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5 Ways Carrier Ethernet Edges Out MPLS

Ken MercerBy Ken Mercer

When pitching corporate clients, VARs need to go beyond the same old technical differences, strengths, and limitations of MPLS and Ethernet services. Instead, focus on the operational and business advances that are tipping the scales in favor of the LAN-turned-WAN technology.

Opportunities abound for VARs and agents as carriers continue to light dark-fiber networks already in place. Carrier Ethernet represents a very viable alternative to MPLS, one that increasingly focuses on scalability, provisioning speed, and simplicity for on-network sites, be they main offices, branch locations, or data centers.

Jim Kleinsmith, national accounts director for Ciena, which provides networking gear to top cable companies and telcos, confirms that Carrier Ethernet is gaining market share on MPLS.

“Carrier Ethernet has the advantage of lower cost, lower latency, higher performance, easier scalability to 10 gigabits, more control over network routes, and better network management,” said Kleinsmith. “And then there’s connectivity through all service providers, data centers, and Ethernet exchanges. What else could you want?”

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Many in the industry are under the mistaken impression that service providers lack the expertise and manpower to handle Ethernet delivery over fiber. The thinking is that cablecos focus on coax resources, and telcos do the same for copper technologies. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Comcast, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon, for example, have dedicated fiber-savvy engineers and technology to Ethernet service deployment efforts for businesses.

And, when it comes to finding prospective customers for Ethernet over fiber, both cablecos and telcos are aggressively pushing these services, lighting dark-fiber facilities and selling to those already on lit networks. Channel partners need to get up to (Ethernet) speed.

When speaking with customers, stress these benefits:

  • Scalability: By utilizing flexible fiber networking equipment, carriers can often give customers that request, for example, a 100-megabit connection on a 1 gigabit port the ability to scale their bandwidth by up to nine times, to 900 megabits per second. VARs can help customers meet business demand quickly, without the need for additional onsite equipment as capacity needs climb. Once the order for additional bandwidth is processed, it’s off to the races.
  • Data Center Connectivity: Businesses looking for high-speed services to connect data centers are focusing on Ethernet connections, since the maximum available bandwidth is often nearly 10 gigabits per second over fiber links, with the option in most instances to far exceed that “ceiling.”
  • Security: It’s always a top decision point, and Carrier Ethernet services can provide greater security than MPLS in specific scenarios. A Carrier Ethernet service delivery switch operates at Layer 2, and its in-band control channel is a virtual LAN (VLAN) that cannot be accessed via a Layer 3 network (read: the Internet). “A hacker would have to be on site at the customer premise or at [the cable provider’s] head-end to gain access,” said Kleinsmith. In contrast, MPLS routers can be accessed remotely. (Learn more about the security of Carrier Ethernet vs. MPLS in our free report, WAN Connectivity: New Options, New Opportunities.)
  • Speed: While it’s clear that on-network locations can be set up much more quickly than off-network sites, the decreasing amount of onsite gear required, combined with light lifting on the routing protocol front, mean Carrier Ethernet services are more flexible than ever.

With Ethernet, a switching approach, sites are given a fiber connection that’s something of a dumb pipe and that supports Ethernet service from the LAN to the WAN. MPLS, a routing-based approach, requires heavier-lifting routing work, and complexity consumes more resources.

By comparison, provisioning a T-1 could take up to 45 days. Also, with Carrier Ethernet over fiber links, neither channel bonding nor reconfiguration is required.

  • Simplicity: Beyond the benefits of an end-to-end, LAN-to-WAN, Ethernet network, traffic doesn’t have to contend for often-fluctuating bandwidth. And, while MPLS can employ QoS to assign priorities to sensitive traffic types to manage network congestion, this is time consuming. In contrast, Ethernet WAN connections feature VLANs that can easily be created and dedicated to separate types of traffic, and businesses benefit from abundant bandwidth, minus congestion and contention concerns. Expect less latency and overhead versus MPLS with QoS.
  • Flexibility: Technically, customers don’t have to choose between MPLS and Carrier Ethernet — it’s possible to run an MPLS network over a Carrier Ethernet service. Though this approach will add complexity for IT managers tasked with keeping a Layer 3 service running over an Ethernet infrastructure, smaller and rural sites not lit for Ethernet could be added to the WAN this way.

For VARs and agents pitching network services, the discussion must extend beyond revisiting the basic strengths and differences of MPLS versus Carrier Ethernet. Centering the discussion on business benefits and operational advances may help sell customers on Ethernet services offered by cablecos and telcos of all sizes.

Ken Mercer is TBI vice president and drives key initiatives and partnerships for the company.


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