How to understand business Ethernet services Featured

8:01pm EDT March 31, 2012
How to understand business Ethernet services

“The network is your business” has been a mantra for many years, indicating how businesses rely more heavily on being networked among their facilities, data centers, suppliers, business partners and customers.

“Your network enables your business to improve productivity, provide business continuity, increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs,” says Michael Louden, Director of Enterprise Sales for Comcast. “Selecting the Wide Area Network to meet your diverse needs can be challenging, but over the past several years, business Ethernet services have emerged as the optimal choice to best address many applications.”

Smart Business spoke with Louden about how Ethernet services can help improve your network.

What makes Ethernet a good choice for businesses?

Since the initial business Ethernet services were launched in 2000, much has changed. Ethernet services have become more standardized, thanks to the work of the Metro Ethernet Forum. Ethernet services have also improved significantly from their switched Ethernet ‘best effort’ origins. Today, business Ethernet services can provide service performance that rivals TDM private line services, but with the improved flexibility, scalability and cost effectiveness of Ethernet.

One of the most appealing aspects of Ethernet services is that it uses the same fundamental Ethernet technologies that are familiar to IT personnel. Businesses can leverage this to have a common pool of resources to manage both their LANs and WANs. However, not all service providers are created equal, and businesses must be able to evaluate and compare specific plan features to ensure they’re getting the Ethernet service best suited to their needs.

What should businesses consider when selecting an Ethernet service?

Businesses need to evaluate three main components necessary to ordering Ethernet service: Ethernet ports, Ethernet connectivity and Ethernet service bandwidth. All Ethernet services provide these three components to deliver basic service functionality and, for some applications, this may suffice. However, a growing number of applications require more service capabilities such as classes of service, which address the unique service performance requirements for different applications, and service performance metrics. So, to differentiate a specific type of data traffic that you prioritize or use heavily from the rest, you could purchase an Ethernet service with two classes of service.

How do you evaluate an Ethernet port?

When evaluating an Ethernet port, look at the port speed and connection type — electrical or optical. The speed you choose will determine your bandwidth abilities, so look for services that support port speeds ranging from 10 Mbps to 100 Gbps. Also keep in mind that you may require bandwidth upgrades to meet future needs. The significance of the Ethernet port speed you select will depend upon your initial bandwidth requirements and your anticipated incremental bandwidth needs for the duration of the service agreement.

How do you select the appropriate Ethernet connectivity?

Services address two basic types of connectivity: point-to-point, allowing a site-to-site connection, or multipoint, which allows any site to connect with any other. So consider how many locations you will be connecting, as well as the type of applications to be supported, application performance requirements and traffic flow patterns.

The type of Ethernet connectivity is closely related to the type of network topology you would like to create and its selection will depend upon factors including the type of applications to be supported, the application performance requirements, the number of locations to connect initially and anticipate to connect over time, and traffic flow patterns.

If you expect a lot of sites to be connected and interacting, multipoint connectivity enables additional sites to be more easily added to the WAN. Additionally, it allows for simple traffic prioritization, effectively supports VoIP and data traffic over the same WAN and better handles applications requiring significant amounts of any-to-any site communication.

How do you evaluate Ethernet service bandwidth?

The Committed Information Rate (CIR) articulates the amount of service bandwidth that will be subject to the service performance objectives in the product specification. Service providers may offer an Excess Information Rate (EIR) or a CIR and EIR for a given service. And EIR-based service with no CIR is a best effort service, with no assurance that any traffic will get through the network. A service with a CIR and EIR will assure that traffic conformant to the CIR will meet the specifications. Traffic bandwidth that exceeds the CIR is considered excess traffic and is provided no bandwidth assurances. EIR traffic may get through the network if there is no congestion.

What are some advanced service components?

Once the fundamental service components are selected, there are additional, more advanced, components to select to ensure that the service best meets the needs of your applications. For example, if you have a call center using VoIP, you may want to differentiate the VoIP traffic from the data traffic used to interact with customers. This could be accomplished by purchasing an Ethernet service with two classes of service.

What other considerations should play into an Ethernet decision?

The service performance metrics indicate how your service will perform and should be an important consideration when selecting an Ethernet service. For example, the frame packet loss should be less than .01 percent over 30 days, and the mean time to restore service should be four hours. In addition, service availability should be 99.99 percent over 30 days.