VANCOUVER, B.C. — The MEF, a standards organization for carrier-class Ethernet technology, held its annual meeting here this week. Software-defined networking (SDN), Ethernet standards, and network functions virtualization (NFV) were among the popular topics. But “industry chaos” was also a topic as global service providers consider the competitive field of cloud service providers (CSPs).
MEF President Nan Chen referred to “chaos” in the telecommunications industry, as cloud services and bandwidth strains pressure growth and profits. The topic was also brought up by several service provider executives and popped up in an analyst roundtable in which I participated.
Global telecom operators are under assault by CSPs, social networking, and ravenous users, with more bandwidth getting consumed with diminishing profits. The cost-per-bit of bandwidth is not declining fast enough to counter the increased user demand, increasing margin pressures on the pipe providers. And the fact that the U.S. Federal government has embraced the concept of Net Neutrality in a Netflix world does not help.
This is business backdrop as the MEF figures out how to expand its purview, extending Ethernet services to the “Third Network” concept, which means delivering dynamic enterprise services such as bandwidth-on-demand. The MEF is also working to integrating Ethernet with SDN and NFV technologies and delivering new roadmap for standards including lifecycle services orchestration (LSO), which will help push operating support systems (OSS) technologies into the open networking world.
“We want to build on our core service strength,” said Nan Chen, MEF president. “A year from now, we want to see LSO synonymous with SDN and NFV. That would be a really good accomplishment.”
Another goal is increased cooperation between the myriad industry standards organizations. The MEF recently took steps in this direction by cooperating with the TM Forum on standards for orchestration. One output of that was a demonstration of “Zero Touch Network-as-a-Service” orchestration for NFV, at the TM Forum event in Nice, France, in June. That was led by the MEF, TM Forum, PCCW Global, Spectrum Business TM Forum, and Axtel. It included technology from Oracle, InfoVista, and Juniper Networks.
That demo, part of the TM Forum’s Catalyst events, demonstrated the ability for an enterprise customer to self-provision a complex Carrier Ethernet service. The demo included integration with business and operations systems across a hybrid network with both physical and virtualized infrastructure, including virtualized customer premises equipment (vCPE) functions.
This demo hints at the potential for emerging LSO technology, which I predicted in March will become a multibillion-dollar market that starts to nudge aside proprietary OSS systems.
But the Catalyst demo is just a beginning. It scratches the surface of what needs to be done to virtualize existing carrier networks. In discussions in the hallway next to beers and cheese plates, MEF participants said that the massive scale and complexity of telecom networks mean they move more slowly than the Googles and Netflixes of the world, even though nearly all participants agree that NFV, SDN, and open standards are the way to go.
Service providers would love to provide more automation in their core Ethernet networks, which at more than 30 million ports now make up the “fuel” of the digital revolution, as pointed out by Stan Hubbard, MEF’s Communications Director.
The reality is that it’s only just started. As Michael Howard, principal analyst with Infonetics IHS Research pointed out, dynamic Ethernet services (the ability to provide bandwidth on demand), represent at best a few single-digit percentage points of the Ethernet services market.
Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation, sees open networking as a huge benefit to the service providers. “SDN is enabling enterprises to take information technology (IT) and make it a contributor to the top line by being directly coupled to the business lines,” said Pitt.
This will push operators more quickly toward open networking technology. “They would like to define the network and not have the vendors define it. They want an infrastructure that is remotely programmable.”
Overall, coming away from the MEF meeting, I get the sense that there is increased urgency among service providers and the MEF membership to move forward with virtualization and automation initiatives. The fact that the MEF and the TM Forum are now working together shows they are serious about moving the industry forward in the face of imminent threats.
In the meeting, the MEF also voted to change its official legal name to “MEF Forum” from the original Metro Ethernet Forum, to reflect its expansion in setting standard for virtualized network.
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