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.
Communications ‘Orchestration’ Could Make Net Neutrality Irrelevant
Network equipment would be designed so that it would recognize Orchestrated traffic, and shunt it off to private networks to access the necessary capacity. “The concerns of net neutrality doesn’t enter this because you’re moved immediately into a business-class network,” Fishburn said.
Fishburn said that much of the work of the MEF consists of collaboration among vendors to develop the standards that can be used for Orchestration, as well as for other communications in a Metro Ethernet environment.
It’s also important to realize, he said, that the standards cover the lifecycle of communications and that they involve the hardware platforms, the communications standards and network control protocols. They also have an impact on network services companies who will provide much of the transport for the Third Network, as it’s sometimes called.
Fishburn noted that in some cases the same physical network may carry traffic for the orchestrated network as well as for the public Internet. “Most fiber networks have spare capacity,” he noted, and by creating a separate virtual network this traffic could share the fiber without impacting public internet traffic.
It’s worth noting that much of the public Internet also runs over private networks owned by companies that carry the traffic as a part of their carriage agreements with other network providers. Allowing virtual private networks to exist on the same physical network doesn’t impact the Internet as long as it doesn’t slow things down or otherwise cause problems.
The way this might work would depend on exactly how the traffic was being used in the orchestrated network. Fishburn gave accessing WiFi in a hotel as an example. He said that if you wanted to use private access to your company’s network, then the networking equipment at the edge of the network would recognize your orchestrated traffic, and route your networking session to the private networking infrastructure.
In a sense, it would work like a VPN does now, but instead of traveling over the Internet, the traffic would leave the Internet and travel over a private physical or logical virtual network.
What’s more important is that the entire discussion of net neutrality would become irrelevant because the specialized traffic would never travel over the public Internet in the first place. It would use dedicated private network connections or surplus capacity on other networks to meet its needs using virtual networks.
In the long run it would lead to more reliable operations for business, and likely a reduction in the potential for impact by regulators–which is not a minor consideration.