Energy giant offers MPLS VPNs

Oil and gas giant -- and service provider -- Schlumberger Ltd. has tapped Cisco Systems Inc. to supply the infrastructure for its new MPLS-based IP VPN service.

Schlumberger has been offering IT connectivity, security, outsourcing and consulting services to companies in the petroleum and gas industries for about 18 months. The new MPLS VPN service, called DeXa.Net Secure Private Network (SPN), is the latest connectivity offering from the US$14 billion global energy company.

DeXa.Net SPN is designed to deliver faster, more reliable and more secure connectivity services to other energy companies. It also provides options for users to transmit large volumes of data, including video and other time-sensitive applications, Schlumberger officials say.

"We need to have a very reliable network with quality of services enabled to make sure that the drilling information that you send from Nigeria back to headquarters in Houston is not delayed," says Jean-Michel Rouylou, vice president, Secure Connectivity Services for Schlumberger Network & Infrustructure Solutions (NIS). "Decisions are going to be taken based on the information people see on the screen. MPLS can let us carry over the backbone the quality of services, the differentiated services, but also can do it securely."

The DeXa.Net SPN backbone will employ up to 38 Cisco 12400 and 7206 routers in 30 points of presence. Currently, the service has 10 to 15 customers, including Actaris SA, a Belgium-based provider of meters, systems and services for utilities industries.

Schlumberger evaluated routers from Juniper Networks Inc. and Nortel Networks Corp.'s Passport multiservice switches for the DeXa.Net SPN backbone, in addition to the Cisco routers.

While acknowledging that Juniper had a superior offering to Cisco's, Juniper lacked Cisco's broad global reach, Rouylou says.

"Juniper came out as a better product," he says. "Unfortunately, the size of Juniper was a restricting factor in the sense that if you want to buy a Cisco router in Asia, Cisco is there; Juniper is not."

Cisco is also Schlumberger's incumbent enterprise vendor, Rouylou says, so the company is already familiar with the products and their command structures. Nortel's Passport switches, meanwhile, were ruled out due to their ATM core, he says. All of Schlumberger's applications are TCP/IP-based and the company wants to avoid a layer of overhead associated with protocol translation, Rouylou says.

DeXa.Net SPN is a Layer 3 MPLS VPN service, meaning subscriber VPN routing information is shared among Cisco routers using the IETF's RFC 2547 specification and the Border Gateway Protocol. RFC 2547 has come under fire for alleged scalability and administration challenges resulting from a large number of subscriber routing tables, yet it's being rolled out by service providers such as Cable&Wireless, Global Crossing and others, in addition to Schlumberger.

Schlumberger leases circuits from Cable&Wireless and Global Crossing, but the petroleum company does not resell those carriers MPLS VPN services. Rouylou says Schlumberger has not experienced any scalability challenges with RFC 2547 as yet.

"I'm not saying that there will be no problem; I know that's one of the potential issues with MPLS," he says. "But we don't see that yet."

Schlumberger offers service level agreements (SLA) built around three classes of service: standard, which provides SLAs for latency and availability; premium, which measures latency, availability, throughput and packet drop; and premium plus, a multimedia service that measures jitter in addition to the parameters of premium service.

Standard service provides no guarantees for dropped packets, while premium and premium plus guarantee zero packet loss, says Clint Brown, marketing manager, Security Connectivity Services for Schlumberger NIS. Latency is reduced by 15 percent as subscribers move up in service class, he says, and 99.95 percent availability for the network core is guaranteed.

Schlumberger's end-to-end availability target is 99.7 percent, Brown says.

Schlumberger is offering committed information rates (CIR) but with no bursting capability. Instead, the company is offering bandwidth reservation with class-of-service whereby bandwidth above the CIR is provisioned within 24 hours and charged only when used.

Schlumberger is developing an algorithm to work with the MPLS traffic engineering and fast reroute capabilities of Cisco IOS routing software to drop that provisioning time down to two hours, Brown says.

"That really does make it an on-demand service," he says.

Subscriber access circuits into the DeXa.Net SPN include private lines, frame relay, ATM, Fast and Gigabit Ethernet, and very small aperture terminal satellite. The DeXa.Net SPN backbone operates at OC-3 and DS-3, which is slow by today's OC-48 and OC-192 standards. But it can be quickly upgraded as utilization approaches 50 percent, Brown says.

"The quickest way to go out of business is to have pipes lying empty," he says. Currently, utilization on the DeXa.Net SPN backbone is 35 percent.

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