WorldCom Delivers VPN Service with a Mesh Twist

LAS VEGAS (05/12/2000) - It was IP virtual private network (VPN) announcement time for several long-distance carriers at last week's NetWorld+ Interop 2000.

But it was MCI WorldCom Inc. that led the pack with a new VPN service that hooks directly into users' existing frame relay and ATM networks, while Qwest Communications International Inc. and emerging carrier Broadwing Inc. buffed up their stand-alone VPN offerings.

WorldCom unveiled Business Class IP Service, an offering that is a hybrid of a frame relay/ATM packet network and a private IP service. Business Class IP employs IP address information for frame relay and ATM customer sites to provide any-to-any connectivity of those sites - without the need for a potentially costly mesh of branch-to-branch frame relay permanent or switched virtual circuits.

Business Class IP is based on installations at the edge of WorldCom's network of Cisco System Inc.'s MGX 8850 so-called IP+ ATM switches, which employ Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS).

MPLS, an emerging standard heavily promoted by Cisco, assigns a label to each packet when it enters the carrier network that contains information on what type of closed user group - or VPN - the packet belongs to. MPLS also differentiates among service classes, so when an MPLS switch is added to a carrier network, it can preserve the privacy of frame relay links and the quality of service associated with ATM without having to add encryption or other pure IP VPN security measures.

WorldCom's new offering is largely a response to AT&T Corp.'s increasingly popular IP-Enabled Frame Relay service. That service, also based on Cisco's MPLS, likewise turns one frame relay permanent virtual circuit (PVC) from each customer site into a fully meshed network via IP routing.

But WorldCom officials say that compared with AT&T's service, Business Class IP Service will provide access in 40 additional countries. They also say WorldCom's service provides the added option of access for various corporate and extranet locations over the company's extensive UUNET Technologies Inc. IP backbone.

Melanie Hanssen, WorldCom's executive manager of data product management, notes several additional benefits of this kind of hybrid IP/fast-packet service. Each frame relay site need only use a single PVC into a Cisco MGX switch/router, she notes, and the Cisco box can act as a peer router to customers' routers to off-load processing burdens.

In addition, in Business Class IP, multiple sets of VPNs - say, one for the enterprise alone, one for an extranet of one type of supplier, and one for an extranet of another group of partners or customers - can be given separate labels for additional flexibility and security. Finally, the cost savings achieved by eliminating the need for additional PVCs or SVCs grows as a customer's frame or ATM network expands.

WorldCom rival Qwest, meanwhile, announced the first full-featured version of its long-awaited VPN service based on security and other features added in the carrier network. The Qwest VPN is positioned more directly than WorldCom's new service as an alternative to frame relay, or private-line, services. Qwest VPN uses carrier-edge switches from Nortel Networks Inc.'s Shasta IP Services unit as well as from CoSine Communications. Qwest previously introduced a Managed Firewall VPN based on a bundle of Nokia hardware and Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. software placed on the customer premises.

And Broadwing - a relatively new rival to AT&T, Qwest and WorldCom - said its previously announced eClass IP VPN has been taken up by a set of customers including National-Louis University, drugstore chain Anchor Pharmacies and voice-over-IP service provider QuantumCast.net Inc. Broadwing was formed last year as the merger of long-haul fiber carrier IXC and traditional telco Cincinnati Bell.

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