The process of delivering data from one point in a network to another is often taken for granted by many businesses, but the details involved can be incredibly important, especially when it comes to data center infrastructure. A poorly optimized network can result in congested traffic due to bandwidth limitations and sluggish performance owing to high levels of latency.
When it comes to network design, MPLS and VPLS are two popular choices for IT engineers. Although these abbreviations sound very similar, they actually mean very different things. Here’s a brief overview of the difference between MPLS and VPLS and how they can impact a company’s network performance.
Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) is a form of communication used at the network level (Layer 3) of network computing infrastructure. It helps deliver data packets to their destinations using the most efficient routes possible. In a typical network, data packets are routed according to the information contained in a series of tables within the packet. The entries in these tables are often long and complex. In order for a router to deliver a data packet to the next location on the journey to its eventual destination, it must read through these tables and identify what the next stop should be. This process occurs relatively quickly to the human observer, but in relative terms it can introduce significant delays into data transfer speeds, resulting in noticeable latency for users.
With MPLS, the optimal path through a network is predetermined and communicated with specific labels. Each packet is stamped with a label that clearly indicates where it needs to go next. Specialized Label Switch Routers (LSRs) place labels on each packet that passes through them so the next router will know where to send it. Since the routers don’t have to read through lengthy tables to figure out where to send a packet, MPLS can improve network efficiency and speed.
There is another important benefit to having LSRs label packets. When data traffic is congested, the predetermined path of a data packet might not be the most efficient at that moment. MPLS connections can be used to prioritize traffic, labeling some data as more essential and ensuring that it gets routed through the network more quickly. IT engineers can also design MPLS network systems to identify secondary paths for data packets in the event that the primary path is disrupted in any way.
Virtual private LAN service (VPLS) operates on different principles and addresses different needs than MPLS. Based in the data link layer (Layer 2) of a computer network model, a VPLS solution is an Ethernet-based point-to-multipoint virtual private network (VPN) that connects multiple geographically dispersed local area network (LAN) sites, which functionally makes them all appear to be in the same LAN.
Effectively, this allows data packets to be delivered over the internet using internal routing protocols rather than relying on their service provider to handle routing. When data originates from a device, it first travels to an edge router or switch that sends it to a service provider’s router. Instead of being shunted through a variety of connections to reach its destination, the data is immediately sent to another router within the virtual LAN using MPLS. The pathways carrying VPLS network traffic are often called pseudowires because they provide a fast, direct connection similar to physical layer connections. Once the data packet reaches its destination router, it can then be directed through the local network quickly and efficiently.
Both VPLS and MPLS provide a method for making low-latency connections between remote locations. The differences between VPLS and MPLS are still important to remember. Since VPLS networks utilize the principles of MPLS solutions, it’s not entirely accurate to view them as an “either/or” choice. Many organizations implement MPLS since it can be scaled easily, is protocol-agnostic, and is capable of handling different kinds of traffic. VPLS solutions are more difficult to implement, but they also provide better performance, faster speeds, and better security. Since it relies on labeling to send data from one customer router to another via a single ISP switch, the information contained in the packet (such as IP addresses or routing paths) is never made available to the service provider. With VPLS, organizations retain full control over how data is routed through their networks.
As VPLS solutions become less expensive to put into place, many industries are incorporating them into their network architecture to enhance existing MPLS strategies. This is especially important for data center infrastructure, which greatly benefits from strategies that minimize latency and provide tenants with better security. With the connectivity options available in a carrier-neutral colocation facility, building high-performance VPLS solutions can help them to enhance services for their customers.