How MPLS can help you grow your business Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2010

For businesses wanting to increase the efficiency with which they transmit data and the quality of that data, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) may be the answer.

“MPLS is a transport method used to direct and move different types of data from router to router, or between nodes inside of a network,” says Brad Shannon, a senior sales engineer with Comcast. “It does this with virtual links between the routers and nodes by assigning specific labeling prefixes to the data packets, which are then forwarded to their respective destinations.”

Smart Business spoke with Shannon about how implementing MPLS at your company can help move your business forward.

How does MPLS differ from a traditional routed IP network?

The movement of data is different. The traditional IP routing structure requires examining the routing table of each router. As a result, at each stop, the router has to go into the routing table and look for the next network address.

MPLS doesn’t have to do that. It is more connection-based, as opposed to just address-to-address. The advantage of this is in using switching technology rather than just a routing table. All it has to do is look at the tag in front of the data to route it to the correct destination. That speeds up transmission and requires less central processing unit (CPU) usage.

Traditional IP uses protocols such as Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) and Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), which will always choose shortest path first but which make no consideration for any kind of traffic congestion or other issues. On the other hand, with MPLS, the network provider or the customer has the ability to put constraints on the network that can manage the traffic flow. The user has the option to tell that data where to go. So the data will still take the shortest path, but it will consider congestion, as well.

What kinds of companies can benefit from MPLS?

Almost any company could benefit. It really depends on the size of the business, how much bandwidth it has and its need to do cloud computing. Any company that has multiple points in its network or different types of infrastructure can take advantage of this service because it encompasses all of those. It should be similar to a platform that you can apply to all of your services, so any company that has any mixture of circuits such as T1s, Frame Relay, or Ethernet in place can implement MPLS and converge them all together in one standard platform.

What advantages does MPLS offer?

MPLS gives a company more flexibility so it can engineer its own traffic and customize traffic control to get more use out of its bandwidth. It also supports prioritizing your data. You can tag different types of data with specific headers that indicate the importance of that data, so when it gets to the router, it knows which data needs to go first and which data needs to go in which direction more quickly. That allows you to apply quality of service guarantees because it decreases your latency and jitter, and supports things such as multicast video and voice.

It also reduces your CPU router requirements, which can speed up the rate at which the data is transferred, giving you more bang for your buck and more bandwidth.

In addition, MPLS is just as secure as any legacy service, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are better than you would have with your typical customer-based IP, because the provider supplies services, which reduces the management of the network required by the customer. The provider can pretty much handle it all for you.

In addition, you can continue to expand your network by adding more elements, and you don’t have to get rid of your existing network. There’s no up front cost; if you want to add equipment, you don’t have to change your entire network or get rid of your existing equipment. You just add on the newest and greatest things, and all of the different types of protocols that you run can all run under MPLS. It’s very versatile and simple because the network is managed by the provider.

Is it an expensive technology?

To construct and implement your own MPLS network from the ground up could be quite costly, and a lot of smaller to medium-sized businesses don’t have the resources to do that. But if a company wants to pay a provider, it can do it at a pretty reasonable cost, and the provider can implement the MPLS network to accommodate the company’s existing legacy network.

The provider would manage your network from end to end, accommodating most bandwidth requirements, across the provider’s core. And with a provider whose core is fully converged with MPLS, you can have access to its cloud and expand your network across their entire coverage area. It’s just a matter of the provider coming in and overlaying its MPLS on top of your network to allow you to get more out of your services and increase your business.

Brad Shannon is a senior sales engineer with Comcast. Reach him at Brad_Shannon@cable.comcast.com.