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What is an MPLS Network?
Private network technology replaces point to point and Frame Relay solutions

By: John Shepler

Many companies today have the need to connect to multiple business locations. The legacy technologies for doing this are Frame Relay networks and point to point dedicated data links. But newer MPLS networks now offer a lower cost higher performance way to send data, voice or video between locations.

The Value of Private Networks
The rise of the Internet has been attractive to many companies for transporting voice and data traffic. Internet based VPNs or Virtual Private Networks have the advantage of using a public infrastructure with costs that have been amortized among hundreds of millions of users. But that's the problem. Because it is a public thoroughfare, there is no way to guarantee quality or consistency of service. A private network has inherently better security and can be structured to guarantee important parameters such as bandwidth, jitter, latency, and packet integrity.

Why an MPLS Network?
MPLS stands for Multi-Protocol Label Switching. It's a mouthful of jargon to describe a privately operated network that incorporates technical means to carefully control connection paths between locations. You can specify connectivity between two locations in town or across the country. Or you can set it up to allow any of a dozen or a hundred locations communicate with any of the others at will. Because it's multi-protocol, MPLS networks can handle nearly any type of digital traffic you can generate including VoIP and TDM telephone, IP video, and packet data.

Don't Frame Relay Networks Do The Same Thing?
They used to in a simpler way. Frame relay networks use small ATM cells rather than the modern IP network cores of MPLS networks, so they tend to be less efficient. Most carriers are shutting down their Frame Relay networks since the rise of MPLS. The newer MPLS networks tend to be designed for higher speeds to match today's business bandwidth needs.

Why Not Just Go With Point to Point Connections?
Point to point means just that. You have a dedicated line of a certain bandwidth between point A and point B. If you need to add another location, point C, you have to connect it with two PTP (Point to Point) connections. One goes from C to A. The other goes from C to B.

As you might guess, this can get expensive fast. What kind of a network nightmare results when you try to connect a dozen or a hundred locations? Best case is establishing a star network with headquarters directing all traffic among locations. But it's still a pricey solution.

MPLS is In The Clouds
It's become popular to think of large networks as clouds. Data goes in one point of the cloud and comes out another. The magic of how it gets from input to output is in the cloud technology.

MPLS makes a perfect cloud for transporting text, images, streaming video, data backups and whatever among locations. The label switching technology tags the input packets with their source, destination and quality of service requirements. Tag switches or label routers then efficiently get that packet to its destination intact.

Why Buy MPLS Service?
Since the cloud is a private network, you have the advantage of a carefully managed service that gives you the quality you want. Since the network is shared among many users, your cost is much lower than trying to run your own private meshed network. You have the costs of transport between location and the access cost, which is generally a T1 line at each location. The rapid growth of MPLS networks can be attributed to the same or higher performance than other transport solutions, but at much lower cost.

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