The simplest situation is when you have two locations and want to tie them together. The logical thing to do is order a point to point private line. These lines come in all sizes, bandwidths actually, to meet your needs. They are exactly what they sound like. One end of the line connects to location #1. The other end of the line connects to location #2. It’s like there really is a long piece of wire that extends across town or across the country.
There is one difference between a private line and a piece of wire. Private lines are actually telecom services deployed on those wires or fiber optic strands. There is a certain protocol and speed for each type of line. A T1 private line, for instance, gives you 1.5 Mbps bidirectionally to interfaces meeting the T-carrier specification. You’ll need T1 cards for your routers at each end. Nothing else will work. They have to be exactly the same for the T1 line to function.
You could build a larger network with 3 or more locations the same way. It will cost the least if you set up a star network configuration and do the routing at headquarters with lines running to each business location. Then HQ can decide who can communicate to who. You might set it up so that any location can send files to any other, having them routed through headquarters. Or, you may set it up so that each location can communicate with HQ only and then headquarters will decide where, if anywhere else, the data goes.
Like the two site private line arrangement, if all your lines are T1s, then every port will be a T1 interface. In this case, though, you have gained a bit of flexibility. You can use T1 lines for the smaller operations and install T3 lines for the larger ones. The setup at HQ will require a mix of T1 and T3 interfaces to handle various size remote locations.
Here’s where MPLS networks come in. The MPLS network is a cloud as far as its users are concerned. If you peek inside, you’ll see that it is a fairly large scale fiber optic network. Many MPLS networks have regional or national service footprints. Some even span the globe. What’s special about MPLS is the protocol used. It’s not T-carrier, SONET, IP or anything else. It’s a proprietary technology called label switching that wraps each packet in a special label that is used to manage traffic. The label gets attached when entering the network and removed upon exit.
What this does is make an MPLS network “protocol agnostic.” That means it doesn’t care what protocol you are transporting. It’s also speed agnostic. It doesn’t really care how fast your line is running as long as it connects via an appropriate interface port. Once on the network, all packets have the bandwidth needed to prevent congestion.
This really opens the window to connecting all locations, large and small, via the MPLS “cloud.” You simply need to get your voice, video or data to the network. From there on, the service provider is responsible for getting packets from one location to wherever you have specified that they go. Each location has a “last mile” connection that is the on and off ramp to the MPLS network. Those last mile connections can be just about anything.
Typical MPLS connections include T1, bonded T1, E1, T3 (DS3), E3, OC-3, OC-12, OC-48, Ethernet over Copper, Ethernet over Fiber, 3G and 4G fixed wireless and DSL.
You don’t have to use the same connection at every location. The network will handle the traffic regardless of how it connected. However, there can be an advantage to standardizing on Ethernet as you only protocol. That way you can make use of standard Ethernet services such as E-Line and E-LAN. Ethernet LAN service is especially valuable because it lets you tie all your LANs together in one large bridged LAN at layer 2.
Do you have two or more business locations that you would like to link together? Get expert advice and competitive pricing for MPLS network services and last mile connections that meet your requirements.