Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a mechanism in high-performance telecommunications networks that directs data from one network node to the next based on short path labels rather than long network addresses, avoiding complex lookups in a routing table. The labels identify virtual links (paths) between distant nodes rather than endpoints. MPLS can encapsulate packets of various network protocols. MPLS supports a range of access technologies, including T1/E1, ATM, Frame Relay, and DSL.
MPLS is a scalable, protocol-independent transport. In an MPLS network, data packets are assigned labels. Packet-forwarding decisions are made solely on the contents of this label, without the need to examine the packet itself. This allows one to create end-to-end circuits across any type of transport medium, using any protocol. The primary benefit is to eliminate dependence on a particular OSI model data link layer technology, such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), Frame Relay, Synchronous Optical Networking (SONET) or Ethernet, and eliminate the need for multiple layer-2 networks to satisfy different types of traffic. MPLS belongs to the family of packet-switched networks. MPLS operates at a layer that is generally considered to lie between traditional definitions of layer 2 (data link layer) and layer 3 (network layer), and this is often referred to as a "layer 2.5" protocol. It was designed to provide a unified data-carrying service for both circuit-based clients and packet-switching clients which provide a datagram service model. It can be used to carry many different kinds of traffic, including IP packets, as well as native ATM, SONET, and Ethernet frames. A number of different technologies were previously deployed with essentially identical goals, such as Frame Relay and ATM. Frame Relay and ATM use it to move frames or cells throughout a network. The header of the ATM cell and the Frame Relay frame refer to the virtual circuit that the cell or frame resides on. The similarity between Frame Relay and ATM is that at each hop throughout the network, the “label” value in the header is changed. This is different from the forwarding of IP packets. MPLS technologies have evolved with the strengths and weaknesses of ATM in mind. Many network engineers agree that ATM should be replaced with a protocol that requires less overhead, while providing connection-oriented services for variable-length frames. MPLS is currently replacing some of these technologies in the marketplace. It is highly possible that MPLS will completely replace these technologies in the future, thus aligning these technologies with current and future technology needs. In particular, MPLS dispenses with the cell-switching and signaling-protocol baggage of ATM. MPLS recognizes that small ATM cells are not needed in the core of modern networks, since modern optical networks are so fast (as of 2008, at 40 Gbit/s and beyond) that even full-length 1500 byte packets do not incur significant real-time queuing delays (the need to reduce such delays — e.g., to support voice traffic — was the motivation for the cell nature of ATM). At the same time, MPLS attempts to preserve the traffic engineering and out-of-band control that made Frame Relay and ATM attractive for deploying large-scale networks. While the traffic management benefits of migrating to MPLS are quite valuable (better reliability, increased performance), there is a significant loss of visibility and access into the MPLS cloud for IT departments.
Depending on the specific mix of applications, and network configuration, MPLS-based services can reduce costs by 10% to 25% over comparable data services (frame relay and ATM). As companies add voice and video traffic, cost savings can rise to as much as 40% networkwide.QOS enablement
One of the primary benefits of MPLS-based services is the ability to support QoS, particularly key for companies that are rolling out voice and video.Improved performance
Because of the any-to-any nature of MPLS services, network designers can reduce the number of “hops” between network points, which translates directly to increased response time and improved application performance.Disaster recovery
MPLS-based services improve disaster recovery in a variety of ways. First and foremost, data centers and other key sites can be connected in multiply redundant ways to the cloud (and thus to other sites on the network). Secondly, remote sites can quickly and easily reconnect to backup locations if needed (unlike with ATM and frame networks, in which either switched or backup permanent-virtual-circuits are required). That’s why several benchmark participants listed “flexibility for business recovery” as a key justifier behind their MPLS rollouts.Futureproofing the network
Most companies have come to the conclusion that MPLS represents “the wave of the future.” Investment in legacy WAN services (ATM, frame) has pretty much come to a standstill: Virtually no companies plan to invest in ATM or frame services within the next six to 12 months. As a result, companies increasingly say they’re planning to migrate to MPLS primarily to avoid being left behind.