At my day job, which I’ve managed to hang onto for over ten years now, I’m exposed to all the new network technologies, and very often I’m asked to write about them or teach them or create online webinars around them. I think one of the more intriguing trends in computer networking lately has been something called “Carrier Ethernet.” It may not seem like much to the everyday user of the Internet (e.g.; you), but it does mean a lot to the Internet Service Providers, who plan to use Carrier Ethernet to vastly decrease their costs and increase their service.
So what is Carrier Ethernet?
Carrier Ethernet (CE) is a technology where the basic Ethernet standard is used directly over “core” Internet switches, effectively leveraging the simplicity of your home computer network over a world-wide network. In other words, your home network, which uses a communication standard known as Ethernet, will interface with your local Internet Service Provider (ISP) without needing to be converted to some other type of protocol.
Why is this significant?
Currently, traffic from your home Ethernet network has to be modified in order to run over the ISP network. Specifically, when your PC sends traffic to a website server, the Ethernet protocol used on your home network has to be stripped away and replaced with another protocol that your ISP uses, typically Synchronous Optical Network (SONET). After this conversion, your traffic is sent to its destination. When it reaches its destination, the SONET protocol has to be converted back to an Ethernet protocol.
It’s sort of like driving to work, but before you complete the first mile, you have to get out of your car and get into another car, then drive that other car to the other side of town, only to get out again and get back into your own car again for the last mile.
The implementation of this scenario is actually a bit more complicated, due to a lot of obstructions between your PC and the website server. Within the core Internet network, your traffic has to be “routed” to the proper destination. Before arriving at a router, your traffic has be converted from SONET back to Ethernet, then routed to the proper path, then converted from Ethernet back into SONET again. Since there could be, say, 10 routers between your PC and the website server, this conversion process has to take place 10 times.
It’s like switching back and forth between your car and another car 10 times during your trip to the office.
As you can imagine, all these conversions costs a lot of time and money. Okay, admittedly, the delay for each conversion may only require a few milliseconds, but with several routers along the path, a packet can suffer tens of milliseconds of delay. This may not seem important when you’re just looking at a web page, but when you’re using Voice over IP or playing an online First Person Shooter (FPS) game, the delay can become problematic.
When Carrier Ethernet is deployed, there will be no delays resulting from all those conversions. Everything stays as an Ethernet signal – everything from your PC, through the Internet network, to the website server. No conversions mean faster, simpler and more efficient operation. The increased efficiency will improve service, and, let’s face it; it’ll be a lot cheaper. That’s not to say that the ISPs will pass along the savings to its customers, but it will allow them to provide improved service while holding a hedge against inflationary increases in prices.
Carrier Ethernet is not yet widely deployed, as it is still being tested. Many people from competing companies have already come to an agreement as to how to handle CE traffic as it routes across – and through – their domains. To that end, standards have already been drawn up. But the devil lives in the details, and the details of implementation have yet to be conquered.
By the way, I’ve written a lot about IPv6 in the recent past, and I believe it will be widely deployed within the next few years as well as CE. IPv6 deployment will not be affected by CE deployment, even though both are riding on the same network. As a protocol that lives in a higher abstract layer, IPv6 stays above the details of Ethernet, so it will not be affected by changes in Ethernet’s implementation.
Gee, I hope I didn’t nerd out too much!
Nice Intro to Carrier Ethernet
written by Craig, November 07, 2010