To address the fact that voice networks are ill-equipped to handle the ever-increasing volumes of data travelling via metropolitan area networks (MANs), networking vendors are attempting to capitalise on the familiarity and flexibility of Ethernet.
Extreme Networks is rolling out its Alpine 3808, a carrier-class switch that extends Ethernet to the MAN. And Appian Communications introduced hardware that uses Ethernet to replace rigid Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) links in the MAN. Big name support may soon join as well, as Cisco Systems recently launched a new Metropolitan Services Business Unit to focus on the metropolitan space.
"There is so much fibre going in these days, and the bandwidth is becoming readily available. So the question becomes, What is going to drive the packets onto that fibre infrastructure?' And a lot of people are looking at Ethernet," said Mary Petrosky, principal analyst at Petrosky.com. "If you think of the cost of a piece of Ethernet equipment versus [that of] a SONET interface for a router, there is no comparison. It is dirt cheap to buy Ethernet."
Known for reliability and redundancy, SONET was designed to support the predictable flows of voice but lacks the flexibility to manage packet-data traffic. SONET is also expensive and cumbersome to upgrade to higher bandwidth.
Several new service providers have sprung into action to seize this opportunity. Yipes Communications builds regional fibre networks to provide bandwidth-on-demand for enterprises and ISPs. Yipes' networks provide Ethernet interfaces, and the company is currently testing Extreme's Alpine 3800 switch.
"[Extreme's product] brings a lot more flexibility and scalability to what we are doing. It allows us to enhance the capacity in the local ring, creating more routing flexibility in the local environments," said Kamran Sistanizadeh, vice president of network architecture at Yipes.
Mary Petrosky also pointed out the additional benefit of cutting out operations overhead from separate technologies in the MAN and LAN, saying that, "Ethernet is pretty simplistic, and there are many people who understand how to run Ethernet networks, [whereas] traditional MAN/WAN technologies usually require a separate staff."