MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching is a type of network set up to transport traffic for multiple subscribers in a way that preserves security, class of service, and important network characteristics such as bandwidth, latency, jitter, and packet loss. It is the closest thing to a universal network protocol that we have.
True, the Internet offers far wider connectivity than any other network. But the Internet is a public access facility based on network neutrality. There’s no such thing as class of service on the Internet. Indeed, it is a source of pride for Internet managers that all packets receive equal treatment.
That’s fine for a general purpose public resource that is primarily a transporter of non-time sensitive data and one-way media streaming. It’s completely unacceptable as a high performance transparent connectivity medium designed to support enterprise level computing and communications. MPLS networks are designed specifically to offer the class and quality of service you can’t get on a public network but also can’t afford to build yourself.
MPLS is known as an inherently VPN technology. While the service has multiple tenants to amortize the construction and operating costs of the network, the unique routing technology provides a level of security in itself. MPLS is based on label switching, once known as tag switching. It’s a packet switched network, but the packets can represent any protocol. The network doesn’t care what’s in the packet. It just needs to know where that packet needs to go and what class of service it should have. That’s defined upon ingress to the network, where the packet is assigned a label wrapper to encapsulate the original packet. The label stays on the packet until egress from the network when it is removed.
How does this create a virtually private network? First, IP routing is not used on an MPLS network. Anyone trying to snoop on the network will find that their IP-based tools are worthless. Second, access is strictly controlled. Unless you are a subscriber, you probably can’t even find a place to penetrate the network. The network operator sets up the accounts and only provides switched paths that are defined by the subscribers. Unless you are on the “list,” no data comes your way.
Even though other users have traffic on the same physical paths as you do, you are unaware of each other’s presence on an MPLS network. The network operator knows what services have been subscribed and maintains sufficient bandwidth to meet all guarantees without congestion. The switched paths are primarily determinate and don’t change unless there is a need to work around a temporary network outage. That greatly improves latency and jitter characteristics.
The end result is that you gain the performance of dedicated point to point private lines at a much lower cost that creating your own private WAN network. This is especially true when there are many locations to connect or when you need undersea fiber connections to Europe or Asia. With MPLS networks, you only need “last mile” connections for each location. The rest of the network is already in-place to transport your traffic. The cost advantages are such that for distances in the thousands of miles, it can be less expensive to order two local loops, one at each end, to access a MPLS network and then let the network handle the long haul portion of the path.
Who provides these International MPLS networks? Major carriers such as Level 3 Communications, AboveNet, XO Communications and Global Telecom and Technology have the fiber optic infrastructure in place to connect your facilities regardless of where they are located around the world.
Do you have a need to reach long distances for voice, data, or video, especially when multiple locations need to be tied together? If so, get prices and features for international MPLS network services specially tailored to meet your needs.
Note: World Map graphic courtesy of David Monniaux Wikimedia Commons.