Speeding Along the MPLS Byway

The Garden State Parkway is Carlo Lalomia's shortest route home, but sometimes it gets so congested that he'd be foolish not to take the New Jersey Turnpike instead.

The Garden State Parkway is Carlo Lalomias shortest route home, but sometimes it gets so congested that hed be foolish not to take the New Jersey Turnpike instead.

An expert on the relative merits of congestion and distance, Lalomia has embraced Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), a technology that engineers and isolates traffic, speeding data delivery and letting carriers offer a wide range of services and prices.

Lalomia is co-founder and chief technical officer of IntelliSpace, a metro provider that brings bandwidth to enterprises in the Northeast.

What MPLS lacks in simplicity, it more than makes up for in possibilities. A pure-IP network is simple, Lalomia says, but it cant guarantee quality of service and wasnt meant for speed or security. Add MPLS, though, and the story changes. "Instead of information going the shortest path, MPLS can configure it to go the least-congested path," he says. "Thats important to me when were prioritizing traffic for any type of broadband application."

With MPLS, a packet doesnt have to be opened by each router along the networks route. Instead, the packet comes into the first edge router, which looks at it, determines its purpose and puts an MPLS label in front. The next router looks only at the label — not the whole stack of information written for different levels of the network architecture. One quick look at the label on one packet gives the OK for hundreds of thousands of related packets to flow through the network unimpeded. Its the intelligence in those routers that let carriers provide billable services for many different flows of traffic.

What scares Lalomia is stranded capacity — the bandwidth that hes paying for, but his end-user customer is not. If IntelliSpace sends 1 gigabit per second into a building, but the customer needs just 150 megabits per second, "thats 850 [Mbps] stranded. Its not making me any money," he says.

IntelliSpace uses Juniper Networks MPLS platform to let customers pay for just the bandwidth they need and use, and works to convince them that they need a lot — such as a separate pipe that gives a discount for traffic that stays within the metro region, a pipe that lets them manage traffic off-Internet, or separate pipes for secure interoffice memos, the outsourced helpdesk or a beeline to the best customers.

MPLS should thrive while money is tight, because it gives customers a way to offer different classes of services within their existing infrastructure — chances for new revenue streams without a big outlay of capital, says Carl Showalter, Junipers vice president of marketing. "Carriers are using MPLS as a way to collapse their networks from multiple lease-line networks onto a common IP infrastructure. Juniper has also won MPLS contracts with AT&T, Cable & Wireless, Global Crossing, Level 3 Communications, Verizon Communications, WorldCom and Yipes Communications.