Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Facts About MPLS Networks (Multi-Protocol Label Switching)

Multi-Protocol label switching is basically just a different way of routing data packets. It is unique from standard routing in that it will allow a diverse list of connectivity means using various protocols, and its basic nature is that it is a mesh network, but not a broadcast domain, which means that it provides "any-to-any" connectivity.

The technology that creates an MPLS network is very similar from one provider to the next. The most extensive network worldwide is owned by AT&T. Verizon has some advantages over AT&T in Europe, but does not have quite the network in China or India as an example. Level 3 and Qwest are good providers, but have more limitations internationally, and do not offer quite the customer contact availability in all areas. Level 3 in particular tends to lean more towards wholesale - meaning they are more of a "carriers - carrier."

There are differences based on two broad areas- how the network is constructed (architecture) and the level of service after implementation (aside from cost.)

Carriers (providers) can provision links in a given network as if it were a "star" configuration with the links being tied back to a single core network or the location linkage may connect to a redundant and diverse "cloud" core. This suggests that the network backbone will be designed to route around troubled points and in a manner of speaking it will "self-heal".

Some carriers have only a limited amount of linkage between some areas of the provision map and others which might allow a single point of failure in the network (or a host location on the network) - Or would require significant construction costs to overcome. The most flexible architecture must also allow for scalability so that a company can link sites using everything from a broadband connection to an Optical carrier ring to connect to the MPLS platform.

Customer value regarding the level of redundancy or diversity required in the architecture of the network: Some providers have the CER (Customer edge router) connect to a primary and a secondary PER (provider edge router) and the network core has multiple and redundant core routers.

The ability to provision network links "wherever you are", local, statewide, national or internationally, must be considered. Some carriers have fewer or greater capabilities in this area - and in light of this - cost to provide the services may vary widely from a few hundred dollars for a link between local network hosts and many thousands of dollars for an international connection in a remote location. Management of the network should be considered in the architecture of the network - some providers will provide the netwok links, but not the routing equipment (CPE) and do not offer much assistance in the implementation of the CPE or ongoing management. Other companies will provide an end-to-end experience which allows the users to focus on core business instead of running a network. Preferences also come into play for this issue; however, if the provider is offering to provision equipment, manage it, update it, service it, replace it (if needed) and so on - this is often preferable to owning it yourself. It also puts the responsibility of making it all work on the back of a single party in order to reduce "finger-pointing" if there is a trouble issue. No customer really likes the idea of being stuck between two vendors or between a provider and their own IT department while waiting for a down network link to be fixed.

Which brings me to the service aspect. Service Level Agreements or SLA's are important to making sure that you achieve the service quality you expect from your provider. If the CPE is included as a part of the overall agreement, it should be included in an appropriate SLA provision. The main issue is uptime - if the network is down, it is costing you money. The provider must have a record of their performance with the network overall that they can share with you and perhaps an on-line "dashboard" that you can observe their performance at will. The SLA should have "teeth" as leverage on the provider, so that they experience some economic pain if they fail to provide the service they are promising. Providers may tend to say they have the "strongest SLA in the industry", but careful comparison is worthwhile to insure that customer needs are being protected. Some SLA's may vary based on whether it is domestic or international service.

The most important point in all of this is to fully understand the needs of the customer. You could have an impecable service experience with the "County Farmers telephone company" if their service provisioning, expertise and SLA's meet your needs. But .... if you focus on getting what you need first, price second, you will likely have a good experience.

If you would like free help in finding the right MPLS solution for your network application(s) you can get that here:

MPLS Network Solution


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Blogger Renee said...

Good article - a couple of key things -- MPLS enables companies to converge voice, video and data on a single network, while its any-to-any topology offers network managers the flexibility to divert traffic around link failures and network congestion on the fly. In adddition, MPLS can utilize Class of Service to manage network traffic and prioritize all traffic types on a single network without sacrificing Quality of Service.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Sensei said...

Would be a great article but I think what Michael was trying to do was provide an in-depth white paper with some technical background on MPLS. The problem here is that the focus on what MPLS is and how it can be used is being muttled by the how to implement and what can be converged.

In short MPLS is a private cloud that can be provided by large network providers, ATT, Vz, XO, Cogent, Level3, Qwest, Gblx, PCCW, Orange and more. The benefit to knowing how to manage your "leased" MPLS is that although the host network of the MPLS (any of the previously mentioned providers) may tell you "oh well any last-mile connectivity must be provided by us" is totally untrue. KEEP THAT IN MIND!

Any type of IP traffic can flow over your MPLS. There should be bullet points of the pros and cons. Also QoS can be implemented throughout the entire MPLS.

Nice work Michael, stay focused please.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Protocol Testing Training Bangalore said...

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4:15 AM  

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