VPLS: Building on the success of MPLS

In case you haven't noticed, the transition to MPLS-based services is in full swing.

In a recent Nemertes benchmark, 42 percent of participants reported using MPLS, up from 24 percent in 2004, with another 9 percent planning to deploy MPLS-based services within the next 12 months. That's at the expense of legacy technologies, such as frame relay (which dropped from 78 percent deployment in 2004 to 46 percent today) and ATM.

Why? MPLS-based services offer a host of benefits. For one thing, they're generally less expensive than most alternatives - carriers are pricing MPLS-based services at 10 to 25 percent lower than what existing data services cost. Another primary benefit is the ability to provide QoS-based support for converged voice and data services. Many companies are rolling out MPLS in preparation for, or in conjunction with, VoIP initiatives. This makes sense, given MPLS' built-in ability to support latency-sensitive, any-to-any applications such as voice. Moreover, many of the people I work with are taking advantage of MPLS' capabilities to deliver interactive videoconferencing across the WAN - particularly to remote and branch offices. By converging their voice, video and data over a common MPLS backbone, companies can save 25 to 40 percent in the US over existing telecomms costs.

But lower costs and QoS aren't the only benefits gained from moving to MPLS. As I've noted in previous columns, MPLS isn't so much a service as an architecture that can flexibly support multiple service offerings.

One such offering is Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS), which relies on MPLS underpinnings to extend an enterprise's LAN transparently across the WAN. Within the carrier cloud, VPLS relies on an MPLS architecture. However, users connect to this cloud, not by routers but with Ethernet switches. The carrier uses a protocol such as Border Gateway Protocol or Label Distribution Protocol to connect sites across the WAN using pseudo-wires.

Johna Till Johnson is president and senior founding partner at Nemertes Research, an independent technology researcher

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