January 1, 2007
The Business of Metro Ethernet
The Case of Time Warner Cable and New York Law School
By Mike Robuck, Associate Editor
John Southard stepped into a technology firestorm when he came on board as the temporary CIO at the New York Law School in late summer two years ago. Southard, who was substituting for a colleague on maternity leave at the time and who was subsequently appointed CTO of the school last year, was faced with the school’s ambitious plan to build a new academic building in multiple phases while at the same time renovating existing buildings and moving some services across the street.
Southard, who had previous experience in urban alternative infrastructure, knew what he needed.
“Central to all of that was some temporary shifting of departments and relocations to other buildings not owned by NYLS across the street, which created the need for a flexible, reliable, fully self-healing and redundant metro E(thernet)-LAN/WAN (local area network/wide area network),” he said. “ I had been fortunate to have worked on a few of these just before NYLS, one on Long Island and one in Brooklyn.
“At NYLS, to connect our main campus with the rest of our displaced departments across the street, there were a limited number of providers who had feeds into that location. I knew that Con Ed, Time Warner Cable and Verizon did. Seeing how late it was in the process—the temporary building had to be lit and interconnected to our LAN/WAN by January 10, and it was already August—I spoke to anyone who’d listen.”
Southard said that while some providers “rolled their eyes when I laid out the timeframe, Time Warner rolled up its sleeves.” With the project clock ticking, Southard said TWC had a design and agreement in place with NYLS in the September/October timeframe.
“We had to have all the street work done by Thanksgiving, as New York City is highly secure and managed by a moratorium for digging from Thanksgiving until after the new year, which for us was too late,” Southard said. “They moved heaven and earth, dealt with extraordinary issues, secured all the clearances and compliances, and built the street fiber cuts before Thanksgiving. They interconnected our two main physical cores (network) and handed it off to us for testing way before Christmas. We had it all lit and going with time to spare.”
TWC finished the project one day ahead of the Jan. 10 deadline.
TWC built the law school a 12-strand-managed fiber backbone service off its local fiber loop that serves as an integrated part of NYLS’s LAN. TWC provided the school with a 100 Mbps service to a remote residence hall that has students “looking and feeling like they are on our local LAN and getting access to all our resources and e-tools, and routing them for ISP (Internet service provider) access as well,” Southard said.
“They completed our Metro E-LAN/WAN, and it has been flawless since it was built,” Southard said. “We are still leveraging new applications as we speak and will for years to come. Their ISP bandwidth that we also secured set a new price point. They were many multiples cheaper than standard providers and type-II ISPs.
“I chose them not because the other folks couldn’t do it, but I saw a small, shrinking window to get this done, and I knew the only one with the expertise, energy, entrepreneurship and hunger was Time Warner. I know I could have built it with others, but never at this price point and never in four months. Today, and for the next four years, Time Warner is my Metro E-LAN/WAN partner, and they have been terrific."
There is a reason that TWC approached this project with the eagerness of an upstart. Bhupender Kaul, TWC vice president of commercial services in New York City, said his division has had metro Ethernet business class services for more than two years now, making the work with NYLS one of its early deployments.
The momentum behind this technology has only accelerated in the interim. According to Kaul, TWC New York received the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) 9 certification in October 2006, and in late 2006 was undergoing certification for MEF 14, which focuses on providing hard quality of service (QoS) backed by service level specifications (SLSs) for carrier Ethernet services.
Ken Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of Time Warner Cable Business Services, said TWC has metro Ethernet in all of the markets it services and that in addition to New York City, the metro network in Portland, ME, and the regional networks in Ohio, Texas, North Carolina and South Carolina are all MEF 9 certified.
“The way I look at it, this type of certification is not only beneficial to the customer from the standpoint of understanding that they’re dealing with reliable service provider, but also from a standards standpoint in that it also allows us not only to be able to scale this within our organization, but scale it across footprints, which is what customers are looking for,” Fitzpatrick said. “This universal socket approach makes it much easier for us to do that.”
Fitzpatrick said MEF certification helped establish a foundation for carrier-grade Ethernet services and also saves money from the standpoint of testing multiple vendors. “You get immediate assurance from the vendor community that they comply with MEF specifications,” he said.
While TWC doesn’t give out specific business subscriber numbers in each division, corporate-wide it had 220,000 business class customers at the end of the third quarter 2006. TWC has seen some early success in deploying metro Ethernet services in the education field by connecting multiple sites.
“We’re also doing very well in the medical space,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are the satellite offices—radiology clinics, physicians’ offices and that type of stuff—that lie outside of the hospitals. The other area where we’ve been doing quite a bit of work is with the financial brokerage houses in New York City that are also looking for reliable, flexible, high-bandwidth solutions.”
Among the TWC MEF 9 certified products, Kaul said E-Line, which is point-to-point, is the most popular with business services customers. The service is offered at 50 to 100 Mbps, 150 to 200 Mbps, 200 to 300 Mpbs and 1 Gbps.
The Ethernet Virtual Private Line service has the same tiers of speeds but is point-to-multipoint, which would allow, for example, satellite offices to connect to a main office.
TWC also has a MEF 9 certified Ethernet LAN (ELAN) service that can connect different locations within a LAN with different speeds up to 1 Gbps.
“We start at 50 Mbps, but each point can have a different requirement,” Kaul said of ELAN. “If Branch A is requiring 150 Mbps, we than give that branch 150 Mbps, and another branch can have 50 Mbps. You’re basically talking about one wide area LAN without any latency issues. There are a couple of customers that have ELAN who are extremely happy with it because now you’re getting away from routing protocols, which can have packet loss and latency. As we move forward, the companies with a lot of branches are going to be looking at ELAN services.
“The last piece that we provide is IP (Internet protocol) transit on the Ethernet. A lot of customers had TDM (time division multiplexing) services, fractional DS-3s to an ISP. We’re providing them ISP service through the Ethernet pipe. It’s a plug-and-play scenario for them into their LAN. They just take the Ethernet handoff we give them and plug it straight in.”
Configuration and service
TWC takes a wavelength off its dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) backbone and runs it into a resilient packet ring (RPR) for its metro Ethernet services. Kaul said the DWDM backbone uses Nortel’s metro 5200 platform, while the RPR, which is MEF-tested, uses Nortel’s metro 3500 platform to deliver the native end-to-end Ethernet service “without any changes to TDM or whatever is on that RPR ring.”
Metro Ethernet services will continue to proliferate whether they’re delivered over very high-speed digital subscriber line (VDSL) copper ports, Ethernet passive optical network (EPON) ports or cable products. A recent report by Infonetics Research said the worldwide sales of metro Ethernet equipment are surging, projected to go from just under $5 billion in 2005 to $15 billion in 2009.
Fitzpatrick said one of his goals is see all of the cable companies embrace the Metro Ethernet Forum and metro Ethernet services.
“It’s really a unique time in anyone’s career who is in this space because it’s offering some phenomenal growth opportunities for us,” he said. “Companies are needing to digest more and more bandwidth, and Ethernet gives you the ability to increase that bandwidth on the fly. Customers are really embracing it.”
Kaul also said customer service was key to TWC’s success in New York City.
“For us, the biggest aspect to all of this is that we provide excellent customer service,” he said. “I’m not going to name names of other providers, but a lot of customers that we reach out to sell the services to have never seen a salesperson from the competition. With us, they’re face to face with our customer service people, and it’s changing the face of how we do business in the city.”
Mike Robuck is associate editor of Communications Technology. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.