With IZO, Tata Communications Lights Up the Third Network

September 27, 2015

BobThe future is here, says Bob Metcalfe, industry luminary best known for inventing Ethernet. Metcalfe is a huge proponent for the MEF Third Network vision, which combines the agility and ubiquity of the Internet with the performance and security assurances of Carrier Ethernet 2.0 (CE 2.0).

Tata Communications, a leading global telecommunications company has introduced the first early implementation of the Third Network with its new IZO network. Before diving into the news, first some background.

CE 2.0 is a globally accepted specification from the MEF that defines and certifies service provider offerings for broadband connectivity using Ethernet. Consider CE 2.0 as a replacement for older direct-connect broadband such as TDM, SONET and STM. Some carriers market their CE 2.0-compliant services using the term “Business Ethernet.” CE 2.0 services are carried over physical Ethernet networks in metro areas and globally, and enables cloud service and mobile backhaul using fixed or SDN-based networks.

As a replacement for traditional direct-connect broadband, CE 2.0 offers enterprise customers significantly more flexibility than the notoriously slow-to-provision TDM, SONET and STM. Even so, provisioning CE 2.0 service remains slower, and more complicated, than spooling up a new business-class Internet connection, which can often take place in a matter of days or even hours.

That’s where the Third Network comes in. Announced by the MEF in September 2014, the Third Network combines CE 2.0’s fast, secure services with lifecycle service orchestration (LSO) to allow for on-demand network connectivity between physical and/or virtual endpoints.

Why the “third” network? “In this context, the First Network is the Internet itself. It’s the famous 30-, 40-year-old best efforts network,” explains Metcalfe. “The Second Network comprises the private networks that have grown up around the Internet, such as the big players’ interconnect datacenters. The Third Network because it’s a positive combination of both of those. It has the agility of the Internet. It adds the reliability and quality of service that you get with your own private network.”

How does the Third Network Work? Easy, says Metcalfe, with his typical humor: “You pick up the phone, you dial a number and the connections of multiple carriers around the world are made automatically and suddenly you have a quality connection at the other end. That is a really good summary of how we’d like the Third Network to work… although it wouldn’t be a telephone.”

The provisioning time for a new connection would be within seconds, Metcalfe expects, “not months or days or even hours.”

Enter Tata Communications, the giant global carrier based in Mumbai, India. To state that Tata is an industry leader is to be understating the reality: A US$3.2 billion firm, Tata generates 77% of its revenue outside of India, and operates 44 data centers and colocations centers carrying 7,600 petabytes of Internet traffic over its backbone each month. It’s also the world’s largest wholesale voice carrier, and operates more than 500,000 kilometers of subsea fiber and 210,000 kilometers of terrestrial fiber.

Tata’s embrace of the Third Network vision is significant – and is here today, through its IZO Platform. IZO encompasses three separate offerings:

• IZO Internet WAN – A global Internet-based WAN service that offers reliability, flexibility and predictability of a private network, with the global reach of the Internet.
• IZO Private – an end-to-end managed network developed in conjunction with Amazon Web Services Direct Connect program and Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute programs.
• IZO Public – A dedicated deterministic route for Tata’s enterprise customers that tags data packets for pre-determined delivery paths over the public Internet to cloud services, including Google Cloud Platform.

According to Metcalfe, the IZO platform is an early rendition of the Third Network: It’s not complete, but it’s the closest commercial offering currently available. “It’s spiritually the Third Network, without the automated standard mechanisms in place,” he says. “Tata put together a network that has provisioning through Tata on behalf of all of its partners; that has quality of service guarantees; that has a security mechanism built in and is able to patch together a connection through a series of carriers to make the connections that the customer wants.”

Metcalfe is impressed, and expects Tata to implement the full Third Network vision with IZO. “The ability to get a customized network is very appealing to customers and that’s sort of what the Third Network is trying to appeal to also,” he explains.

Will IZO take off? Yes, says Metcalfe. “The Tata IZO network has 24 initial partners and some pretty important and picky ones like Google and AWS and Equinix and Microsoft, just to name four. A CIO with a particular network has some ideas of what profile of network he needs to improve his competitiveness; he can go to the IZO network now and make his specifications and be pretty assured that he’ll get a customized network. The fact that 24 partners have already signed up is evidence that the CIO’s requirements are likely to be met.”

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