Network cables plugged into a network appliance

Metro Ethernet Can Be Part Of A Broadband WAN

The concept of the broadband WAN is becoming a reality to more and more organizations every day. However, when I talk to network managers and IT leaders about the broadband WAN, cable and DSL tend to dominate the conversation. One broadband technology that never seems to get its due is Metro Ethernet.

Metro Ethernet isn’t for everyone, as it’s used primarily for regional connectivity so it’s impractical for businesses that are geographically diverse like large retailers, law firms, and professional services organizations. But for businesses that are regionally concentrated, Metro Ethernet provides a great, low-cost way to dump high-cost MPLS circuits in favor of something that’s easier to manage and which provides better performance. Healthcare organizations, local governments, and school systems can all benefit from Metro Ethernet services. Other organizations can benefit as well, although the use case will be for short-range connectivity where LAN-like speeds are required for initiatives like business continuity and local VM mobility between data centers.

Can your enterprise benefit from Metro Ethernet?

For example, the healthcare industry is rapidly becoming digitized, driving up bandwidth utilization. However, the bandwidth requirements can often be unpredictable so the knowing just how much bandwidth to buy can be a challenge. Most Ethernet providers offer “tunable” services where bandwidth can be adjusted up or down on demand. This allows the healthcare institution buy what it needs today and then adjust on the fly. Speeds typically range anywhere from 256K to multi-gigabit so any application can be supported.

Another example is converged services in local Government. Bringing voice, video, and data services on a common network have been a big initiative in local Governments as a way to slash budgets. Metro Ethernet services have been engineered to carry converged services like VoIP and video over IP, enabling the transition to happen with the least amount of disruption. Government workers tend to be highly process-driven, so any kind of change to a process can create tremendous upheaval with workers. Ethernet can limit that.

As a technology, Metro Ethernet has many benefits over other forms of broadband, including the following:

  • Ubiquity. Ethernet is an established, well-defined, standards-based protocol that’s easy to deploy and simple to manage. Unlike many protocols that tend to require a fair amount of tweaking to get different vendor solutions to interoperate (example: FibreChannel), the Ethernet specification is so well-defined that any solution from any provider will likely work with any other. Also, because Ethernet operates at layer 2, there is no requirement for any kind of LAN-WAN conversation technology or multiple routing protocols. Customers that want to route the packets can run MPLS over top of Ethernet if they so choose.
  • Cost effectiveness. Most Ethernet services do not require the customer to purchase and install CPE at each location. This makes the delivery of high-speed Ethernet connectivity much cheaper than other services like ATM or Private Line.
  • Flexible technology. One of the key tenets of a broadband WAN is the ability to provision the network in the best possible configuration for the business. Ethernet supports multiple topologies including point-to-point, hub and spoke, partial or fully meshed.

Metro Ethernet services have been around for years, but in this era of broadband WANs and SD-WANs it seems that Ethernet has become the forgotten about technology. Again, I’m not saying its for everyone, but for regional companies, Ethernet is an excellent connectivity choice to enable a broadband WAN.

About the author
Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and with long term strategic advice. Kerravala provides research and advice to the following constituents: End user IT and network managers, vendors of IT hardware, software and services and the financial community looking to invest in the companies that he covers.