Introduction and definition

Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a technology that is used to speed up the network’s traffic flow while making it easier to manage data. MPLS involves complex routing and determination of specific paths for a sequence of IP packets, as specified by each packet’s “label”.  The label reduces the time required for the router to look up the address to the next node to relay the packet to. MPLS is designed to deliver high quality service in the networking industry by prioritising delay sensitive data (e.g. voice, video) and applying a failure survival mechanism to minimise disruptions that occur in an event that data transfer fails. Packets with pre-assigned labels are never discarded. Instead, they use cross connecting paths for transmission. In simple terms MPLS creates private networks such as those afforded by traditional VPN’s but on the carrier’s network.

How it works

MPLS uses traffic engineering that significantly improves the quality of service (QoS) in busy network environments. It is this traffic engineering that enables prioritisation of data transfer. Low priority data is transferred via a low priority path, while data with high priority – like voice – is transmitted via a high priority path that has high speeds and low congestions. MPLS’ ability to control data transmission reduces congestion while ensuring that real time transmission is reliable and efficient.

MPLS is referred to as a Multiprotocol because it works with an Internet Protocol (IP), a frame relay network protocol and an Asynchronous Transport Mode (ATM). MPLS technology is used to optimise services such as IP-VPN, Optical services and Metro Ethernet. While the MPLS backbone is designed by the carriers, the actual services that businesses invest in is not referred to as MPLS but more likely “IP-VPN”, Metro Ethernet or other names given to it in the industry.  It is fundamentally a carrier-grad technology, but it is commonly adopted to describe a private high performance network built on a shared network infrastructure.

MPLS uses a mechanism of transmitting network data based on short path labels instead of long term addresses. The network may be data oriented, voice oriented or both. Voice oriented networks include old telephone industries while data based networks include Internet service providers. Networks that incorporate both voice and data include modern communication industries like the mobile telephony industry. Multi protocol Label Switching is not designed to substitute Internet Protocol routing but rather supplement it in order to boost data transmission speeds via the routers.

Using a method referred to as label switching to transmit packets of data, MPLS develops a model that uses the Internet Protocol to transmit data across networks. This can be acheieved by assigning labels to packets before transmitting these packets based on the label’s value. These packets are then routed based on the label’s value before being transmitted to an outside interface that has a new label.

Multi protocol Label Switching can also be used in non-packet oriented networks. Still, the path taken by data depends on the labels that you assign to the data since these labels are independent of protocols. Therefore, you can use non-packet labels to establish connections through which you can transmit your data without first inspecting it.

Data can also be transmitted from one node to the other nodes in the same network. These nodes usually lie at the edge of networks and are linked through virtual connections or tunnels. This ensures an increase in response time thus improving the networks performance by cushioning against the entire network’s failure as a result of fault in one of the nodes.

Benefits of Multiprotocol Label Switching

There are so many benefits of adopting MPLS network system over the traditional ATM and Free Relay data services. Here are some of the benefits of switching your business’ networking to Multi protocol Label Switching.

Cost effective

Transferring to Multiprotocol Label Switching can save your business anything from 10% to 20% in comparison to ATM and Frame Relay data services as the bandwidth you purchase isn’t dedicated solely to you – despite it performing at the same level or better. If you add data and voice capabilities to the equation, you can save up to 40% for your entire business’ network.

QoS capabilities

Another exceptional advantage of Multiprotocol Label Switching is its QoS capabilities. This is of great importance if your business utilises voice and video services. QoS or quality of service allows for prioritisation of applications across your network, and in most cases MPLS will give you greater “burst” capability for shifting high bandwidth applications.

Performance upgrade

Switching to MPLS can result in an increase in your network’s response time as well as an improvement in application performance. This limits the number of “hops” between network points, which are the “any-to-any” features that come with MPLS.

Disaster recovery

Multiprotocol label switching offers data backup capabilities by linking data centres and other essential sites in numerous redundant ways to the cloud. Unlike ATM and Frame Relay networks that require either switched or backup permanent virtual circuits, MPLS network enables you to allow remote sites to easily and quickly reconnect to backup locations when necessary. This flexibility is a significant advantage of MPLS over ATM and Frame Relay.

Securing the future of networking

MPLS is the “future of business networking” thus, you need to switch your business from ATM and Free Relay to MPLS. Having a more efficient and cost effective network system will certainly give your business a competitive edge.

Limitations of Multi protocol Label Switching

As with any other network system, MPLS does have its shortfalls. While this network system has acquired a significant amount of buzz in the industry, its greatest limitation lies in its inability to provide application level routing intelligence, which is an essential component of voice delivery. For instance, Multiprotocol Label Switching cannot provide alternative routing on the call level to prevent delay, latency, jitter for VoIP packets and the overall packet loss. Although voice vendors offer other solutions to mitigate this possibility.

MPLS cannot recognise VoIP packets and distinguish them from data packets on the network. This is because MPLS deployments are domain specific, thus not feasible solution for voice traffic that traverses multiple domains or carrier networks. Just as crucial, most modern VoIP traffic is long distance, usually international, meaning that such calls usually traverse several domains or carrier networks.

Way forward

Multi protocol label switching has several benefits that it can bring to your business. In-case of setbacks, your service provider can route traffic through different paths. This can significantly improve the quality of services offered by your service provider through better management of data streams. Backup and disaster recovery has also advanced through development of multiple redundant connections. Thus, this system can greatly lower your networking cost by facilitating transmission of both voice and data through a single network. With advancements in broadband (DSL) technologies MPLS services are available to provide hub and spoke type solutions eliminating the need and cost associated with firewall-based VPN technologies.

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