Metro Ethernet Forum celebrates 10 years of accomplishments

When the Metro Ethernet Forum celebrates its 10th anniversary next month, it can tick off quite a list of accomplishments for the ways it has shaped the Layer 2 Ethernet standard.

The history of Metro Ethernet

Founded in 2001 as an industry group that would "develop ubiquitous business services for Enterprise users principally accessed over optical metropolitan networks to connect their Enterprise LANs," MEF has since approved 26 Ethernet specifications including specs related to Ethernet architecture framework, mobile backhaul, user network interface requirements and local management interface requirements. The forum has also acted as the go-to place for any equipment vendors who are looking to get their Ethernet gear certified to ensure interoperability and interconnectivity.

The forum's biggest contribution, though, may have been in setting the definition of Carrier Ethernet as a standardized carrier-class service and network that must meet certain specifications for standardized services, scalability, reliability, quality of service and service management.

In terms of scalability, for instance, MEF said that Carrier Ethernet services and networks must be able to scale between bandwidth of 1Mbps to 10Gbps "in granular increments." And standardized Carrier Ethernet services such as E-Line and E-LAN were designed to "provide transparent, private line, virtual private line and LAN services" to end users in a way that would accommodate customers' existing network standards such as TDM.

Jeff Schwarz, the group manager for Ethernet WAN services for Verizon Business, says the MEF has also led to vital cooperation between Ethernet carriers that has made Ethernet adoption among enterprise customers more ubiquitous than it otherwise would have been.

"MEF has allowed for a common set of attributes and applications that has let service providers establish interconnections with other providers," he says. "You don't see a Layer 7 or Layer 5 industry body like what we have right now with Layer 2 Ethernet."

Tom Wilson, CenturyLink's manager of wholesale data services and a long-time active MEF member, also emphasizes interconnectivity when asked about the MEF's most important achievements. In particular, he points to the recent External Network-to-Network Interface (ENNI) specification as one that will make it vastly easier to troubleshoot customers' problems even if they're occurring on part of another carrier's network.

Because CenturyLink has had to develop interconnectivity arrangements with carriers such as Verizon and AT&T to deliver services in areas where the company has no Ethernet footprint, Wilson says it used to have difficulty gaining insight into the other carriers' networks when one of them would cause service disruptions for CenturyLink customers. But with ENNI, CenturyLink can now actually check other networks to see what the problem might be.

"We can now actually troubleshoot into other carriers' networks," Wilson explains. "So if you've got a problem with you Internet connection, we have the capability to see if it's a software problem on your computer or if it's a problem on the carrier you're connecting to."

Wilson also says that CenturyLink has benefited mightily from MEF's equipment certification program, which gives customers insight into the quality and level of service they can expect from a given piece of gear.

"It's always good knowing that you can go to a supplier whose equipment has been MEF-certified," he says. "Then you can recommend that gear to customers if they're struggling with what on-site equipment to use. The certification program lets us say to customers, 'With this level of certification on this equipment, we know this will work."

But the most important thing that MEF has done over the past decade, says Schwartz, has been to provide a sense of order on what could have been a chaotic industry with too many moving parts and standards to thrive in the enterprise market.

"In terms of how [Verizon] goes to market, it's helped us to be very structured in our approach," he says. "It's always important for us to be in alignment with MEF standards."

Read more about lan and wan in Network World's LAN & WAN section.

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