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What is MPLS?

Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) is an IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) government approved wide area networking standard created to:

- Help carriers and large corporates scale their networks as increasingly large routing tables become more complex to manage
- Combine flexible any-to-any communication found on PSTN or Internet with the reliability and security delivered by Private Line, Frame Relay or ATM services
- Offer diferentiated performance levels and prioritisation of delay and non-delay sensitive traffic as well as voice and multimedia applications, all on a single network
- Address traffic management issues by prioritising time sensitive applications
 
 MPLS is available in three types: 
  1. Layer 2 point to point
  2. Layer 3 IP VPN
  3. Layer 2 VPLS
 
MPLS Layer 2 Point to Point
Suitable for companies that require high bandwidth between a small number of sites.
Layer 2 point to point is a cost effective way and flexible alternative to high bandwidth leased lines. Many wholesale network operators have based their core network infrastructure on Ethernet and use Layer 2. This type of transport is protocol agnostic and allows anything running over the LAN to be sent over the WAN without having to use routers to convert packets up to Layer 3, the network layer.
 
Advantages of MPLS Layer 2 point to point:
- It is no longer necessary to managed complex routing tables.
- Customers save money by terminating their WAN connections straight in to a Layer 2 switch as opposed to buying expensive routers to convert Layer 3 back down to Layer 2.
Disadvantages of MPLS Layer 2 point to point:
- Providers tend to provide only high bandwidth circuits, i.e 10 Mbps and above
- Point to multipoint is not supported.
 
 
 
 
 
MPLS Layer 3 IP/VPN
Particularly suitable for large multi-site enterprise, i.e. retail chains, that deploy a large number of low bandwidth sites or large corporates with a offices deployed globally. This type of service is a natural progression away from legacy Frame Relay and ATM services. It is a perfect fit for companies that are: -
  - in the process of merging: IP/VPNs are extremely scalable for fast deployment
  - require 'any to any' connectivity: a shorter hop count between two local sites is more efficient than - 'tromboning' back into a central point.
This is especially relevant for global networks where latency is increased as packets travel over long geographical distances.
  - preparing for voice and data convergence: to implement a blanket 'class of service' prioritization based on traffic type is made simple across multi-site networks.
  - be migrating from traditional ATM to IP: ATM is extremely expensive to maintain
  - be migrating from frame relay to IP due to its inflexible nature and management restrictions.
  - have low bandwidth requirements at small branch offices: in the UK sub 2 Mbps circuit delivery is available over Kilostream circuits which a cheaper alternative to Megastream & Ethernet lines.
  - Need only a secure dial-up capability in smaller locations.
 
MPLS Layer 2 Virtual Private LAN Services (VPLS)
Virtual Private LAN services are growing in popularity for delivering Ethernet services. They combine MPLS and Ethernet allowing both customers and carriers to benefit. For over two decades, Ethernet switching has dominated the local area network while IP routing has dominated the carrier network. IP backbones have been used to provide Internet access and more recently to provide IP VPN access. Corporate VPN services have been typically provided with existing TDM, ATM and Frame Relay Networks. During this period, Ethernet has continued to scale the bandwidth spectrum and with its simplicity and cost effectiveness, it has established itself as the infrastructure of choice in the metro and the WAN. (Resource: vpls.org executive overview).

Otherwise known as transparent Ethernet services, VPLS is a newer protocol that works over MPLS and gives customers a combination of the benefits of the two above network types, i.e. the ability to operate a multipoint network AND pass all traffic at Layer 2 over the WAN. VPLS is popular in cities, such as Hong Kong & London & New York, where metro Ethernet networks have already been deployed. Due to its simplicity, robustness and ability to scale traffic to 10 Gbps, VPLS is popular with TV broadcasters, the financial sector and media houses.
 
Advantages of MPLS Layer 2 VPLS
  - Transparent interface - no router hardware investment required for bandwidth upgrades
  - Layer 2 means that traffic is tagged by MAC address as opposed to IP address
  - Low latency - switched as opposed to routed
  - Plug & Play for ease of deployment: no configuration required for new sites which appear like new devices on a LAN.
  - Closed user groups can be established between customers for collaborative working
  - QOS/COS costs - Layer 3 IP/VPN carriers charge an on-going fee for higher priority traffic, whereas VPLS providers only charge a one-off set-up fee to configure all levels of prioritisation.
 
 
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