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Optical/IP

MPLS: Keeping it Real

BOSTON – At the Next Generation Network (NGN) conference here this week, supporters of multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), a next-generation networking standard, gave an update on the status of the technology. The conclusion is that MPLS isn't dead, but it is in dire need of a focus.

Since 1997 MPLS has been heralded as the mother of all networking protocols, which would one day make true voice, video, and data convergence a reality. Over the past four years that idea has morphed into proposals calling for MPLS to do virtual private networking (VPN), intelligent optical switching, and 50-millisecond restoration in Ethernet networks. In short, is has become the answer for almost every problem facing the carrier networks.

Many in the industry are worried that this unfocused, catchall approach is simply a reinvention of ATM (see Poll: Is MPLS BS?).

"MPLS is made up of some of the best and worst aspects of our industry," said John McQuillan, co-chair of the NGN conference. “It goes to show that the urge for a do-it-all protocol is still there. But I think we have to resist that urge, since if you look at the history of developing such a protocol you see it hasn’t been successful.”

During a panel presentation and discussion on Thursday, Robert Newcomb, vice president of marketing for the MPLS Forum and former vice president of sales and marketing for Ennovate Networks, acknowledged that MPLS could not be all things to all networks, as he highlighted the current realities of MPLS successes.

“MPLS may not be able to solve every problem in the network,” said Newcomb. “But by this point it could probably solve world hunger." (Appreciative chuckles ensued.)

At a high level, MPLS was originally supposed to bring predictability and reliability to an IP network to differentiate classes of service so that carriers could provide service-level agreements (SLAs) and quality of service (QOS). It also aimed for the convergence of multiple and existing services over the same network. The ultimate promise was that it would also bring operational savings to carriers implementing it, by automating the way bandwidth connections are set up and torn down.

These lofty expectations took root in the development of three key areas: traffic engineering, VPN implementations, and QOS. The question posed at the conference was how well MPLS achieved those goals. The answer is a mixed one.

On the one hand, it has made significant progress in the development of traffic engineering, enabling carriers to automate more efficient provisioning of connections within their networks. Carriers using MPLS for such purposes include big carriers like UUNet and AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T). Several others like Cable and Wireless (NYSE: CWP), Qwest Communications International Corp. (NYSE: Q), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) have announced that they plan to deploy MPLS.

Carriers are also starting to use MPLS for VPNs, which allow corporations to set up secure links through public IP-based networks. While Newcomb, who worked for an IP VPN startup,n which has since gone out of business, admits that VPNs haven’t taken off with the gusto that had been anticipated, he says it's now one of the key areas of focus for the MPLS Forum. The number of customers using MPLS-VPNs is still small. Providers like Global One, which launched its VPN service in April 2000; Bell Canada, which started deployments in April 2001; and WorldCom Inc. (Nasdaq: WCOM), which started offering the service in May 2001 have only signed up a few hundred customers each for their services. This pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of Frame Relay customers.

“We haven’t seen as many VPN deployments as we thought we would,” said Newcomb. “I’m not saying that MPLS VPNs are non-existent, they just aren’t on a global scale of deployment yet.”

As for MPLS being used for quality of service, deployments also haven’t taken off yet. In fact, few if any carriers are using MPLS QOS to provide services to customers.

Like other developing technologies, MPLS has had some growing pains. The process of turning it into a standard has been slow. Currently, there are only 10 ratified RFCs from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the standards body working on the technology. And there are more than 200 proposals. This means that only five percent of the proposals submitted have gone through the standards process.

Because of the lack of standards, there is a lack of interoperability among different vendors’ gear. Companies like Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) have all demonstrated interoperability in research labs; but in reality, carriers deploying MPLS are sticking with single vendors.

The slowdown in capital spending has also slowed down development, because carriers are loath to invest in new technologies in the midst of a recession in their industry.

“I’ve heard more about Frame Relay this week than I have in the past three years,” said McQuillan during his wrapup session at the end of the conference. “It’s a good example of a connection-oriented network, and that seems to be what carriers want and need.”

And, of course, there are the political obstacles that dog every technology. Infighting within the IETF and among other groups like the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) and Metro Ethernet Forum, which also have vested interests in MPLS, has contributed to the lack of focus and slow pace of development.

And yet with each passing day, more and more companies dream up different uses for MPLS. The optical equipment companies want to see the development of Generalized MPLS (GMPLS), which will bring packet intelligence to wavelength switching. Metro Ethernet companies want to morph the Layer 3 protocol into a Layer 2 protocol so that they can use it for providing VPNs. They also hope to use MPLS as a way to provide 50 millisecond restoration, a requirement for any network hoping to replace a Sonet-based network. And voice-over-IP vendors push for voice over MPLS. While Newcomb and others involved in the MPLS Forum agree that there are many uses for MPLS, they urge companies to remain focused.

