Connecting the Enterprise

Organisations that have made significant investments in deploying centralised business applications need to ensure the anticipated benefits are not threatened by a poor user experience caused by network issues. Michael Viney, Head of Channel Sales at Zen says this is especially true when implementing IP Voice and Unified Communications solutions over the network.

When discussing the optimum solution for a business wide area network, the terms MPLS and IP VPN are quickly identified as providing quality, reliability and versatility. Sometimes the terms MPLS and IP VPN are used interchangeably but they are not the same thing, MPLS provides the underlying core network transport upon which a robust IP VPN can be constructed.

Comms Business Magazine (CBM): So what exactly is an MPLS network?

Michael Viney, Head of Channel Sales at Zen (MV): The acronym MPLS can be broken down into two parts to help simplify the explanation; the first part MP, stands for Multi-Protocol. This simply means it can be used to transport a variety of other network protocols, IP is the most commonly transported protocol in an MPLS network but other protocols such as Frame Relay can also be carried.

The second part of the acronym, LS, means Label Switching. This refers to the efficient manner in which traffic is sent across the network to its destination. Traffic entering the MPLS network is associated with a particular exit destination based on some information (e.g. IP Address) and given a Label, at each ‘crossroads’ in the network the Label is used to quickly identify which ‘road’ the traffic should take without having to inspect the traffic and perform complex calculations.

MPLS core networks bring with them numerous benefits; among these are the option to prioritise different traffic classes and critically, the ability to automatically detect network failures and re-route traffic along an alternative path. The Zen IP VPN product offers 6 Classes of Service across the core MPLS network with individual performance SLA’s which can be monitored in the customer portal.

CBM: How do you build an IP VPN on an MPLS network?

MV: IP VPN’s deployed over Zen’s MPLS core network provide a cost effective means of enabling applications to communicate using IP over dispersed geographical locations on a secure, reliable platform. The end-to-end IP VPN service is built using a combination of the MPLS network, business grade access connectivity from Zen’s Ethernet and broadband portfolio plus the appropriate configuration on a router at the customer premises.

The functionality of an MPLS based IP VPN is derived from the network, all the routing complexity is handled within the Zen MPLS core. There is a fairly straightforward configuration between the edge of the MPLS network and the router at the customer site, once connectivity is established that site has access to all the other sites and resources within the IP VPN (unless setup otherwise). This simplified setup mitigates a lot of risk for your customers, particularly when compared to IPsec VPN’s which rely heavily on complex router configurations sending traffic out over the public internet. A Zen MPLS IP VPN has reduced operational overheads making it more economical from a total cost of ownership perspective.

CBM: What about connecting sites in IP VPN to the MPLS network?

MV: Specifying the most suitable connectivity from a customer site into the MPLS IP VPN requires having an understanding of the customers IT strategy and individual site requirements, Zen offer a range of connectivity from high capacity, fully diverse Ethernet Leased Lines through to cost effective low bandwidth NGA Ethernet plus a suite of options on broadband for micro-offices and homeworkers. It is the connectivity component of IP VPN’s which can sometimes be prohibitively expensive and result in customers selecting options which are not necessarily fit for purpose, Zen has taken action to address this by making an initial £3.5 million pound network investment which enables us to provide more of the connectivity directly to customers and innovate around efficient service delivery. This will ultimately result in more cost effective business grade connectivity options for our partners.

CBM: What are the emerging mobile connectivity options?

MV: The potential high data throughput rates of 4G and the DC-HSPA+ variant of 3G, which offers up to 42Mb/s, appear at first glance to be a compelling alternative to fixed line connectivity. For roaming and mobile workers this does indeed provide a useful means of being able to update business systems whilst out on the road, as a fixed line alternative however it is currently not so straightforward. From a service perspective, there are no guarantees on throughput or actual service availability. The commercial impact of generating large amounts of mobile data is quite significant compared to an equivalent fixed line service, this makes it prohibitive in the majority of cases.

Zen has been busy developing a 3G-Failover option for IP VPN sites that are connected with our broadband and Fibre Optic Broadband products. The 3G connectivity will be constantly monitored to ensure that a usable secondary network path is available, in the event that the primary fixed line connection goes down. We expect to release this as a productised option to resellers in the summer, we will also continue with research and innovation activities around mobile data to provide more services in the future.

CBM How can you add value as a reseller?

MV: Whether you deploy IP VPN as part your core business strategy to generate long term recurring revenue, or whether you use it to guarantee the performance of your value add solutions, being the solution provider who supplies and manages the wide area network invariably means that you become the de-facto consultant for the rest of the IT infrastructure. All information and communication services will likely need to traverse the infrastructure at some point as the customer looks to squeeze as much out of their investment as possible.

Zen offers a range of complementary solutions to IP VPN including Managed Security, Hosting from our custom built data centre and Carrier-grade SIP Trunking. Together these services provide the necessary building blocks to construct Unified Communications & Collaboration solutions using a Cloud model, both architecturally and in terms of operational expenditure based billing models.


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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine
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