What is “carrier-grade” exactly?
Vendors and service providers frequently tout their products as “carrier-grade.” But what does this label actually entail, and is there a specific criteria a tool must meet to earn the title?
For starters, there is no official designation or industry standard (ala MEF) for what makes a product or service “carrier-grade.” There is, however, a general consensus among leaders in the tech space about what threshold a technology must pass to credibly “own” the designation.
The most important qualifier of a carrier-grade service it that meets or exceeds the “five nines” of high availability and reliability, which means there can only be a maximum network unscheduled downtime of a few minutes per year. Often, this requires a service provider to leverage a fault-tolerant design that delivers immediate failover through hot standby redundancy so that systems remain running while teams can react to faults (and with enough redundancies, a network can credibly claim 100 percent uptime).
Another feature of carrier-grade — specifically in the context of network performance — is how well the provider executes on quality of service (QoS). While companies will often iron out the terms of their QoS in the service level agreements (SLAs) with customers, there are some widely accepted expectations for what teams are generally targeting for QoS when dealing with ISPs. Voice and video technology, for instance, must not be plagued by network lag that causes jitter or other artifacts to impact performance. Similarly, QoS is built into the network management algorithms that ensure VoIP packets get priority over non-real-time traffic (ie. tools that don’t facilitate communication).
But what really distinguishes “carrier-grade” from “consumer-grade” when discussing products and networks is performance. Carrier-grade technologies are expected to perform at a much higher-level than what’s widely available in consumer markets. Where enterprise networks are concerned, this means employing industry-leading hardware and marrying those tools with the latest and greatest networking strategies (ie. direct-to-internet connectivity) that can enable network infrastructures to scale without causing interruptions or network downtime.
So if teams are purchasing carrier-grade solutions, how can they be sure they’re actually getting what they’ve paid for?
In an age where labelling can be confusing since the market for enterprise networking tools and solutions has never been more crowded, performance monitoring solutions have never been more essential. Not only do teams need to employ these solutions to ensure adherence to their SLAs, but they can help enterprise IT teams build their own standard for what can acceptably be labelled carrier-grade when choosing new solutions for their teams.