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How to cut communications costs by replacing leased lines and VPNs with MPLS

March 09

End of the line for leased lines and IPSec VPNs as MPLS comes of age

Contents Executive summary 3 What is Multi Protocol Label Switching? 4 How MPLS can deliver

Contents

Executive summary

3

What is Multi Protocol Label Switching?

4

How MPLS can deliver “virtual leased lines”

6

Benefits of MPLS versus legacy leased lines

7

RIP VPN

9

When should leased lines be retained?

10

Choosing an MPLS provider

11

Conclusion

12

Executive summary For most UK businesses of any size, the network is the most important

Executive summary

For most UK businesses of any size, the network is the most important piece of their corporate infrastructure. With internationalisation now commonplace, wide area networking (WAN) costs form a major, if not the major, part of most firms' communications budgets.

While recent years have seen a steady migration from relatively expensive and inflexible point-to-point leased lines to IP-based network solutions, a substantial volume of leased lines remains in use. Replacement of these last legacy internet connections with more flexible and secure solutions such as Multi Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), which offer guaranteed security and quality of service, can save organisations substantial amounts of money.

What is Multi Protocol Label Switching? For an enterprise looking into connecting multiple, geographically dispersed

What is Multi Protocol Label Switching?

For an enterprise looking into connecting multiple, geographically dispersed sites via WAN technologies, it used to be that there were a baffling array of options. Dial-up circuits, dedicated point-to-point, frame relay, ATM, SONET and Ethernet to name several. All these technologies had various strengths and weaknesses depending on the traffic types transmitted over them and requirements for security, latency and reliability.

To this end, leased lines, sometimes known as a private circuit, become a common way of establishing a symmetric, permanent data link between two locations. Leased lines can be used for telephone, data or internet services, and provide guaranteed bandwidth between geographically distant locations.

But whereas in the past a handful of different technologies emerged, such as frame relay and ATM, which essentially had the same goals in mind, MPLS has evolved to bring all these technologies into one stable, playing to the strengths and negating the weaknesses of each of them.

MPLS is a packet switched, data carrying network technology that can be used to transport many different kinds of traffic, including IP packets, as well as native ATM, SONET and Ethernet frames. MPLS actually replaces many protocols, such as ATM, with a solution that requires less overhead, while providing connection-oriented services for variable-length frames. As a result, many analysts anticipate that MPLS will completely replace these aforementioned technologies in the future.

MPLS operates on a network layer that is generally considered to lie between the data link layer and the network layer. To this end it is sometimes referred to as a 'Layer 2.5' protocol, able to forward data relevant to both Layer 2 applications, such as Ethernet frames, and Layer 3 applications, such as IP packets.

It is this position between the two layers that allows MPLS to run different types of traffic over the same network at the same time, such as data, audio and video. As a traffic management tool, MPLS is becoming increasingly important for the successful deployment of time- and latency-sensitive communication applications, as well as for business-critical applications like server redundancy.

In many situations MPLS is used to speed up the flow of traffic on a network by making better use of the available paths. The technology is termed 'multiprotocol' because it can be used with any Layer 3 network protocol, although IP is fast becoming the dominant choice.

The label switching part of the technology comes from its ability to eliminate all routing

The label switching part of the technology comes from its ability to eliminate all routing decisions from one side of the network to the other. Short labels are applied to each packet at the network edge, and all subsequent routing decisions are then made based on the label and not the full packet header, which improves efficiency and the speed of delivery, and goes some way to reducing bottlenecks.

Each application can be categorised in ascending priority, for example: standard (such as email and http); advanced (for higher priority data such as office applications); critical (designed for business-critical applications such as ERP or CRM); multimedia (for applications such as video conferencing); and real-time (designed for voice traffic which needs to be allocated the highest priority to ensure transmission quality).

How MPLS can deliver “virtual leased lines” In terms of flexibility, MPLS networks can also

How MPLS can deliver “virtual leased lines”

In terms of flexibility, MPLS networks can also be used to build virtual leased line services, and provide connectivity regardless of the physical connections available at each site. An MPLS customer could potentially connect to the network with frame relay at one site and Ethernet at another.

Essentially, MPLS is a leased line equivalent aimed at enterprises that require a reliable, secure private network over which to run bandwidth-hungry applications. MPLS is often used for mission-critical applications such as VPNs, voice-over-IP (VoIP) and finance tools dependent on bandwidth and fast connection speeds. It is also dynamic in terms of a granularity of bandwidth provision that is not available with legacy leased lines. For example, customers could incrementally increase their bandwidth requirements just by picking the phone up and talking to their provider.

