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Does Carrier Ethernet + Internet = The Third Network?

By Doug Mohney November 21, 2014

While WebRTC V Conference & Expo worked the applications part of the ISO seven layer stack in the warmth of San Jose, Calif. this week, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) was pounding through various network layers in frigid cold Washington D.C.  The big think topic was "The Third Network" with buzzwords like agility, assurance, lifecycle service orchestration, and innovation.  But more mundane concerns may hold back rapid progress.

MEF President Nan Chen, in his opening keynote to around 1,100 attendees, said Carrier Ethernet  (CE) 2.0 provided users with performance and security, but no agility, while the Internet has agility.  The Third Network would deliver agility -- speed to innovate -- as well as CE 2.0's performance and security.   Users will be able to get "Network as a Service," including on-demand services and user-controlled services, stepping up from CE 2.0's static services that are ordered and take days, weeks and months to get turned up.

Getting to The Third Network will require three components working with CE 2.0: Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Function Virtualization (NFV), and the newly coined LIfecycle Service Orchestration (LSO).   Everyone in attendance, service providers, large enterprise customers and vendors from around 360 organizations and 36 countries were familiar with SDN and NFV.

LSO is a whole other concept, addressing the headaches and disconnects between SDN, NFV, and the bane of many a service provider, the Operation Support System (OSS) and Billing Support System (BSS) components.  It encompasses the areas of fulfillment, performance, control, assurance, usage, analytics, security, and policy, putting a layer of management on top of the existing WAN, NFV, and SDN.

Work to codify LSO is just beginning. MEF has to define APIs and NFV and SDN implementations.   Once done, LSO enables "Agile, Assured and Orchestrated Network as a Service" worldwide. Subscribers will get more control over network services, with delivery of dynamic business class services on demand across multi-carrier networks.

The key is being able to deliver quality of service and performance adjustments seamlessly across multiple carrier networks. Today, with few exceptions, the Internet is a best-effort design.  Once your session moves off of your primary carrier's network onto another network to get to your final destination, there are no end-to-end guarantees. 

Over the years, we've muddled along ok with email and web pages and streaming to play back video, but with more Real Time Communications (RTC) being pumped into the network, being able to engineer quality of service in an end-to-end fashion moves from a "like" to a "need."  Chen citied the ability for individuals to be able to get performance and security assured services available anywhere through wireless or wired coverage, such as a traveler at a hotel.

The Third Network provides a framework for service providers to make more money by providing assurance.  You want performance and security when you are traveling outside of your home network, you can get it, but it won't come for free.   Needless to say, Washington and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) got numerous jibs about staying out of the way and off the backs of carriers.

Regulatory concerns are more abstract than the cold truth that legacy OSS/BSS systems are causing major headaches for SDN/NFV implementation.   Some carriers, such as CenturyLink, have made a conscious decision to migrate from an existing mishmash of closed, proprietary OSS/BSS systems into a new one designed more for the 21st Century and flexible services.   Service provider speakers seemed to indicate a desire for flexible open source, API-loaded OSS/BSS software that would facilitate being able to spin up SDN and NFV services on the fly.   If there's a drag to being Agile, it will be the morass of OSS/BSS software acting as a drag to speedy progress.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing Editor

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