“I don’t mean to be overly critical of MPLS,” said McQuillan. “But I think they should just pick an application and just go with it.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com Want to know more? This very topic is the subject of a couple of sessions at Lightspeed Europe,Light Reading’s annual conference, on December 4-6, 2001, in London. Details: Signaling in Optical Networks and MPLS: Just Another Marketing Bandwagon?

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netskeptic 12/4/2012 | 7:36:03 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real Ennovate's exec vouching for MPLS health - I could not resist the cuteness of the thing.

Thanks,

Netskeptic
back2basics 12/4/2012 | 7:36:01 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real Light reading,your piece is incorrect about Newcomb. He is a "former VP of Marketing & Sales of now defunct Ennovate Networks"

I also wonder how the MPLS Forum can continue to have an officer and spokesperson in Newcomb when he is unemployed and may have bad karma for the MPLS Forum.

Hopefully the MPLS Forum doesn't fall prey to Ennovate's fate.

Anyways, MPLS does have some good attributes,but has been too hyped up.

So let's just create a new acronym for MPLS: (MPLS-Many People with Little Success)



ARBoy 12/4/2012 | 7:36:00 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real "Looks like ATM and Frame Relay will be around for a long time"

Good post yomama. Who would have believed your statement a year or two ago when it was IP everything? So many of the edge IP vendors gone or going; terabit core routers on the downward spiral; Internet not growing as it was although there are those self-serving vendors who'd have you think otherwise; IP VPN hardly moving. ATM is here and looks to be staying for a while.
yomama 12/4/2012 | 7:36:00 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real Looks like ATM and Frame Relay will be around for a long time. A couple of issues:

1. ATM provides true QOS..
2. SONET and ATM were made for each other except for the cell tax...ATM Rules
3. Automatic Protection Switching is a key factor.
4. Frame Relay is widely deployed and works great and it's cheap...

I've been hearing for the last 3 years about the all optical IP Network..it is a great concept..but it's needs a lot more work..

just my 2Cents..
green 12/4/2012 | 7:35:59 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real trying to do 50ms restoration using MPLS is a piece of pure BS. good luck to MEF or who ever is proposing it.
metroman 12/4/2012 | 7:35:57 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real Of course a technology is going to look bad if you compare it against the wrong thing.

ATM and Frame networks are Layer 2 point to point services whereas MPLS IPVPNs are Layer 3 Multipoint services. There is no doubt that MPLS IPVPNs will never win this market, because it is not their market.

If you want to have a constructive discussion about the various benefits of Layer 2 services in MPLS then discuss draft-martini. Then you might have an interesting conversation.

The issue is how many customers can I get on to an edge device. Frame and ATM services consistently deliver great scalability, whereas we are only now seeing systems that can deliver Layer 2 MPLS services with any kind of scalability.

Another problem that the market faces is that we are seeing alot of consolidation. This results in disperate network technologies being used to create an end to end service. Operators are looking to provide a single control protocol over these networks, MPLS is the only viable option today.

metroman

flanker 12/4/2012 | 7:35:57 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real I read a poll elsewhere where ATT, WCOM and CW were asked to prioritize key technologies for them going forward. These are the results:


1) MPLS (ahem)
2) massively scalable routers
3) fault tolerant routers
4) SIP
5) short range optics
6) long range optics
7) OC 768

The prize for a technology most likely to sink a company was "all optical switching".


flanker 12/4/2012 | 7:35:57 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real I read a poll elsewhere where ATT, WCOM and CW were asked to prioritize key technologies for them going forward. These are the results:


1) MPLS (ahem)
2) massively scalable routers
3) fault tolerant routers
4) SIP
5) short range optics
6) long range optics
7) OC 768

The prize for a technology most likely to sink a company was "all optical switching".


lightcreeping 12/4/2012 | 7:35:56 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real wow.

This IS news. Congratulations on extolling the vitures of ATM. I'm sure it will roar back and Newbridge will reivent itself!

YT.
netskeptic 12/4/2012 | 7:35:52 PM
re: MPLS: Keeping it Real Same reply to the two different posts:

> Operators are looking to provide a single
> control protocol over these networks, MPLS is
> the only viable option today.

> I read a poll elsewhere where ATT, WCOM and CW
> were asked to prioritize key technologies for
> hem going forward. These are the results:
> 1) MPLS (ahem)


I suppose that carriers are looking for unified L2 technology which would allow them to put QoS and VPN services under IP and VOP and be way cheaper than ATM. Sure if MPLS works as advertised it will fit right in, however, this is a BIG if.

Over course of last 10 years I gradually came to the conclusion that there is no extraterrestial life and that technology which looks like BS on paper (e.g. SNMPv2, ABR and VBR over ATM, RSVP, VOIP, COPS, on-line storage, most of the .com, Metro Ethernet) would not deliver in the real world too.

At the same time it takes years and years to burn through say $100mil of VC/Stock Market money and even $1mil spent on PR would generate a pretty noticeable hype level. So, there is no surprise that public (including network operators') vision is so badly blurred.

In my reading MPLS is firmly set in the same BS category, however, jury is still out.

Thanks,

Netskeptic

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