Communications 'Orchestration' Could Make Net Neutrality Irrelevant

NEWS ANALYSIS: The focus of the Metro Ethernet Forum ’s GEN 14 conference is something called Orchestration, which ensures that communications remain undisturbed in transit.

Network Orchestration B

OXON HILL, Md.—The argument by network neutrality advocates that companies that require a lot of bandwidth should have the ability to pay for extra capacity is at the backbone of their position.

That position, as reinforced by the White House, is that everything on the Internet should have exactly the same level of access. To do that, the White House proposed forcing the Internet into Title II of the Communications Act, effectively defining the Internet as being the same as the phone companies.

Of course, a lot of carriers and many companies that use the Internet to deliver data to customers are against that, arguing instead for total freedom to do as they wish. But at the Metro Ethernet Forum ’s GEN 14 conference here Nov. 17, there’s something that a few researchers are calling the Third Network.

This is a network that’s privately run and which exists for the use of network providers who need specialized communications, whether they’re specialized in terms of bandwidth, security, quality of service or some other specialized need. Traffic that would use that Third Network would run outside the public Internet.

But at the GEN 14 meeting of the Metro Ethernet Forum here, a new concept is making waves, and it could make the whole net neutrality discussion meaningless. The idea is that companies that need large amounts of bandwidth between themselves and a service provider, perhaps for storage, backup, contingency services or even massive video transfers, would have a means of simply taking their traffic off the Internet on to a private network.

The process is called orchestration, and it’s an effort by a number of networking and network service companies to find a way to develop a common language of sorts for traffic traveling across networks to the services they need, especially cloud services.

Orchestration takes advantage of software-defined networking (SDN), virtual network functionality and other capabilities such as automated provisioning and fulfillment to create a pathway for diverse traffic that can be handled by any network they need to cross, according to Mark Fishburn, the MEF's marketing director.

The way this would work would be to embed characteristics of the network traffic, including its security definition, its quality-of-service priority, the type of traffic and other information such as billing details so that the traffic could pass unimpeded through private and public clouds, networks and even the data centers of some companies to set up the communications.

As you’d expect, this is a complex process that depends on standards created by members of the MEF and a related organization, the Cloud Ethernet Forum for everything to work.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...