Demystifying Metro Ethernet Part 1

Ethernet Private Line (EPL): Part 1 of a 3-Part Series

As Ethernet services continues to replace legacy TDM networks, the various Ethernet service options and deployment choices has many business owners and their IT employees scratching their heads? I’m talking about Metro Ethernet, the ubiquitous networking technology that has become the de facto standard to connect millions of buildings, businesses and people to each other. Trouble is, Metro Ethernet comes in various forms, and many customers find difficulty in deciding which one (or which combination) will give them the most networking bang for their buck.

So, in this series of blog posts, we’ll dig a little deeper into each flavor of Metro Ethernet and bring some clarity to what can be murky subject matter. We’ll compare and contrast Ethernet Private Line (EPL), Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL), and Ethernet Local Area Networks (ELAN). But before we dive in, consider a simplified analogy.

No Better or Worse – Just Different

Building a corporate network can be a bit like buying a car. What’s better – a high-performance sports car, a heavy-duty pickup, or a roomy minivan? There is no right or wrong answer – it depends on the driver and what he or she needs that vehicle to do. A construction crew chief, for example, has little use for a Lamborghini.

You can take this example a step further and talk about the specific features of the car. Do you need a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine or a powerful V8? Do you prefer a stick shift or automatic transmission? None of these attributes are good or bad, per se; they are options that work for some people but make no sense for others.

By the same logic, every business has unique networking needs. How many locations do you need to connect? How much bandwidth do you require? Is your in-house IT team skilled enough to manipulate all the “bells and whistles” a full-featured solution has to offer, or will you choose to rely on the expertise of your network provider? The answers could (and should) dictate how your network is configured.

EPL – the Simplest Solution

If Ethernet Private Line were a car, it would be a sensible, dependable vehicle designed to get you from point A to point B (literally).

EPL provides a high-capacity, point-to-point connection for voice, video and data between two locations. Since the dedicated fiber bypasses the public Internet, the connection is completely secure (hence the name Private Line).

Before the proliferation of Ethernet (which has occurred over the last decade or so), a connection like this would have been established using Frame Relay / ATM, or a leased line from the service provider. But Ethernet is both more cost-effective and more flexible. Due to its standardization and interoperability, Ethernet reduces the need for specialized (and expensive) on-site customer equipment. And businesses can start with a small amount of bandwidth and easily scale up as necessary.

Typically, EPL is an ideal fit for businesses that need fast, reliable connectivity between just two offices. While a more intricate configuration could get the job done, why complicate things? That would be a bit like putting a novice driver behind the wheel of a James Bond supercar – overkill.

Have more than two offices? You could use multiple EPLs to create separate connections between a hub location and several other places. But each additional port increases your costs. So the more locations you have, the more you should think about upgrading to a more sophisticated service such as EVPL or ELAN. We’ll explain why and talk more about those options in the rest of this blog series.

Richard Scott, VP of Network Engineering, Alpheus Communications