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Looking inside the MPLS network

Visibility into the service providers' networks has always been a bit of a conundrum. The simpler the network, the less there is to look at, and the lower the network functionality. Along with this decreased functionality, there also is a lack of efficiency, and the associated increase in price.

At this point, there’s little question that MPLS VON networks provide the highest level of capability at the best possible price point available. But as the networks have become increasingly virtualized, there also is a lack of control and visibility into what happens inside the network.

Some of us can remember when there was resistance to moving to frame relay networks because of the loss of control over the exact routing and loading of permanent virtual circuits (PVC) and the resultant loss of control. However, armed with a fistful of service-level agreement (SLA) parameters such as committed information rates (CIR), we moved to a high degree of comfort and eventually took advantage of the tremendous cost savings.

Now we’re approaching a similar juncture with MPLS VPN services. As noted in a recent paper by Packet Design, “While service providers often position MPLS VPNs as simply an 'IP-enabled' version of the Frame Relay WANs that enterprises have been familiar with for years, the reality is that MPLS VPNs are very different from Frame Relay and have a much bigger network management impact. While Frame Relay is a Layer 2 service over which enterprises manage and have visibility into WAN routing, MPLS VPNs are an IP routing service. In other words, the service providers not only takes responsibility for providing a Layer 2 'link' and getting traffic across it, but also for delivering the enterprises’ internal IP routing updates properly and privately across its shared VPN network. Because this routing aspect of the MPLS VPN service is delivered via a standards-based MPLS VPN service architecture that blocks enterprises from seeing into the Service Provider network, IT completely loses end-to-end visibility across the enterprise network.”

Now Packet Design is taking on the challenge of providing increased visibility in a new product, the “MPLS WAN Explorer.” According to a recent press release, Jeff Raice, Packet Design's executive vice president of marketing and business development, stated, “With 'MPLS WAN-aware' route analytics, users can view the complex WAN topology beyond the edges of the enterprise, using a detailed map that shows distinct VPNs and highlights reachability problems. IT managers need no longer fear losing control when outsourcing their WAN routing. Now they can accurately assess how well their providers are doing, and hold those providers accountable for agreed-upon services and policies.”

We see this as being a giant leap forward, especially considering the wide range of capabilities that the use of Route Analytics can bring to the network. And while there is admittedly a price tag for tools like the “MPLS WAN Explorer,” in today’s economy it’s mandatory that enterprises have appropriate tools to enable them to provide a higher level of function at a lower cost while having fewer people to run the network.

For more information on this topic, see “Enterprise Network Management Visibility through the MPLS VPN ‘Cloud’ – MPLS WAN Explorer”.

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