Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)
As organizations grow, many struggle to keep their teams interacting successfully across multiple offices and sites, especially if they are some distance apart. The solution is a Wide Area Network (WAN) that unites the whole business, be that a head office and satellites, a chain of restaurants, or a retail business with multiple point-of-sale systems.
A WAN technology that has been adopted widely in recent years is Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), a technique for delivering high-performance, virtual circuits, across longer distance data networks.
The advantages of MPLS over other networking solutions include: lower costs, strong reliability, the flexibility to handle numerous data service types, and easier traffic engineering for different classes of data (e.g. video). Thanks to its flexibility it has, in the words of analysts IDC, “evolved to become the unifying packet transport technology”.
How it Works
Technically, MPLS creates virtual ‘paths’ through a telecommunications network by directing data from one node to the next using a path label, rather than using conventional packet-based address lookup. In a traditional IP network individual routers make independent forwarding decisions for each packet of data, effectively choosing the next hop in the process of getting from A to B. Not only is this inefficient, but this way of routing lacks the ability to provide robust Quality of Service (QoS) commitments.
In MPLS, data packets are assigned a label as they enter the network and that label is then used throughout the transmission to quickly and easily direct the data across a particular, predetermined, virtual path to its destination.
This has the major advantage of reducing router workload along the path, but also, crucially, permits a degree of service (or ‘class’) to be assigned based on the label, thereby allowing a hierarchy of traffic management. Packets that are carrying real-time or mission-critical data, such as voice or video, can easily be given priority as they travel across the network, providing for more sophisticated and reliable QoS, and better use of network capacity.
In a sense, MPLS borrows the ideas of older telecommunications technologies, such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) which focused on making ‘circuits’ or ‘pathways’ through the system, and implements them across modern, flexible, IP-based networks.
In engineering terms, MPLS can act at layers two or three of the OSI model, and is therefore sometimes described as a layer 2.5 technology. Its flexibility is enhanced by its multi-protocol nature, supporting modern technologies such as Ethernet and 4G LTE mobile, and also handling legacy network technologies such as Frame Relay.
 Nav Chander, The Role of MPLS in Next-Generation IP/Ethernet Access and Aggregation Networks, (Framingham, MA: International Data Corporation (IDC), 2012).
MPLS is most widely deployed as a Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology and in this respect it offers a number of advantages over Internet, IPsec-based, private networks including scalability, security and superior traffic engineering capabilities. MPLS VPNs can also be used with a wider range of access technologies including DSL broadband. A longer term advantage is that MPLS can provide the foundations for the next generation of WAN technology which will use a software-controlled network fabric to oversee data flows (known as SDN).
Looking for a UK MPLS provider?
activereach has considerable, in-depth experience of the design, procurement, management and support of MPLS-based networks. We focus on building and managing WANs that are tuned to our clients’ strategic and business objectives, and we can offer a range of independent advice on making the best connections between multiple offices, sites and data centres.
As a leading UK MPLS provider, activereach offers:
- A simple way to connect sites together that are geographically dispersed.
- Flexibility and scalability to match strategic goals and organizational growth.
- Expertise in the design, specification, procurement, installation and maintenance of MPLS VPN.
- Partnerships with a range of telecoms companies and MPLS network operators to help businesses select the right backbone provider.
- A variety of access methods including broadband, Ethernet, Ethernet over Fibre to the Cabinet (EoFTTC) and Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM).
- A range of resilience and SLA options.
- Advice on MPLS-based traffic engineering and Quality of Service (QoS) design and implementation.
- Expertise in MPLS-based router, firewall and switching hardware configuration and optimisation.
- A range of network management and configuration tools with portal support.