As with any full managed service, MPLS comes with a host of other benefits in the shape of value-added services. These typically include internet connectivity, hardware, specialist personnel and skills, 24/7 support and, most importantly, guaranteed deliverables via the Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Benefits of MPLS versus legacy leased lines Enterprises have traditionally relied on leased lines to

Benefits of MPLS versus legacy leased lines

Enterprises have traditionally relied on leased lines to connect geographically dispersed sites, either using virtual private networks (VPNs) across the internet, or point-to-point leased lines. But this legacy solution is relatively inflexible, and firms often have to pay substantial costs for relatively little bandwidth compared with the solutions offered by next -generation IP-centric MPLS networks.

The main benefits of MPLS are centred on better performance at a lower total cost of ownership, bolstered by greater flexibility, easier expansion and better security. It almost goes without saying that reliability will be better, because you will receive all MPLS circuits through a single carrier, and experience less complication with tunnelling and firewall configuration.

Quality of Service (QoS) and priority queuing improves network efficiency by telling it which traffic is the most important. A significantly lower rate of packet loss also means faster response times for many latency-sensitive applications, while the fully meshed nature of MPLS eliminates the single point of failure that occurs with leased line systems.

MPLS not only allows you to consolidate your network into a single, enterprise-wide view of your company infrastructure, it greatly simplifies network management and reduces technology disparity. An added bonus of this consolidation is the future-proofing of the network architecture giving your business greater agility. In fact, some estimations go so far as to suggest that a company can reduce its WAN operational expenditure by as much as 50 per cent by adopting an MPLS strategy. One of the biggest savings will be associated with removing hardware such as firewalls and VPN equipment at network sites in branch offices, with substantial cost savings derived from no longer having to provide support for this remotely hosted equipment.

Small and medium enterprises that would benefit most from MPLS adoption are those that:

Require QoS Have a number of separate or widely dispersed office locations that need interconnectivity to share data Are thinking of deploying VoIP companywide to cut the cost of calling between office sites Have bandwidth-hungry applications that need to be accessed from different sites Are trying to cut the cost of an existing leased line model

What advantages does MPLS offer?

A cost effective method for connecting business sites that are geographically separate

A scalable and flexible platform for future expansion High QoS delivered via the SLA Predictable costs

In its latest Ethernet and IP MPLS VPN Services report, industry analyst Infonetics Research reveals

In its latest Ethernet and IP MPLS VPN Services report, industry analyst Infonetics Research reveals that organisations around the world are increasingly replacing their legacy frame relay, ATM and private line legacy services with Ethernet and IP MPLS VPN services. In 2007, the company found that IP MPLS VPN service revenue worldwide grew 20 per cent to $13bn and is forecast to grow strongly through to 2011.

Customer demand and IP and next-generation network transformation projects are the two biggest factors contributing to the growing popularity of IP MPLS VPN services, Infonetics said. And companies mainly like these services because they offer considerably more bandwidth with little or no increased WAN costs compared to their legacy counterparts, including frame relay, ATM and leased lines.

The Europe, Middle East, and Africa region accounted for over one third of worldwide IP MPLS VPN service revenue in 2007, the analyst said.

RIP VPN With the advent of MPLS, the writing is on the wall for branch

RIP VPN

With the advent of MPLS, the writing is on the wall for branch VPNs, with firms increasingly seeking to simplify infrastructure complexity and remove expensive legacy hardware-based VPN platforms, as well as difficult-to-support software-based alternatives, by using MPLS to deliver a single breakout to the internet.

This is mainly because MPLS can provide all the services a branch VPN can, as well as a whole host of other features, and do the job more efficiently and cheaper. MPLS supports VPN, providing inherent security and separation of traffic for all customers, as well as support for differential QoS levels to address the specific requirements of customer applications.

MPLS can deliver enhanced flexibility, allowing customers to benefit from being able to choose IP-based technologies including DSL broadband and Ethernet services to provision links into the WAN MPLS core, as well as supporting easy and flexible deployment of branch offices and new network sites.

Customers can rest assured that MPLS can offer enterprise-class reliability backed up by Class of Service (CoS) and QoS guarantees. The circuit can be configured to enable different voice and data network traffic to be differentiated and prioritised by application - so for example business critical applications such as ERP or CRM can be given priority.

Hand in hand with CoS capabilities is the granularity MPLS of bandwidth features, allowing users to take advantage of provisioning capabilities not available with legacy leased lines, which are tied to relatively rigid bandwidths, together with costly upgrade paths, for example from an E1 to E3 or DS-3.

Industry-leading security is a prerequisite of enterprise deployments, and in terms of security, MPLS can be considered comparable with legacy Layer 2 transmission network technologies like ATM or frame relay. All MPLS solutions are built around 'zero hop' architectures so there can be no possible attack point for interception of the IP packets.

It is worth remembering, however, that while the MPLS network is private, it can be connected to the internet if you choose, but your traffic on it will not be encrypted. On the other hand, compared to internet-based connections such as IPSec VPNs, MPLS wins hands down in terms of security because it's run through a private network, whereas a VPN is open to internet threats at the gateway, or perhaps via a flawed or misconfigured firewall.

