt OpenFlow." OpenFlow, of course, is a scheme that's at the heart of much activity currently underway in the area of software-defined networking. SDN, though, is mainly a creature of the computer industry while Carrier Ethernet is one of carriers and networking firms. And Metcalfe is a veteran of much wrangling between networking standards, such as when Ethernet was pitted against IBM's Token Ring scheme in the 1980s.
The suggestion of somehow marrying Carrier Ethernet to SDN was greeted with a yawn from those attending the meeting, but Metcalfe indicated he would pursue the idea at a 40th anniversary celebration of Ethernet and the $100 billion market it has spawned, which is planned for May at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.
"The original Ethernet wasn't certified by anybody," he recalled, although his company, 3Com, did move to certify it later on. CE 2.0 puts vendors through more than 600 tests to meet exacting standards. Several companies have failed to pass them all.
Bob Mandeville, president of Iometrix, the company that handles the testing, said that strong demand for certified products and services is a big driving force. Mandeville seemed to represent the feelings of many Carrier Ethernet executives at the meeting, however, when he downplayed any imminent meeting of the minds between Carrier Ethernet and SDN. "What is the business model of SDN?" he asked rhetorically.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Metcalfe, who is MEF advisory director, obviously is planning a really big event to celebrate Ethernet's 40th year and to propel it to new markets. But carriers may not want to embrace OpenFlow and SDN architectures, which are radically different from what's in use today.
Adding to the intrigue are the companies just certified for CE 2.0, many of which are important players in the emerging SDN space. They include Accedian, Altera, BTI Systems, Ciena, Cisco, Cyan, FibroLAN, Huawei, Infinera, Juniper, MRV, Omnitron, Overture, PT Inovacao, Pulsecom, RAD Data Communications, Telco Systems, Tellabs, Transition Networks, and Transmode.