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SmartAdvice: Upgrading To A Global Network

SmartAdvice is a weekly column from The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory-service firm. It answers questions of core interest to IT executives, ranging from leadership advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected].

Question A: What is MPLS, and should we be looking at implementing a global "MPLS-based" network to replace our current telecommunications network?

Our advice: There is no question that MultiProtocol Label Switching technology represents the future of voice/data telecom networks. With uncharacteristically little fanfare, many global telecom carriers in the past year or two have been quietly converting their networks to support this emerging standards-based technology. For larger companies looking for a data communications technology that offers relatively secure, highly efficient, and flexible networks on a global scale, the carriers' MPLS service offerings are well worth considering, but be aware that service levels and coverage will remain spotty until carriers complete the required equipment upgrades in their networks.

MPLS as an Internet Engineering Task Force standard has been around since the late 1990s. It grew out of several technologies, including Cisco's Tag Switching, IBM's Aggregate Route-Based IP Switching, and Toshiba's Cell-Switched Router, which were all designed to move network packets through a network fabric more efficiently, by applying OSI level 2 speed to level 3 flexibility. Networking that is by its very nature both virtual and secure means that the additional packet encryption overhead, created to support the more commonly available IP-level virtual private networks, is practically eliminated.

From the enterprise perspective, consider replacing an aging frame-relay network with MPLS service, because it offers service that is more flexible and efficient. The companies that will benefit most from MPLS are businesses with global reach and complex, changing networking requirements. If you need video streaming capabilities, voice-over-IP, and large volumes of secure intranetwork traffic, the case for MPLS is even more compelling. Because the infrastructure costs of delivering MPLS traffic are relatively fixed, the overall connectivity costs remain about the same as those of more conventional data communication services.

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