It’s relatively unusual for information technology standards to have a shelf life that extends over decades. Ethernet is one example. Invented in the early 1970s by Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet has been through many cycles of evolution and remains as relevant today as it did 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
Multi-Protocol Label Switching, or MPLS, first saw the light of day in 1997 when it was birthed by the Internet Engineering Task Force. It was hailed at the time as a much-needed alternative to multilayer switching and IP-over-ATM. Pretty soon it was the primary weapon in service provider enterprise connectivity arsenals, used all over the world as a secure and reliable way to transport the data that was rapidly becoming the lifeblood of the corporate world. As the Internet era gathered force, MPLS was its enabler.
However, we’re well into a new era now – the cloud era. The way we consume applications and access critical data has radically altered. But the networking that enterprises deploy to connect various cloud endpoints together has not changed to match. Generally it’s still based around MPLS, designed for quite different needs. How long can MPLS remain a central plank in service providers’ offers? How can they move on from MPLS reliance and start to deliver connectivity that is somewhat more in tune with cloud’s ‘have it when you want it and where you want it’ ethos? Why is it still the 1990s inside so many service provider heads? These are increasingly pertinent questions, especially given the fact that Gartner was asking ‘Is MPLS Dead?’ back in 2013.
To harness the full benefits of SaaS applications, notes Nishant Singh, Product Marketing Manager at Aryaka Networks, requires integrating cloud data with a robust network architecture, a requirement that cannot be met with MPLS.
“Yet some traditional enterprises choose to sign two to three year contracts with their MPLS providers,” he says. “There is really no excuse to bury your head in the sand and rely on the laws of luck and probability for achieving success.”
Amir Khan, Founder and CEO of Alkira, agrees. He first came to prominence an SD-WAN pioneer, and is now in the vanguard of a new revolution in cloud networking: “As an enterprise user, you still in many cases have to call your MPLS service provider and they provision a connection for you,” he says. “This has typically taken weeks if not months. How long depends on what capacity they have available in the region where you need the connectivity. The cost for the bandwidth in question is pretty high too, compared to, for example, the Internet.”
There are a number of competing alternatives to pure MPLS, all designed from the ground up for cloud. Aryaka and Alkira represent two leading examples. Service providers not already searching out partnerships among the cloud networking community to help them migrate their enterprise customers away from reliance on MPLS are putting themselves in serious danger of obsolescence. MPLS may have served them well since the late 1990s, but its end is in sight as an effective and secure networking solution for the everything-as-a-service generation.
And for further research into cloud networking, these names are among the leaders in the field:
By Guy Matthews, Editor of NetReporter