MPLS: The Go-To Cloud Connection

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By Joan Engebretson

While cost savings and productivity gains are fueling enterprise demand for cloud, security and quality of service pose challenges — challenges that channel partners are finding may be best met by virtual private networks based on MPLS.

For telecom sales agents who traditionally have focused on commodity connectivity services, the advent of cloud services offers an opportunity to move up the value chain. Many communications service providers, including some who rely heavily on agents and other third parties as their sales channel, are developing cloud services and are making those services available through their channel partners. Selling these services and educating customers about connectivity requirements and options to support these services can help agents break out of the rut of selling exclusively or primarily on price. And some service providers have taken steps to help agents address this market by, for example, establishing recommendations for class-of-service parameters based on the applications an enterprise is using.

Similarly, VARs and systems integrators also are advising enterprise customers on their public and private cloud computing deployments — and in that role they are well positioned to explain the benefits of MPLS as a method of connecting enterprise locations to the cloud.

Some of the most sophisticated VARs are developing their own cloud services and connecting their data centers to the carrier MPLS networks. This can be a substantial benefit for customers who use the carrier's  MPLS service because the process of adding the cloud service provider to the enterprise VPN is simplified, requiring only a soft turn-up, rather than new infrastructures to be put in place. And connection to the MPLS network enables the cloud service provider to support secure communications with end-to-end class of service — a capability that can enhance the value of real-time or mission-critical cloud services such as communications-as-a-service and security-as-a-service. In some cases, MPLS connectivity may be bundled as part of cloud-based CaaS, security or other offerings.

Evaluating Cloud Connections. Multilocation enterprise networks have been transitioning away from a hub-and-spoke approach to any-to-any connections. The advent of cloud services should further fuel the trend as enterprises now will need to establish connectivity not only between multiple enterprise locations but also to the data center and potentially multiple cloud providers.

Two major types of Layer 2 and three types of Layer 3 connections are commonly used to support multisite connectivity for cloud applications. The Layer 2 options include virtual private networks based on E-LANs (which may be based on VPLS or other connection types) and frame relay/ATM. The Layer 3 options include basic Internet access or virtual private networks based on IPSec and MPLS IP VPNs.

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