Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Random Acronym - from MRV
MPLS - Multiprotocol Label Switching - "data-carrying mechanism that belongs to the family of packet-switched networks"
Believe it or not, this explanation is more complicated than the previous client acronym of the day but is pertinent, as I am scheduling briefings for our optical transport expert at the MPLS & Ethernet World Congress. (Please try to contain your excitement, loyal readers). Information is sent across a data network in little chunks known as packets. The size and complexity of these packets varies with the type and magnitude of the information being transferred. Thus, the transfer of information across networks is modeled as a "stack" with layers 1-7. Typical data transmissions from computer to computer go up to layer four.
This is the "transport" layer that houses TCP (Transmission Control Protocol), which is central to Internet Protocol (IP). (You've probably seen TCP/IP on your computer and wondered what the hell it was...now you know it's the name for the mechanism by which information is transmitted and received.)
In order to get through the various networks and to the correct destination, packets must have headers (or labels) embedded so network equipment knows where to send them. Think of them as the various components of the address for the letter (state, city, ZIP, etc.). However, at each layer, the headers become increasingly complex in order to ensure packets go to the right place in the right order.
Everything goes anywhere other than across a room, goes to at least L3, so some consortium of network geniuses came up with this MPLS format for headers that can be read by L2 (data link layer) and seamlessly passed on to L3 (network layer). Thus, there is no holdup or lengthy queueing process in getting a packet up to IP (which lies at layer three) and TCP. It's like aggregating the ZIP and state into one thing that can be read and routed instantaneously. Get it up to the next layer, and it can figure out how to deal with the city before passing it along to the street and number layers.
It should be clarified that MRV isn't my only client in this space. All communications technology companies deal with this. That means Fulcrum and Alcatel-Lucent for my purposes. The differences are that Fulcrum is at the chip level in the enterprise/data center arena and the part of ALU that is my account deals in servicing solutions for optimizing this type of transfer--not in the hardware itself (although its carrier product division does).