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What is MPLS and What Could it Bring to Your Business?


If you’re a non-IT person, a growing business IT network comes with a world of jargon that can tie your head in knots.

MPLS is one of those technical terms – but, it’s an element of a business IT network that can have some incredible benefits. Here, we’ll take a plain-English look at what MPLS actually is – and what it might offer your business.

What is MPLS?

We can start by getting rid of that acronym! MPLS stands for Multi-Protocol Label Switching. Chances are, you’ll see MPLS talked about in the same breath as ‘connections’ but, unlike your business internet circuit, it’s not actually a way of connecting your network to the wider world – instead, it’s a way of managing the data that’s moving through your connections and across your network.

In simple terms, the ‘Multi-Protocol’ part of the term means that it’s a management technique that works regardless of the language (or ‘protocol’) that the devices on the network use to communicate with one another. The ‘Label’ is a tiny piece of additional data that’s added to the existing data that’s traveling across your network – this happens so that an LSR (label switch router – the ‘Switching’ part of MPLS) knows how handle data that carries certain labels.

Delivering data across a network

Since we’re talking about delivery, it’s not a bad moment to consider your data as thousands of parcels being delivered across a wide geographical area.

Rather than drivers haphazardly setting off for the first location, only to realise that the second delivery was just around the corner from the depot – the labelling system identifies the destination and priority, the multi-protocol element means the language that data is in is no problem. The switching mechanism means that the delivery order priority can be dynamically changed – according to the needs of the network.

What does all this mean for your business?

So, we’ve covered a breakdown – in simple terms – of what MPLS is and how it works, but, as a business decision maker, you’re going to need more than just a simple overview of what the function is. Ultimately, you need to know what benefit it will have on your business – and whether or not that benefit is going to be worth the investment.

With that in mind, we’ll explore some of the benefits that an MPLS system could have for your business.

Improving network speed

It’s common for a business network to be extremely busy – and, as such, congestion can and often will occur – especially when different types of traffic are being handled across your network. With an MPLS system, your differing types of traffic can be routed through non-standard paths, meaning quick delivery of data – and a reduction in the compounding hold-up effect that often occurs when traffic is heavy.

Boosting user experience

Increasingly, businesses are relying on both cloud-based and real-time applications so end-users can help to deliver the best customer experience. The nature of these end-user tasks makes them very sensitive to poor network performance, so, the switching mechanism within MPLS means your user experience should never drop off – leading to a better service delivery. This is often an enormous benefit to people who have suffered with network latency and data loss – occurring when a data connection is overwhelmed and the network needs to drop packets to stop applications freezing completely.

Simplifying your network

An MPLS connection between two geographical locations can be set up so, for all intents and purposes, it’s just like having a very long ethernet cable connecting two sites. Now, that’s obviously not what the connection really looks like – as there are numerous hops between devices and carriers needed – but, with the right labelling, data can be fast-tracked along the process – simplifying how your network looks and acts. The IT professionals working on your network will almost always benefit from simplified approaches to networking – as it often removes variables when faults need to be found.

Improving uptime

A simplified and efficient network makes for increased ease of network management. While network management generally won’t be a problem for experienced IT teams or contractors – there’s always the risk that an increased amount of management means an increased chance that human error can come into the equation. Remove the need for human intervention and you increase the chance that your network stays up, serving the needs of your business and your customers.

Increasing efficiency

An MPLS system lets you dynamically handle the priority of different traffic types. So, if you need to make sure that a real-time system stays up, you can adjust your MPLS settings to make sure that’s the case. The system will intelligently borrow bandwidth from other types of traffic to make sure priority systems and applications continue to work – even if there’s a strain from other applications.

Accelerate expansion

Traditional approaches to expanding your network would tend to involve configuring a complex mesh of ‘tunnels’ that safeguard routes through wider circuits so data can be delivered quickly and accurately. When you use an MPLS system, this requirement superseded by a quick system that ensures data will always find the most efficient route to its end goal.

Implementing MPLS in your business

You may be wondering whether or not MPLS is the right solution for you and your business – but, there’s no simple right or wrong answer to that question. Rather than give a prescriptive ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer – it’s worth considering a few questions:

  • Do you currently have many different data types using the same network connections?
  • Is uptime across multiple locations important to your business?
  • Do you ever experience network congestion?
  • Does your business use your IT network for voice and data?
  • Would the quick provisioning of new sites be helpful for your growth?

If the answer to any of these is yes, MPLS could be a good solution – especially if you’re growing. While MPLS isn’t likely to be a cheap solution – it is enormously effective, but it does pay to make sure you’re getting the very best service from an MPLS provider for your money. It’s absolutely vital that you talk to potential providers, as well as your IT team or managed IT service provider – to make sure you’re getting a service that fits perfectly around your requirements.

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