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Technology Brief
Provider Backbone Transport
Achieving true carrier-grade Ethernet

Introduction to copy the data to all of its outgoing To eliminate the possibility of multiple
For years now, Ethernet has been the ports. This process is known as paths, Spanning Tree Protocol is used to
dominant networking protocol in the ‘flooding’. Eventually, the intended selectively disable switch ports and thus
Local Area Network (LAN). It’s simple destination will be reached via one of block one or more of the redundant
to use, extremely cost effective and the ports, and a reply will be returned. physical paths. This leaves a lot of
offers plenty of bandwidth. This reply is used by each switch to note expensive network assets sitting idle.
which specific port corresponds to the Spanning Tree Protocol can also find
But within Metro Area Networks destination. This is the ‘learning’ a new route between two nodes in the
(MANs), Ethernet is just not quite process. network when one fails, creating a
delivering on the same promise. Yes, simplistic protection mechanism but
it has all the potential, but delivering This approach works fine in small
while spanning tree is converging on the
switched Ethernet services in the networks, but as networks get bigger
best alternate path, service is interrupted
MAN – particularly to deliver the and more complex – in the MAN, for
across the network.
collaborative, multimedia functionality instance – the flooding and learning
that enterprises now demand, along processes generate considerable network Life outside the LAN
with the required Quality of Service congestion and can create security The problem with Spanning Tree
(QoS) – has not been possible concerns. Protocol is that it’s simply too slow at
until now. protection switching. In the LAN,
In addition, the learning process is only
reliable where there is one, and only routes can take tens of seconds to be
That’s because, originally, Ethernet was
one, path towards a given destination. re-established. If you then extend into
not designed for use in the MAN where
reliability, manageability and scalability
are much harder to control.
Figure 1: Example of a configured Ethernet trunk

Flooding and learning

To understand why this is the case, Provisioning and Management
we need to take a closer look at how
Ethernet works. The primary function
of an Ethernet switch is to forward data
to its intended destination in the Customer
Customer Network
network – a simple enough task when Network
the switch knows where a given address
resides in the network. But when a
switch receives data destined for an
unknown destination, its only option is Ethernet trunk
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the MAN, convergence can take even scalability – to carrier-grade levels – in PBT therefore avoids the congestion
longer. These long restoration times order to deliver the multimedia services problems caused by network flooding,
will not support today’s voice, video that enterprises demand. And, come to which would otherwise be needed for
and other real-time services that are that, service providers need a way to the learning process. Protection routes
quickly converging on the burgeoning take advantage of the operational and can be provisioned across the network to
Metro Ethernet network. cost efficiencies that carrier Ethernet can provide backup in the event of failure,
generate in the MAN. switching the traffic across in a mere
Spanning Tree Protocol also compounds
50 milliseconds; that’s true carrier-grade
the congestion problem by turning off Making the carrier grade reliability. What’s more PBT can offer
the very links which could be used to Provider Backbone Transport (PBT) dedicated, point-to-point connections
move traffic off the most heavily laden simplifies conventional Ethernet by alongside traditional Ethernet, with no
links. Spanning Tree Protocol was using explicit configuration of switches complex and expensive network overlay
designed for the tree topology that instead of the traditional flooding and technologies, so the service can be up and
naturally exists in the LAN, not the learning techniques outlined above. running quickly, with nominal outlay.
complex mesh topology that exists in Suddenly Spanning Tree Protocol and
the MAN. all the associated constraints and Nortel is supporting PBT as it makes its
way through the ITU, IEEE and other
Finally, because the network controls the problems simply disappear. The switch
standards groups. So for the first time,
path that data takes across the network, it’s still behaves largely as with traditional
scalable, carrier-grade Ethernet in the
difficult to predict network performance Ethernet: forwarding data to its intended
destination. All that has changed is MAN can become a far more manageable,
and to provide guaranteed QoS.
the forwarding information is no longer cost-effective and realistic proposition.
Ethernet cost points are still very learned by the switches, but provided For more information on the Provider
attractive to carriers. So what’s needed directly by the management plane, Backbone Transport, visit
is a way to deliver guaranteed, resulting in a prescribed, pre-determined
deterministic services over Ethernet path through the network and totally
infrastructure on a wider scale; a way to predictable network behaviour under
ensure reliability, management and all circumstances (as shown in Figure 1).

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