An In-Depth Guide to Understanding the Functions of MPLS

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If you’re making network decisions for your business, you might have come across the concept of MPLS. The following will explore what MPLS is, how it works, and why someone might want to employ it.

An Easy Guide To Understanding How MPLS Works

What Is MPLS?

MPLS stands for multiprotocol label switching. In the simplest sense, it refers to a method of laying out dedicated pathways within networks without using the standard routing process. This method was developed in the 90s as a technique for speeding up network connections. The process involves having predetermined network paths that packets can move along. The goal is to have routers spending less time determining where to forward packets, as packets will take the same path every time they’re sent.

Benefits Of MPLS

When it comes to the benefits of MPLS, speed is front and center; information travels faster when MPLS is employed. Saicom points out that there are other benefits as well, depending on which provider you go with. You might also find that MPLS options include improved user experiences, scalable IP VPNs, 24/7 monitoring, a reduction in network congestion, improved utilization of bandwidth, and improved uptime and availability.

Typical Routing

To better understand MPLS, it’s a good idea to get a grasp on how routing normally works, as MPLS is designed to work differently than the standard. When something is sent from one computer over the internet, it is divided up into smaller portions, which people in the industry call packets. Even the page you’re currently reading was broken into smaller packets and sent to your device, and then reassembled and displayed. Packets contain headers and other information that describe where the packet is from and where it’s going (including the IP address).

Routers typically forward packages from one network to the next until it gets to the network that contains the IP address it’s being sent to. This means that there are many associated devices involved in the process of sending information across the web.

Before routers forward a packet along, they first have to figure out where the packet is going. This involves referencing what’s called a routing table, which informs routers how to forward packets. Routers will examine the packet’s headers, consult the internal routing table, and pass the packet along to the next network. This process is repeated until the packet gets where it was intended to go.

Traditional routing works for many common uses. The majority of the internet uses this method to send information along networks. This being said, some organizations, companies, and users need efficiency for their work; when information has to arrive as quickly as possible, a path is determined ahead of time. This is MPLS.

As seen above, traditional routing involves routers making individual choices based on internal routing tables. This means that even if two packets are sent from the same location and are moving towards the same destination, they might take different network paths to get there. (This often occurs when a router updates its routing table after the first packet has been sent.)

When it comes to MPLS routing, every packet is assigned to a forwarding equivalence class (sometimes shortened to FEC). The network paths available are referred to as LSP or label-switched paths. The FEC of a packet determines which LSP it will be sent along. This process means that routers do not need to examine things like multiple headers, nor do they need to make decisions. Packets are automatically placed on the path that has been predetermined for them once the FEC has been read. MPLS routers can work with pretty much any protocol (hence being called “multiprotocol”). Packet formatting doesn’t matter as long as a router can read the MPLS labels at the front.

Security Information

Sometimes people want to know whether MPLS is private or not. In one sense, yes. MPLS can be set up privately, meaning that a single organization uses specific MPLS pathways. This being said, MPLS does not automatically encrypt information being sent along these predetermined pathways. If a company wants to bring security to the next level, they’re going to want to employ a virtual private network (VPN) to provide the encryption.

Of course, if your work is highly sensitive, you might want additional security measures. If you’re unsure about the security measures you need to be taking, always consult a digital security professional. Hackers and cybercriminals are finding new ways of accessing private data all the time. They’re also always discovering new uses for data that was previously considered worthless. If you’re collecting or sending any information at all, it is your responsibility to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to keep it safe.

Negatives of MPLS

While MPLS is usually considered better than traditional routing, businesses tend to find that it costs a little more. Set up of MPLS also takes longer than traditional routing and typically requires a more specialized professional. If you are located in a smaller town or remote area, you might find that you need to book this process well in advance, as someone will need to come from out of town. You will also need to set up encryption separately and will need to ensure that the cloud services your business use are compatible with your MPLS needs.

The above information should have explained what MPLS is and why it might be applied. To understand what MPLS would look like in your specific context, reach out to your local MPLS provider.

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