Testers Testing More MPLS

Spirent Communications says Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and IPv6 are moving out of research labs and into the mainstream of carrier and enterprise networks, and it's adjusting its product line to match.

In new software for its SmartBits analyzer, Spirent offers a range of tests on the protocols used by routers and switches to set up and control MPLS nets (see Spirent Enhances Router Tester).

Up to now, Spirent's offered MPLS testing on its AX4000 lab platforms. This is the first time it's moved it full-scale to gear that's also used for network installation and maintenance.

The news is part of an accelerating trend toward MPLS adoption, as regional Bells and IXCs roll out VPNs using the protocol (see Legacy Services Live). Even holdouts like Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON) are making supportive noises (see Is Sprint Rethinking MPLS?).

There's also a need to support IP version 6, the subject of an upcoming Light Reading test in which testers from Ixia (Nasdaq: XXIA) will be used (see Invites Go Out for IPv6 Test). While IPv6 rollouts have taken place mainly in Asia, interest is building in North America, too.

Putting these new protocols to work in carrier networks that already have a ton of legacy technology calls for testers with lots of smarts and the hardware to handle big tests.

These requirements have narrowed the playing field to the three main providers of router testers for carrier deployment: Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A), Ixia, and Spirent. All three claim to have the tools carriers need to make MPLS a mainstream protocol. All three are neck-and-neck with claims of protocol sophistication and scaleability.

All three, for instance, say they support MPLS, IPv4, IPv6, and VPLS (Virtual Private LAN Service; see VPLS: The Future of VPNs?). "Protocol stacks are getting complex. We see up to four protocols layered on top of each other in some networks," says Bill Kine, product manager at Spirent.

Agilent and Spirent have added new hardware modules that double the performance of their testers, just in case more scaleability is needed. Spirent's module, called TeraMetrics, is currently available; Agilent's will ship in September. (For its part, Ixia says scaleability comes from dedicating a CPU to every port on the tester.)

Verifying these claims is practically impossible without seeing and handling the individual testers and making technical comparisons. But one thing is clear: All three vendors see the need to create tests to suit big carrier networks -- right now.

"Carriers are doing the bakeoffs, trying to determine which routers give the best performance, the highest number of VPN tunnels," says Tony DeLaRosa, routing protocol product manager at Ixia.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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