What is MPLS?

  • With MPLS, the first time a packet enters the network, it’s assigned to a specific forwarding equivalence class (FEC), indicated by appending a short bit sequence (the label) to the packet.
  • Each router in the network has a table indicating how to handle packets of a specific FEC type, so once the packet has entered the network, routers don’t need to perform header analysis.
  • MPLS network has the ability to handle packets with particular characteristics (such as coming from particular ports or carrying traffic of particular application types) in a consistent fashion.
  • Packets carrying real-time traffic, such as voice or video, can easily be mapped to low-latency routes across the network — something that’s challenging with conventional routing.

How does MPLS work?

  • The beauty of MPLS is that it’s not tied to any underlying technology. It was designed back in the days of ATM and frame relay as an overlay technique designed to simplify and improve performance -- that’s the “multi-protocol” part.
  • ATM and frame relay are distant memories, but MPLS lives on in carrier backbones and in enterprise networks.
  • The most common use cases are branch offices, campus networks, metro Ethernet services and enterprises that need quality of service (QoS) for real-time applications.

Benefits of MPLS

  • The benefits of MPLS are scalability, performance, better bandwidth utilization, reduced network congestion and a better end-user experience.
  • MPLS itself does not provide encryption, but it is a virtual private network and, as such, is partitioned off from the public Internet. Therefore, MPLS is considered a secure transport mode.
  • It is not vulnerable to denial of service attacks, which might impact pure-IP- based networks.

Disadvantages of MPLS

  • MPLS must be purchased from a carrier and is far more expensive than sending traffic over the public Internet.
  • As companies expand into new markets, they may find it difficult to find an MPLS service provider who can deliver global coverage.
  • MPLS was designed in an era when branch offices sent traffic back to a main headquarters or data center, not for today’s world where branch office workers want direct access to the cloud.

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