Widely deployed from the core to the edge, IP/MPLS has achieved huge success as a mature, standards-based technology now deployed by virtually every service provider worldwide. As a result, the industry has chosen to extend IP/MPLS and develop a transport profile called MPLS-TP (MPLS Transport Profile). MPLS-TP is the packet transport technology of choice being developed by the IETF to allow service providers to cost effectively migrate existing transport networks to packet based solutions.
Recently EANTC conducted an MPLS-TP Interoperability Event which focused on testing and demonstrating interoperability of key IP/MPLS and Carrier Ethernet features between multiple vendor platforms. This represented a critical technology demonstration for service providers as they begin their migration to packet transport networks.
Early this month the stars in Los Angeles weren’t walking the Red Carpet, nor Tweeting about #winning, nor trashing their dressing room. Instead they were on the blue carpet of the Los Angeles Convention Center at the OFC/NFOEC 2011 show. A few themes clearly stood out regarding the challenges faced by network operators trying to address the bandwidth growth driven by video and collaboration technologies:
Investment Protection: The relentless need to optimize infrastructure investments
MPLS-TP: Deployment of packet-based technologies for future transport networks
Interoperability: Why scaling to 100 Gig in an interoperable manner will be critical
Optical Component Innovation: How coherent optical technology, flexible spectrum and component modules will be leveraged in future optical networks
Investment Protection: As providers continue to expand their converged backbone transport networks, they are carefully scrutinizing expenses. Bandwidth growth is driving the expansion and various technology approaches are being discussed to tackle it: efficient wavelength optimization, optical switching, optical bypass, packet switching, packet bypass, label switching and others. Some implementations focus on creating new platforms for each technology function. An ideal approach conserves existing investments without compromising performance. For example, label switching is a function that is fundamental to the core and is an easy, incremental deployment within established platforms. Adding this capability to established platforms makes best use of existing infrastructure and avoids new qualification cycles.
There has been a lot of buzz recently about a second OAM (Operations, Administration, and Maintenance) solution for MPLS-TP that will cause interoperability problems between MPLS-TP and MPLS. It is accurate that there is an alternative OAM based on ITU-T Y.1731 (Ethernet OAM) proposed by a number of vendors and countries and indeed, it will cause interoperability issues. As a strong believer in standards, I certainly hope that a second approach does not occur because vendors and customers do not need the additional cost burden that a lack of interoperability causes. The fact is that only the draft recommendation for MPLS-TP OAM based on Y.1731 has begun the first step in a very long approval ITU process -- but nothing more – and in my estimates will take well over a year and could easily take up to two years to standardize. IETF MPLS OAM is widely deployed in MPLS networks today and will simply be extended as MPLS-TP is deployed as a next generation transport solution. In fact, recent interoperability testing of MPLS-TP took place at the MPLS World Congress earlier this month in Paris.
I believe that after careful consideration most operators will see the benefit of having a single end-to-end methodology to operate and manage converged packet optical transport networks, which MPLS-TP using MPLS OAM provides. Operators who select another method that is perceived to meet their short term needs now my ultimately learn that it fails to provide everything they had expected, and that having multiple OAM methods (one for Ethernet and another for MPLS) is not cost effective. It will be interesting to see what happens moving forward. At the very least, operators should make an informed decision on which approach is right for them.
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