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How to select an MPLS Provider?

4 min. read

Last updated: October 12, 2019

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MPLS Providers 2 Blog post

It has never been more important for businesses to embrace highly scalable network technologies that can support their growing connectivity needs. One such technology is MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching), a protocol-agnostic data-carrying technique designed to speed up data flows across telecommunications networks.

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MPLS has gone mainstream because it provides companies with a cost-effective way how to direct traffic around network failures, support point-to-point data, voice, and video traffic, and generally better prepare for the future and everything it might bring. Apart from large enterprises with vast IT resources, Learn about the latest WAN products via our workshop.virtually all companies that decide to take advantage of MPLS and its benefits partner with an MPLS provider. But with so many MPLS providers out there competing for customers, businesses often find it difficult to decide which MPLS provider can best meet their needs. Listed in this article are 10 critical considerations when selecting an MPLS provider.

Coverage

First, it’s important to select an MPLS provider that can actually provide the necessary international coverage so that you can effortlessly connect individual branches across different geographical regions.

Look for a provider with many points-of-presence (POPs) around the world. Many MPLS providers also have NNI arrangements with various partner networks to further increase their international presence and provide redundant entry points to their service. Just be prepared that an excellent global coverage may come with a price tag.

Logical Network Diagram

Layer and Bandwidth Choice; The best MPLS providers let their customers choose from all three types of MPLS: Layer 2 point-to-point, Layer 2 VPLS, and Layer 3 IP VPN. Each of these three types has its distinct advantages and disadvantages, which determine the application for which it's suitable the most. Layer 2 point-to-point is a cost-effective alternative to high-bandwidth leased lines. Layer 2 VPLS is perfect for companies with fewer corporate locations and high bandwidth requirements. Finally, Layer 3 IP VPN is suitable for large enterprises with many locations and lower bandwidth requirements per location.

Security

While there is no inherent encryption within MPLS, this traffic routing mechanism still creates the feel of private lines by directing data packets along predetermined routes.
Most MPLS providers advertise how they protect customers from attacks coming from the internet or connected VPNs, but the customers themselves should make sure the provider they choose doesn’t neglect the security of its network core. Most security experts agree that it’s best when the internal structure of the MPLS core network isn’t visible to outside networks as it makes denial-of-service attacks against a core router much harder to carry out.

Equipment

Especially for smaller businesses with limited IT resources, it’s very important to select an MPLS provider that can supply the necessary network equipment, mainly customer edge (CE) devices, and offer ongoing technical support. CE devices are routers located on the customer premises that provide an Ethernet interface between the provider’s core network and the customer's LAN by connecting to Provider Edge (PE) routers. Perhaps based on previous experience, you might also have a preferred router brand. If so, check whether your MPLS provider can lease the routers you want to you.

Monitoring

What often separates best MPLS providers from those that can hardly be recommended are the network monitoring tools they offer and support. The complexity of today’s networks demands comprehensive monitoring with automated fault detection, customisable alerts, and sophisticated reporting capabilities. When a MPLS doesn’t make it easy to generate reports on network availability and uptime, there’s a good chance that the MPLS has something to hide.

Business Continuity

Your MPLS provider should be able to ensure business continuity even in the event of a major disaster. Select a WAN provider that can deliver an MPLS architecture with two or more fully redundant and geographically dispersed MPLS core aggregation points. Being connected to multiple geographically dispersed MPLS core aggregation points allows you to seamlessly resume your operations and restore access to all critical systems even in the event of a major natural disaster or a targeted attack on critical infrastructure.

SLA (Service Level Agreement)

When selecting a provider, always compare the SLAs offered by various providers. Most experienced providers are not afraid to back their services with SLAs, but the protection provided by SLAs may come at a considerable cost. To save money, you should carefully consider which SLA categories actually matter to you, including latency, packet loss, jitter, service availability, service installation times, and the speed of failover from a primary network path to secondary network path, just to name a few.

QoS (Quality of Service)

If there is one trademark feature of MPLS, it would have to be QoS. Various MPLS providers offer various of QoS, and you should determine what kind of data is most important for you. Most companies want to prioritise their VoIP traffic to ensure problem-free voice communications and multimedia sessions. You may also want to prioritise your database traffic, especially if you’re a provider of a real-time SaaS service. The good news is that most MPLS providers let you set your QoS requirements per site, sometimes even on the same circuit.

Contract Term Length

It’s very unlikely that you will have enough time to switch to a new MPLS provider every year or two, even knowing that your current MPLS provider is delivering sub-par service. The best strategy is to carefully select a provider that can certainly meet your needs and sing up for a long contract term length to save money. However, you should resist the temptation to carelessly use a long-contract term when adding new circuits. Before you know it, you may end up with dozens of circuits, each with a long-term contract and massive termination fees.

Support

We’ve already mentioned the importance of customer support a couple of times in this article, but we feel the need to mention it again here. Experience tells us that it’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong. When it finally does, good customer support can be the difference between a minor setback and a massive disaster. Always select an MPLS provider that stands behind its customers no matter what happens and has multiple support channels open around the clock.

Conclusion

We hope that this article has convinced you that selecting an MPLS provider isn’t as daunting as it may initially seem. While there are many factors to consider, by approaching them systematically, one by one, you can quickly and painlessly select the right MPLS provider for you.

Author

Joseph Banks

Writer for The Network Union, ex Network Engineer specialising in Cloud, Security and WAN services.

rsturt@netify.co.uk Last Updated: 12.10.2019