Carriers Jockey for MPLS

 
 
By eweek  |  Posted 2001-06-04
 
 
 

Business customers shopping for virtual private networks will be hit by an onslaught of offers from metro and long-distance carriers this summer, as a new technology with big potential hits the market.

VPNs over pipes that use Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology are all the rage this week at SuperComm, where larger carriers typically shop for new telecommunications equipment. This year, vendor and carrier enthusiasm centers on a new way to connect Ethernet-based metro networks and long-haul Internet Protocol (IP) networks.

MPLS improves the performance of the Internet for business applications by putting instructions on certain packets of data — such as those carrying a voice call — to indicate that they receive priority in routing. One of the main problems hindering widespread adoption has been that metro and long-distance networks using MPLS could be connected only through expensive manual efforts.

Luca Martini has come to the rescue. Martini, chief architect at Level 3 Communications, has written a new protocol, which is now a draft standard for MPLS for the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Known as the "Martini draft," the protocol simplifies routing between metro networks based on Ethernet and longer IP networks. It promises to decrease the amount of manual labor needed to set up desktop-to-desktop MPLS links and cut costs.

"The technology was envisioned to provide large pipes between two locations," Martini said. " Of course, one of the things I envisioned was using networks built by metro area providers to extend the reach that somebody like Level 3 would have to get more sites."

Martinis code is expected to have a big impact. With equipment that is Martini draft-compliant, businesses can now set up VPN-based point-to-point connections. They can also move legacy applications, such as videoconferencing, onto networks running MPLS to save on bandwidth and cut costs associated with managing separate networks for separate applications. With Martinis protocol, MPLS-based VPNs can also become virtual pipes for new business applications, from IP telephony to Oracle database synchronization.

Until now, MPLS was used primarily just to hold IP networks together.

Metro carriers are upbeat, seeing MPLS-based VPNs as a killer app that will entice business customers to pay for new fiber links in cities.

"Ethernet as a service provider interface really becomes a possibility now with the Martini-enabled technology," said Pascal Menezes, chief technology officer of IP internetworking at metro carrier Terabeam.

Long-distance carriers with MPLS-conditioned networks, such as Global Crossing and Level 3, are interested because, with a Martini standard in place, they can seamlessly interconnect with metro area networks to either reach buildings that are not on their networks, or transport MPLS-conditioned traffic between buildings for metro carriers.

"We all have a lot of hope for the metro networks and how we can all crack this last-mile dilemma," said John Longo, vice president of data services at Global Crossing.

Vendors and metro carriers said numerous deals like that are in the works, and some may result in acquisitions of metro carriers by long-distance players in strategic markets or mergers among metro players. The trend is a boon for vendors making equipment that links metro and long-haul MPLS networks.

"Our customers push us for MPLS, as they look to either partner or get acquired to compete in this new market," said Stephen Garrison, director of corporate marketing at Riverstone Networks, a vendor powering metro networks for IntelliSpace, Telseon, Terabeam and Yipes Communications.

With all this activity at hand, enterprise-focused vendors will be making special note of MPLS at SuperComm.

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