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September 21, 2017
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MPLS Networks Replacing Frame Relay
How MPLS networks have the advantage over Internet VPN, Point to Point connections and Frame Relay networks.

By: John Shepler

When it comes to interconnecting multiple business sites, you have a choice in technologies. Popular options include point to point dedicated T1 lines with corporate headquarters in the center of a star network, VPN over dedicated Internet connections, Frame Relay networks or the newer MPLS networks. Now, how to choose?

Internet VPN
The Internet VPN approach is popular because of its relatively low cost, especially when you need to connect to many traveling or working from home employees. You implement it with a software application that encodes your data while it traverses the Internet. Performance is hit and miss, as is the Internet. Even with encoded packets, the lack of security on the Internet makes IT managers a bit squeamish when it comes to sending the most sensitive company data through these connections.

Going Point to Point Directly
Point to point T1 or DS3 connections are inherently more secure, as you lease the entire capacity of the channel for your exclusive use. These are nailed up connections that simply idle when you are not sending data. You can also encode your data with a VPN solution for the ultimate in security. But there’s a price to be paid, and that is one of higher cost.

Frame Relay Had The Cost Advantage
Cost is what Frame Relay networks were designed to address. A Frame Relay network is a privately run network that only serves its clients. There’s no access for the general public. You access the network through a FRAD or Frame Relay Access Device. This specialized hardware sends your data through PVCs or permanent virtual circuits. These are assigned paths through the network cloud that only connect endpoints you specify. In addition to limited access, the assignment of PVCs creates a level of security well beyond what you have in a piblic network. You can also encrypt your data to make it extra secure.

Relatively Low Speed
Frame Relay networks were designed to interconnect computing centers before the age of the Internet. The frame takes the place of the Ethernet packet. Network speed is typically in the range of 56 Kbps to T1 speeds of 1.5 Mbps.

MPLS Is The New Frame Relay
An upgrade to the Frame Relay concept is MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching. Like Frame Relay, an MPLS network is privately run and serves only subscribing customers. Also like Frame Relay, access is through a specialized piece of equipment known as a Tag Router. Your packets, which can be data, voice, or video, have “tag” attached to them as they enter the network. All routing is done using the tags. Just about any protocol may be transported on this tagging system. Class of service can be specified through the tags to ensure that real time protocols avoid any delays. You may also choose to encrypt your packets for extra security.

Can MPLS Offer You A Cost Advantage?
MPLS networks can run at any network speed and are being adopted by major carriers as the multipoint to multipoint technology of choice. For this reason, MPLS is fast replacing Frame Relay. For new applications in connecting multiple sites nationwide or even worldwide, MPLS is generally your best choice. With competition in the carrier market for this business, prices may be more attractive than you would expect.

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