When should leased lines be retained? For some organisations, especially large corporates, there are inevitably

When should leased lines be retained?

For some organisations, especially large corporates, there are inevitably some mission- critical operations, core to a business, where the very high availability of a leased line, or dual leased lines would be required. Companies operating in the financial services industry might be one example. But for many scenarios this ultra high availability is not a business- critical requirement and the cost savings from a DSL line running into an MPLS infrastructure are very attractive.

But while it is generally acknowledged that the economic and traffic management benefits of migrating to MPLS are clear, with the technology delivering measurably better reliability and performance, some enterprises may also be put off by the lack of visibility into the MPLS 'cloud'.

Choosing an MPLS provider Of course, as with any managed service, monitoring and reporting tools

Choosing an MPLS provider

Of course, as with any managed service, monitoring and reporting tools are of crucial importance because MPLS gives you less direct visibility into how your network services are being run. Online reporting allows you to truly see what is happening on your network so that you subscribe only to the bandwidth that you really need. Being able to see this key information on network and service performance also ensures that the services are performing against SLAs, as well as allowing you to account for network traffic, engage in network capacity analysis and planning, monitor QoS and SLAs, detect irregular usage and denial-of-service attempts, monitor mission-critical and bandwidth-intensive applications, as well as monitor general network performance.

At the heart of any managed services deal such as an MPLS network is the SLA, which is crucial to the success of any relationship with a service provider. Along with a thorough reporting system and a single point of contact who is easy to get hold of, there should also be a plan in place to allow the service provider to escalate things if and when required, as well as an exit plan.

These requirements serve to highlight the advantage of a single SLA for all service provision, as well as the need to engage a provider that offers a 'real' SLA which reflects technical reality.

Of course there are certain points that need to be addressed regarding the provider you are considering before you sign a contract:

How credible is the partner? What is the strength of the partner's service offerings? How strong is the partner's customer service? What SLAs need to be agreed? What is the strength of the partner's underlying network infrastructure? What steps must be taken to keep the relationship on track in the medium/long term? What data security measures are in place?

Conclusion MPLS is fast becoming the standard technology for implementing large-scale IP networks across the

Conclusion

MPLS is fast becoming the standard technology for implementing large-scale IP networks across the WAN. With a strong engineering pedigree - it was originally created to improve the performance of backbone networks - the technology's features and QoS have helped the platform achieve widespread adoption.

But, while the technology is cutting edge, it also makes sound economic sense in that it can often offer cost savings, enterprise-class security and improved functionality when compared with legacy connectivity solutions such as leased lines.

Customer demand and IP and next-generation network transformation projects are the two biggest reasons enterprises of all sizes are considering MPLS, mainly because they offer considerably more bandwidth with little or no increased WAN costs compared to their legacy counterparts, including frame relay, ATM and leased lines.

Essentially, MPLS is a leased line equivalent aimed at enterprises that require a reliable, secure private network over which to run bandwidth-hungry applications. It is becoming increasingly popular for mission-critical applications such as VPNs, VoIP and finance tools dependent on bandwidth and fast connection speeds. It is also dynamic in terms of granularity of bandwidth provision that is not available with legacy leased lines, and flexible enough to replace legacy platforms such as ATM and frame relay.

About Star Star provides on-demand computing and communication services to UK businesses. Utilising an advanced

About Star

Star provides on-demand computing and communication services to UK businesses. Utilising an advanced cloud computing platform, the company has redefined how business people use and pay for the technology that supports them. Star’s on-demand business services are easy to use and pay for and are available any time and from anywhere, removing unnecessary costs for hardware, software and ongoing maintenance.

Since being founded in 1995, Star has been an Internet technology innovator and pioneered the system for cloud based spam and virus scanning for business email that became MessageLabs. In the last 14 years Star has established itself as a leading IT and communications service provider of the highest pedigree looking after 3,500 UK business customers and their 500,000 users.

Star has UK based data centres that sit within a network and communications capability that forms the basis of the Star Platform, from which a wide range of computing and communication services are delivered to customers. Star has over 250 employees working from offices throughout the UK, providing the highest levels of customer service and support. Star’s technology roadmap will deliver on-demand, cloud computing services to UK businesses who want immediate access to the latest enterprise technologies. For more information please go to:

www.star.co.uk

Star Offices

Headquarters 1230 Arlington Business Park Theale, Reading, Berkshire RG7 4SA

Gloucester Brighouse Court, Barnett Way Barnwood GL4 3RT

Manchester Unit T4, Quay Plaza One Manchester M50 3BA

London 40 Whitfield Street London W1T 2RH

Star is the trading name of Star Technology Ltd., a Company Registered in England No. 3077786. Brighouse Court, Barnett Way, Barnwood, GL4 3RT. VAT No. 810943641