Is metro Ethernet right for you?

If you're using a carrier's data services but network bandwidth is always in short supply and your technology road map tells you to expect more of the same, consider metro Ethernet.

The first advantage of Ethernet is that as a ubiquitous local-area networking platform, its familiarity breeds comfort. Information technology staffs don't have to learn a new technology and endure an extended learning curve to maximize the bandwidth-boosting investment.

Second, analysts and users say upfront costs are cheaper compared to making the leap to Asynchronous Transfer Mode. You can use much of your existing networking infrastructure after contracting for metro Ethernet services from your telecommunications provider or purchasing the necessary switching hardware to create your own network. Flexibility is another plus: You can steadily add capacity in small or large increments to match growing demand while avoiding paying for capacity you may never use.

Metro Ethernet is still suffering from growing pains. For now, it's less resilient than other technologies. Synchronous Optical Network (Sonet) "is very strong, with millisecond switchover capabilities" if a failure occurs, said David Parks, senior analyst for U.S. telecommunications strategies at the Yankee Group. "Ethernet doesn't have that capability."

The technology is similarly weak in fault isolation and troubleshooting characteristics, he said. "Much of what's out there is 'best-effort' service: It's great for Internet access, but to get carrier-grade capabilities, it has to be deployed over a transport technology like Sonet," he said.

About the Author

Alan Joch is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire.

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