Industrial Automation

Why MPLS Is Geared for You

Howard Linton

In recent years, many industrial backbone network users have found themselves in a no-win situation. The familiar circuit-switched SONET and SDH networks they’ve relied upon for decades are falling rapidly behind in meeting their growing needs for video, data and other high bandwidth-demanding applications. Yet, the most common practical packet-switched alternative—for many, IP/MPLS—which is a protocol clearly that's usually intended for more complex carrier networks. It’s proving to be too costly, complicated and feature-poor for the specific needs of utilities, transportation, pipeline and other industrial users operating their own internal network backbone.

Well, there’s good news, because, fortunately, there is a lesser known “flavor” of MPLS that is actually purpose-built to meet the needs of this large user base. It’s called MultiProtocol Label Switching-Transport Profile, or MPLS-TP, and it just may help industrial users effectively solve their circuit-switching protocol migration challenge once and for all.


MPLS TP - Functionality without Complexity 

Many industrial early adapters in the industrial environment that were looking to IP/MPLS immediately saw that familiar functionality provided by their circuit-switched networks was not included in the protocol, while many unneeded, complex and costly features were. MPLS-TP remedies all of this, providing, for the first time, a highly efficient packet-switched protocol that is familiar and “SONET-like” in its operation, while avoiding many superfluous IP/MPLS features that are just served to add complications and expense for industrial users. It’s truly one of those rare and satisfying cases of “everything you want, nothing you don’t.” Here are a few examples of this industrial-focused feature set that you will find in MPLS-TP:


Traffic Engineering with Static Provisioning

IP/MPLS uses sophisticated algorithms to constantly analyze huge numbers of routing possibilities, searching for new paths for traffic to take. This dynamic routing—valuable to carriers but of little use to most single user industrial networks—adds a great deal of complexity. MPLS-TP allows the user to strategically define preferred paths—both primary and alternate redundant options. These remain constant.


Bi-Directional Predictability

Since IP/MPLS is continually changing traffic paths, transmit and receive communications aren’t likely to follow the same route. Carriers are not impacted by this, but some industries—especially utilities—can be dramatically impacted, and not in a positive way. For example, the commonly used differential relay process that safeguards the transformer network will not work since the receive and transmit paths will not provide the predictable latencies the system demands—potentially causing unnecessary and costly system shutdowns.


“Replacing” Familiar SONET/SDH Features

 The lack of many long-used and convenient features familiar from circuit-based networks were not to be found in IP/MPLS, disappointing many industrial users looking to migrate to packet-based systems. These include better than 50 microsecond switchover capabilities; Operation, Administration and Maintenance (OAM) functions; and a dedicated management channel. All of these features and more are “back” in the industry-friendly MPLS-TP protocol.


In addition, industrial users will be delighted to find that MPLS-TP networks are not only better suited for them, they can have significantly lower cost of ownership as well. For example, unlike IP/MPLS, there are no ongoing costs beyond initial equipment purchase, and the costs associated with maintaining and operating the network are significantly less. In fact, one operator is often sufficient to run the entire MPLS-TP network—even as it grows.