MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) is a standard used in telecommunications networks to direct packets between network nodes. An MPLS provider enables a virtual private network (VPN) that has virtual links between network nodes and that can carry packets of different types of network protocols. This means that using this standard a network can carry diverse types of traffic including SONET, native ATM, IP packets or Ethernet frames. The standard was designed to provide a unified data transmission service for both circuit-based and packet switched clients.The standard was designed based on the current ATM standard, with the goal of efficiently streaming high-capacity data streams such as voice and video between arbitrary network nodes. The intention was to overcome the high overheads associated with ATM while providing connection-oriented services for variable length frames.MPLS networks are easily integrated into IP networks. This means that you no longer need to have dedicated ATM (or other protocol) networks. Rather, MPLS packet flows are connection oriented and can be routed along preconfigured network paths to ensure a specific level of performance and service. MPLS enables your business to easily connect remote offices, mobile users or external networks. Another advantage is that it is inherently scalable (by configuring appropriate network paths and priorities) without having to change the underlying physical network. It enhances your network solution by providing a flexible, secure and dependable network that enables quick delivery of voice and video communications.Many network service providers now offer virtual private MPLS networks because of their flexibility, speed and cost efficiency benefits. If your business does not have the extensive IT resources and expertise required to implement an MPLS network, a reliable service provider may be the best solution. They enable you to take advantage of the infrastructure created by the provider without the cost of implementing and maintaining it.One of the most important aspects of moving to the new standard is having a migration strategy in place to make the transition as smooth and transparent as possible. Your service provider will often help with this process and some providers offer free project management for the transition to the MPLS network.You should ensure that your provider can provide the quality of service that you require for your network (for example, that it has adequate speed to stream voice or video). This involves specifying the classes of service that you intend to carry over your VPN. For example, not all providers offer IP multicast traffic for video applications.Ask your service provider about the security that they provide; most MPLS VPNs provide the same level of security as layer 2 VPNs – the equivalent of private circuits. You should make sure that they offer address space and routing separation so that they are resistant to spoofing and similar attacks. The most critical security issue is that your VPN is part of a shared infrastructure. You need to know whether your internet access is provided over the same core as your VPN and what security measures are in place to ensure that the services do not affect one another.MPLS providers enable small businesses to achieve the benefits of this technology at a fraction of the cost of implementing it themselves. Aside from ensuring that you will have the availability you need you should always check a providers references, service level guarantees, migration support, scalability and general customer service levels before making a final decision.
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