Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Definition Of MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching)

The simplest definition for MPLS is .... it's "Frame Relay 2.0".

MPLS is a good bet if you want a more predictable performance than you can get with internet-based VPN, but can't financially justify point-to-point connections. All the major carriers have fairly mature MPLS-like products out now.

Virtually any distributed organization with a need for location-to-location communications is a good fit for MPLS. However, don’t forget to look at things that might be potential disqualifiers …..

* Make sure the carrier you choose has coverage in most/all locations you may want served.

* If there are existing MPLS/frame networks in place, see if someone can mesh them into a new network.

* Consider the total cost of the network, including both the start-up and wrap-up costs. Often you can ask the carrier to make your contracts sync up with expiration dates, but it's something you need to do at the beginning.

* Think about the implementation and support requirements, and physical deployment. I've had good results with carriers doing the legwork, but it's a tradeoff on speed of deployment.

The factors to decide your choice for adoption of MPLS should be relatively simpler. Apart from the inherent cost benefits on hardware involved ….. it makes better sense to deploy a network (on MPLS). Especially considering the scaling up that may happen in the days to come because businesses are growing fast and furious. One of the obvious choices for MPLS deployments is an organization which has multiple sites that need to communicate privately to each other. On the flip side, I would not suggest MPLS for businesses whose network (size) is small and limited.

MPLS deployments worldwide, nowadays, are strongly related to VoIP deployments. Organizations planning to deploy applications like VoIP are also planning to configure QoS policies. MPLS lends a ready-made fabric in doing so.

Today, when you talk to businesses about their planned MPLS deployments, many of them point to VoIP deployment as one of the prime reasons for deploying MPLS. This is indeed right if you consider the fact voice traffic follows an any-to-any pattern ….. and MPLS offers the any-to-any connectivity required. What’s more, MPLS enables you to provide that desired (rather highest!) level of prioritized, network level performance to carry Voice.

Quiet a few businesses have asked me, “Is MPLS ready for prime time?”. The fact is that today’s service providers are increasingly replacing their ATM services with that of MPLS. Mobile Carriers are on a fast track mode to have an MPLS backbone to carry large volumes of voice. The choice is right, considering that MPLS provides all the benefits that you to tend to have from ATM and much more. MPLS provides increased control, simplicity and manageability. These will translate into better service quality for end users.

Keep this in mind too. MPLS does not do away with your legacy deployments – ATM, IP, TDM etc.

MPLS will typically be more costly than Internet-based VPN solutions, but you get guaranteed end-to-end performance. If you have ever priced out a frame relay network, you can expect the pricing to be similar. (In many cases FR is part of the underlying edge transport)

Finally, I'd make sure user expectations of QoS are reasonable. It does work well if you understand the limitations and use it sparingly - i.e. prioritizing traffic that is a small percentage of total bandwidth. Remember that MPLS doesn't actually change the capacity of a circuit (a T1 with full-motion videoconferencing is still doing to get clobbered the second someone opens iTunes in the office)

If you need help deciding the best MPLS configuration for your business …. and the most cost effective provider of that solution ..… I strongly recommend the free assistance available from MPLS Network Solution

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