An Overview of MPLS Networking: Understanding Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology
MPLS Networking Overview: In the era of the always-on digital enterprise, MPLS remains one of the most dependable data transport technologies for mission-critical cloud applications and WAN traffic.
Introduced in 2000, MPLS has set the industry standard for network stability and availability, serving as a benchmark for superior performance and a comparative standard for newcomers like broadband internet access.
MPLS provides a higher quality of service with 99.9 percent or more availability and little packet loss, leading this technology having been used to construct corporate-wide area networks for decades.
On this page:
What is MPLS?
MPLS, or multiprotocol label switching, is a routing method within a communications network. Data is routed from one node to another based on significantly shorter path labels than lengthy network addresses.
The apparent benefit is that it eliminates the need for sophisticated routing table lookups, resulting in faster communications.
It is known as the “multiprotocol” routing technology since it also encapsulates packets of many protocols.
How does MPLS work?
Traditional IP networks use lengthy network addresses to route traffic. With IP networks, each router through which a data packet arrives must decide its next destination based on routing tables.
In contrast, in an MPLS network, a preset, unidirectional path is generated between pairs of routers to transport traffic effectively depending on the FEC (Forwarding Equivalence Class) label.
- When a data packet arrives in a network via an ingress node (Label Edge Router), it is assigned to an FEC, depending on its destination and the type of data. FECs support the identification of packets with similar characteristics.
- The ingress node applies a label to the packet, based on the FEC and encapsulates it inside an LSP (Label Switched Paths)
- Transit nodes (Label Switch Router) guide the data packet in line with the instructions in the packet label, and not extra IP lookups
- The final router at the end (egress node) of the LSP removes the label and delivers the packet via normal IP routing
With MPLS, data is directed through a preset path via labels rather than requiring complex lookups in a routing table at every stop.
This allows routers to select low-latency routes for particular applications, such as live video streaming, to deliver data to the destination faster than the usual routing process.
When is MPLS used?
MPLS can be utilized when speed and dependability are of the utmost importance. Real-time applications are those that demand near-immediate data transmission. Voice and video calls are examples of frequent real-time applications.
Compared to typical IP routing, MPLS is scalable, delivers superior speed and capacity, and enhances the user experience.
However, MPLS networks are expensive and can be difficult to deliver globally since it lacks the flexibility to be carrier-independent.
Many organizations use MPLS networks to interconnect multiple remote branch offices across the country or the globe to a data center or applications at the organization’s headquarters or another branch office.
MPLS Overview: Advantages and Disadvantages
MPLS is lauded as a mode of data transmission with some of the greatest levels of dependability, availability (uptime), and quality of service.
However, despite these benefits, MPLS is not without its limitations. Here is a brief overview of the benefits and limitations of MPLS networks:
Benefits of MPLS Networks
MPLS offers significant benefits, such as:
- Better end-user experience
- Faster transmission
- Improved bandwidth utilization
- Security (since it is different from the public network)
- Reduced congestion
Limitations of MPLS
While reliable, compared to the cost-effectiveness of public internet connectivity types such as broadband, MPLS, on a per-megabit cost basis, is more expensive.
MPLS is also susceptible to geographical limitations since each MPLS link is provided by local telecom providers and is dependent on their physical points of presence (PoP).
While MPLS remains a terrific option, it is equally crucial to understand its limitations. Some of its drawbacks are:
- Limited global coverage: While – as the existing ones tend to offer it through partnerships
- Expensive: – As you’ll have to buy this service separately
- Time-consuming to set up: Setting up MPLS can be time-consuming since all the fixed circuits need to be set up. Similarly, any changes can also be arduous
- Limited application: – in a cloud environment
- Slower: – than newer technologies like SD-WAN
The Emergence of Alternatives to MPLS Networking: SD-WAN
In light of SD-WAN’s amazing expansion over the past several years, the relevance of MPLS has been the subject of numerous discussions.
SD-WAN is a software solution that makes Wide Area Networking (WAN) more adaptable while leveraging commodity broadband Internet connections. In addition, rules may be readily implemented to all WAN nodes, unlike MPLS, which requires the manual establishment of preset routes.
If your WAN traffic comprises non-real-time apps or if real-time applications are hosted in the cloud, SD-WAN can provide the following benefits:
- Better performance at small, international, or remote sites
- Increased bandwidth
- Improved performance
- Lower costs
- More uptime
- Quicker provisioning and rollout
Comparing SD-WAN vs. MPLS: Key Takeaways
SD-WAN is a virtual overlay with decoupled physical connectivity, while MPLS is a dedicated circuit. This provides MPLS a modest edge in reducing packet loss, but the cost per megabit sent will increase.
SD-virtualized WAN’s overlay nature, on the other hand, enables the use of connection types such as broadband, LTE, and MPLS, giving additional flexibility.
We’ll compare three essential factors: cost, security, and performance, to help you better grasp the differences between SD-WAN and MPLS from a business perspective.
- The main distinction between SD-WAN and MPLS is that SD-WAN uses a virtualized architecture while MPLS is hardware-based
- MPLS connections have reduced packet loss but higher per-megabit costs
- An MPLS circuit is a leased line that is exclusively used by an organization
- SD-WANs provide a variety of network connections, including MPLS lines
Is MPLS still relevant as a network data transport service?
Most enterprises have MPLS networks, so requiring them to migrate to SD-WAN is not the optimum answer. Consequently, SD-WAN will likely play a complementary function, and combining both technologies will enhance the network’s capabilities.
MPLS is a highly secure and reliable method for delivering data within a network, which is why enterprises are reluctant to adopt SD-WAN.
Even though SD-WAN is transport-agnostic, less expensive, and more flexible, MPLS provides business continuity and risk tolerance, which are essential for every firm.
In addition, companies such as hospitals and banks have made substantial investments in MPLS networks, and their requirement for a closed and private network makes MPLS highly significant to them.
Larger firms are typically slower to adopt new technology, primarily when they operate in a conventional industry. Moreover, it makes financial sense to maximize their investments, mainly if the present infrastructure is functioning correctly.
MPLS also has dedicated network connectivity that is more dependable and efficient than broadband and wireless. In addition, enterprises need numerous connection types for network stability and performance enhancement.
MPLS is neither extinct nor on the verge of extinction due to these factors. And SD-WAN is not an asteroid that will destroy the MPLS dinosaur! Instead, both technologies will continue to advance and complement one another to assist enterprises in developing robust, secure, and dependable networks.
As long as organizations must maintain data centers, headquarters, mission-critical applications, and contact centers, private connections will remain vital.
MPLS Networking: Not going away anytime soon
MPLS networks are routing techniques that transmit data between nodes based on specified short-path labels. This system was designed and executed many decades ago when the headquarters and branch offices needed a secure and dependable method of communication.
With the current cloud environment and the introduction of new technologies such as SD-WAN, the usefulness of the MPLS network is under doubt. The reality is, however, that MPLS networks will continue to offer enterprises dedicated network access for various reasons.