End-to-end Ethernet finally arrives

2007's No. 7 most underreported tech story

The Story: Some technologies always seem to be “just around the corner.” Seven years ago, there was a big flurry of interest in end-to-end Ethernet (aka metro Ethernet) as a brace of new ventures promised to cut through the complexities of wide area networking.

[ Slideshow: 2007's top underreported tech stories ]

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They didn’t deliver. One big reason: building a new network that will reach into offices and homes costs beaucoup bucks. As IDC analyst Boyd Chastant puts it, “Digging a hole in the ground never gets cheaper.”

Laying fiber is still expensive, but now telcos — including AT&T, Verizon, and Qwest — plus cable companies such as Optimum LightPath, Cox, and Time Warner that already have fiber in the ground are offering Ethernet services. LightPath, for example, boasts of 2,500 miles of fiber in the ground and says it has lit more than 2,000 buildings in its service area in the northeast.

End-to-end Ethernet offers a very affordable way to connect LANs to a wide area network. After all, every router has an Ethernet interface, you don’t need much special hardware, and the technology is very familiar. So most IT staffers will have little trouble adapting, says Burton Group analyst Jeff Young. That is, if you can get it: Pricing depends on your need for speed, and not all of the providers offer it throughout their service areas.

Raw bandwidth isn’t Ethernet’s big advantage. It’s not necessarily much faster than private lines. However, says Chastant, it is more scalable. Conventional private-line services offer speeds near the bottom (around 10Mbps) and the near top (around 10Gbps), but not much in the middle. End-to-end Ethernet solves that. And it can be tied to Internet access, bumping up access speeds appreciably.

Availability is on the upswing too, says Boyd. In the past, carriers worried that end-to-end Ethernet service would cannibalize other data services. But now that demand has reached critical mass, that concern appears to have faded. Meanwhile, providers and equipment manufacturers are ironing out incompatibles and clarifying service definitions in the Metro Ethernet Forum, Chastant says.

It looks like we’ve turned the corner and end-to-end Ethernet is right in front of us.

The Bottom Line: If your carrier doesn’t provide end-to-end Ethernet, another provider likely does. It’s worth the trouble to look: End-to-end Ethernet will give you the performance you need and because it’s a familiar technology you won’t have to retrain or replace your IT staff.

Complete list of 2007 underreported stories:

1.  Java is becoming the new Cobol

2.  Sun Microsystems is back in the game

3.  Hackers take aim at Mac OS X

4.  There are some threats you can worry less about

5.  Companies may have found a way around H-1B visa limits

6.  Open source’s new commercial strategy

7.  End-to-end Ethernet finally arrives

8.  Blade servers arrive for the masses

9.  BI is dead; long live BI

10. Balance of power shifts to software buyers

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