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
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
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
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