While the North East can boast outstanding organisations and exceptional employee talent, it’s fair to say that the area can sometimes feel like less of a priority for internet service providers (ISPs).
Of course, major towns and cities are generally well-catered for – but what about people who work from home or businesses in rural areas that rely on their internet connection to provide a solid customer service experience?
Well, the good news is that there’s plenty that can be done within your own IT network to make sure you’re squeezing all the potential out of the bandwidth your ISP can provide. Here, we’ll explore MPLS – what is it, how it works, how you can be sure you’re finding a good MPLS supplier – and what it might offer North East businesses that have been forced to settle for a less-than-speedy internet circuit connection…
What is MPLS?
Many IT networking terms require a computer science degree to understand – and while the technical side of an MPLS system is unquestionably sophisticated, the function of an MPLS system isn’t too tricky to grasp.
To start with, there’s that acronym! MPLS stands for Multi-Protocol Label Switching – and breaking that down is a good place to start.
The ‘Multi-Protocol’ part is simple to understand. A protocol is a language or code with which different IT devices communicate. Data is never transmitted as a single block, instead, it’s broken down into tiny ‘packets’ that can be transmitted over the ethernet cables and fibre optic lines that connect the world. When data is broken down to be sent to another device, it’s done so according to a protocol – and, since the receiving device understands that protocol, it can piece the information back together again. Multi-Protocol simply means that an MPLS system can handle data that’s broken down according to any protocol.
So, what about a ‘Label’? Well, these labels are not at all dissimilar from a ‘real life’ label – although with MPLS, the label is a tiny piece of data that’s attached to each data packet as it’s sent from one device to another. The ‘Switching’ part of the process refers to an ‘LSR’ – or ‘Label Switch Router’ – which decides how data should be handled, based on the label or labels it has attached to it.
In essence, an MPLS system is a way of micro-managing the data that’s sent across your network – but that begs another question; why bother?!
What does MPLS offer?
To understand why MPLS is used in businesses – it’s useful to understand roughly how a network operates without a traffic management system. It wouldn’t be far from reality to consider it the same as a busy city without traffic lights or junction stops – as long as there’s not too much traffic it could work – but when things get busy, there’d be a lot of congestion.
The trouble with IT network congestion is that services simply stop running. If you’ve ever tried to take a video call over a busy network, you’ll find that the signal can often be poor – and that’s because the network tries to keep things moving by discarding data packets. While dropping data like this can help with speed, too much data loss causes services to drop off altogether – meaning you’ll lose your connection or you won’t be able to access certain applications. When you consider quite how much downtime costs businesses around the world – you’ll realise how important it is to make sure traffic is moving smoothly.
This is where MPLS comes into its own. By understanding which your priority applications are – then dynamically making sure their labelled data is always running along the most efficient paths (both in your local area networks and across wide area networks spanning larger geographical areas) – an MPLS system adds an enormous amount of speed, reliability and efficiency to your IT network. In fact, a internet connection of average speed but with a MPLS system directing traffic will almost always outperform a high-speed network that doesn’t utilise MPLS.
What could MPLS offer your business?
So, speed, reliability and efficiency are some of the key features to expect when you’re bringing MPLS into your business – but how do they actually impact your business, in real terms?
By taking your most important traffic and routing it through non-standard paths, you can make sure it’s delivered exactly when you need it. If you run real-time applications, speed is absolutely vital when it comes to making sure you can deliver your core business model. If you don’t run real-time apps currently – it’s worth asking what cloud-based real-time applications could bring to your business.
A better end-user experience
As a customer, it’s painful to hear “I’m sorry, our systems are down at the moment” – but, since downtime has the potential to costs thousands in lost resources and opportunities, it’s even more painful to hear as a business owner or decision maker. Quicker applications and mean less potential downtime – so you can always deliver exactly what your customer needs.
A simpler network
When it comes to fault-finding and maintenance, simpler is always better. If you want to make sure you’re spending more time using your applications – and less time with an engineer trying to diagnose problems, then MPLS keeps things simple and hassle-free.
If you’re planning to expand into new locations – or even into offering work-from-home options for your staff, you can sometimes face issues with connection speed and security. MPLS does away with these issues by making sure data is always taking the most efficient route toward its goal.
Is MPLS right for you?
There’s no right or wrong time to begin looking at MPLS as an option for your business. Instead, it’s worth considering a few questions:
- Would it be nice if our applications ran a little quicker?
- Do we handle different data types over our network?
- Would it be useful to run real-time applications?
- Do we require a secure and quick connection for remote workers?
If the answer to any of these questions is a yes, you could well benefit from looking into MPLS – and seeing if it’ll help you to shake off the shackles of a slow internet connection for your business.