What is MPLS?
We all know from the famous comment by former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens that the Internet is a “series of tubes.” How data flows through these tubes can vary a great deal, however, and it determines the efficiency and security of the data being transported.
Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) is the de-facto standard for many carrier and service provider networks when it comes to moving data through the “tubes,” and its popularity continues to grow as innovation around the MPLS standard is developed.
Traditional IP networks are connectionless, with the router taking each packet of data and determining the next hop on the delivery chain by using the destination IP address and information from its own forwarding table. MPLS, developed in the 1990s to provide faster forwarding while still using IP routers, makes the delivery path less random by using pre-configured Label Switched Paths (LSP) connections.
LSPs have the advantage of point-to-point circuits, which allow virtual private networks (VPNs) better performance and reliability, easier troubleshooting, and reduced risk of public Internet-based attacks. Being connection-based, they also allow for quicker data delivery, better network management, architecture scalability, and the ability to be fully meshed in an any-to-any network as opposed to a hub-and-spokes model.
The MPLS model also creates the opportunity for separate classes of service that can privilege certain data streams—such as real-time VoIP and mission-critical financial transactions and enterprise resource planning (ERP).
MPLS works by tagging the traffic with an identifier to distinguish the LSPs. When data is received, the router uses the label – and sometimes the link from where it was received – to identify the LSP. Once labeled, it then looks up the LSP in its own forwarding table and finds the best link for sending the data, as well as the next label to use since a different label is used at each hop.
As MPLS solutions grow in popularity among medium to large enterprises—because of efficiency and lower total cost of ownership (TCO) – MPLS options are evolving to include more innovative features.
Some of the features being introduced in the market for MPLS solutions include data encryption options, seamless fallover options featuring the same IP space over multiple connections, wide selection of access technologies such as Ethernet and cable and wireless, built-in security gateways, IPSec or SSL virtual private network (VPN) remote access, the flexibility to securely connect any site using existing Internet access, and end-to-end service level agreements (SLAs).
Business are moving to these evolved MPLS solutions because they offer lower TCO, more robust security, optimized ATM and frame relay QoS/CoS, different classes of service, robust disaster recovery options, and more efficient port usage.
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Edited by Jamie Epstein