So far, corporate networks have been using above all efficient MPLS connections. However, companies will require hybrid networks in the future including cost-efficient Internet VPNs.
MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) has long been the uncontested queen of corporate networks. It is an IP based technology that, according to Experton analysts, is most commonly used in Wide Area Networks (WAN) due to its high and guaranteed transmission performance and security. MPLS not only offers short latency times (data runtimes) and low jitter and packet loss rates but also a closed network infrastructure. Another bonus are Quality of Service mechanisms. Compared to email traffic, voice traffic is preferentially transmitted – with guaranteed quality. These traditional networks, however, are facing new challenges:
Increasing data volume in corporate networks. Cloud computing, connected machines and products as well as digital collaboration mean that corporate networks have to transmit an increasing amount of data. If companies want to maintain the same network quality, they need to add bandwidth – resulting in additional costs.
Each application presents different requirements that networks have to fulfill. At the same time, with Voice over IP (VoIP), Cloud offers and mobile data traffic, the variety of applications increases. These applications place very different demands on data transmission. With VoIP in WAN in particular, data needs to be transferred with low latency. This could, however, hinder time-critical communication between two production machines.
We can no longer work without the Internet. Virtual Private Networks (VPN) via Internet are on the advance. They connect machines, vehicles, and products, and connect public clouds and mobile users to the corporate network. They are available almost everywhere and cost less than MPLS connections. However, they achieve by far not the same quality, since they do not allow for traffic prioritization. A high network utilization can slow the transmission, in particular with long distances. Factors such as line length and their technology (copper or glass fiber) have a stronger effect than with MPLS.
How, then, can companies secure the required transmission quality for all applications at least cost?
Hybrid networks are the future
Neither a pure MPLS network nor an Internet VPN fulfills all corporate requirements. Company networks of the future must be based on a hybrid approach. The MPLS network still serves as a backbone. Internet VPNs offer an alternative to access this backbone, mostly on the basis of IPSec tunnels. According to the demands or availability, different connection types are possible: only via MPLS, only via the Internet, or both.
WAN access via MPLS Access to corporate networks via MPLS plays and will play an important role. An Internet VPN tunnel can serve as back-up, which is only used in case the MPLS connection fails.
WAN access via Internet Communicating only via the Internet or accessing the corporate network via VPN tunnel not only serves mobile users, connected “things” and public clouds, but is also an option for several locations, if a MPLS connection is unavailable or too expensive, such as with smaller branches.
Hybrid WAN access Due to the growing data traffic it becomes increasingly profitable if locations use Internet and MPLS VPNs at the same time. Traffic Offloading uses the efficient MPLS connection for challenging applications, such as Enterprise Resource Planning systems (ERP), telephony or video conferences. Less time-critical data streams, such as email traffic, use an encrypted Internet connection. This saves valuable MPLS capacities. The Performance Routing technology, which is an extension of Traffic Offloading, offers even more network performance. Performance Routing not only provides the transmission parameters for specific applications, but also their best path through the respective network or load balancing when several paths are used.
Increasing use of MPLS
According to a study by the research company Nemertes, “Internet as WAN is the perfect solution for mass data streams, such as back-ups or other data streams, where temporary delays or package loss do not affect operation.” According to the study, almost all companies worldwide use Internet connections in parts of their WAN. MPLS will remain a central part of corporate networks also in the following years. According to a study by the market research company Radiant Insights, “the use of MPLS-IP-VPN services is expected to grow, since video, language and data can be combined in one platform, and bandwidths can be scaled.”
In addition to Layer-3 services such as MPLS and Internet VPNs, many companies also use Layer-1 and 2 connections, for example for broadband connections of data centers. In one of our next articles of our Future Networks Perspectives we will discuss multi layer networks.
If companies switch to SIP trunks, they should consider a PBX (private branch exchange) and a centralization of all connections as well. It is a decision that will save them more than just voice channels.