Real-Time Performance Monitoring: Layer 2 Visibility for Carrier Ethernet Connections

Greg Gum

As an important part of today's IT infrastructure, wide area network (WAN) connections have become mission-critical links used for company site-to-site communication and, of course, connectivity to the public Internet. Over the last few years, advances in WAN connectivity have motivated carriers to offer new LAN/WAN interconnection services with increasingly higher networking speeds and flexible bandwidth-on-demand capabilities via new Carrier Ethernet service offerings.


Through advances with lower-cost silicon, the ubiquity of wired and wireless Ethernet interfaces in the PC/LAN and new IP packet networking equipment, Carrier Ethernet service offerings have demonstrated compelling economics versus traditional ATM, Frame Relay or private line services. Recent statistics and case studies from the Metro Ethernet Forum have shown that enterprises save up to 80 percent of their typical connection costs using Carrier Ethernet E-Line services over other traditional methods.


As IT managers converge different types of traffic such as data, packet-based VoIP and video over these faster, cheaper, and more efficient Carrier Ethernet WAN services, the need for network service monitoring becomes even more critical. While WAN monitoring with traditional legacy services is not new, monitoring layer 2 Ethernet WAN connections is just starting to gain the attention of service providers and enterprises. One of the primary reasons for ongoing performance monitoring is to ensure the end customer's service level agreements or SLAs are being met, as well as to diminish the amount of OPEX spent on Operations Administration & Maintenance (OA&M) of those links for the service provider. For example, according to some carrier customer estimates, overall network downtime and "truck rolls" for user intervention when troubleshooting or fixing Ethernet connectivity problems can absorb up to 70 percent of the cost to actually deliver the Ethernet connection to businesses.


In addressing these monitoring needs, recent standards bodies introduced specifications for accomplishing end-to-end visibility for Carrier Ethernet services. IEEE 802.1ag, 802.3-2005 (formerly 802.3ah), ITU Y.1731, RFC2544 and MEF 17 specifications are just some of the recent advancements to standardize OA&M methodologies to include end-to-end auto discovery, fault, and performance monitoring of Ethernet services.

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