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Emerging Network MPLS

Emerging Network MPLS

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Published by patrick_lloyd

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Published by: patrick_lloyd on Dec 02, 2009
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08/03/2010

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In an ever evolving technological world where routers and switches are quicklybecoming so similar that they are built into one another, technology that allows forthe cooperation of the technologies is often encouraged and becomes a populartechnology in enterprise. This has been the case with MPLS, a technology that doesexactly the process previously mentioned, in that it combines the ability to routebetween networks with the knowledge of a switch label and predicted path [2].MPLS or MultiProtocol Label Switching is a technology first proposed andimplemented by IETF in 2001 to address an inconsistency and a large overheadwhen it came to forwarding packets within a network. MPLS addresses theinconsistency of routing decisions in which each router within a network will read apacket’s header, which contains a large amount of information, but mostimportantly the source and destination of the packet. Instead, MPLS applies a 32 bitlabel to the packet which all forwarding and path decisions can be based upon.Specified within this 32 bit label, and based on the destination of the packet, therouter will assign what [2] calls a “Forwarding Equivalence Class” or FEC. This FECclassifies the destination to which the packet is travelling, and will be reassigned asthe packet traverses different networks. The most interesting part of the FEC is thata stack exists which can be used to assign the path and FEC to which the packetbelongs, but this will be addressed in subsequent paragraphs [2].MPLS works by applying labels to individual packets as they enter a network. Theselabels allow for switches and routers to process the labels and “pop” the first labeloff of a “stack” of labels [2], similar to how an office worker would use sticky notesor a daily calendar. Each label was put in place by an ingress router, or a routerwhich the packet came into contact with when it first came into the network. Thelabel contains information such as the owner’s source and the destination to which
 
the packet is to be forwarded to. A path can also be specified for which the packetto take, and allows for a switch or router to use the MPLS label for the forwardingdecisions, without having to scan the entire packet header, a process which will addoverhead time to the network traversal [2]. When routers or switches receive thepackets as they traverse through the network, the packets are forwarded out onlabel switch paths, or LSP’s, as based on their labels. The specific path or LSP toforward the packet on if originally assigned when it initially enters the network andis based on the destination of the packets. This allows for different paths to betaken based on the label, thus giving the ability to do traffic engineering simply onthe MPLS labels [4].Contrary to the previous way of routing, in which routers would scan a packet’sheader and discover the source, destination, and path, MPLS also allows forswitches and routers along the way to change the stack, so that they are able toadd a different path if the default one is broken or unavailable. This allows for amore dynamic and autonomous network to be formed, with less intervention fromapplications or human factors, not to mention the cut down on the loss of packets if an invalid path is specified. When the router examines the packets, it reads the topmost element from the stack, taking the information from it which it needs to routethe packet and forwards it accordingly. If the packet has no top most element,there is the assumption that the packet belongs to the switch, router or network towhich it has come into contact with [2]. If the top most label is invalid or notproperly formed, the label is discarded as to not cause any more confusion, unlessit is determine by the switch or router to not cause any harm by forward the packetwithout a label, in which case the switch or router will forward it as needed [2].
 
In previous routing algorithms, each router or switch would decide based on the FECthat it assigns the packet, where to forward it and path for which this forwarding totake, all based on its routing table and the longest match to the destination address[2]. In other words, when a packet comes into a router or switch, it will compare thepacket to each subnet that it is aware of and receives advertisements for,attempting to find the closest match to the packet’s destination subnet. When thelongest match is found, the packet will be forwarded on that path. This creates asignificant overhead time in which the router or switch has to examine the entirepacket header to discover the source and destination, assign an FEC based on itsown routing tables and classes, and finally forward the packet onto the next switchor router, in which this process happens all over again. On the other hand, MPLSallows for a switch or router to read the first element off of the stack of labels,forward the packet based on the information contained within the stack, and pop anew element back onto the stack if it has knowledge of the path being broken orneeding modification [2]. The only needed analysis of the packet is done at theingress router, where the stack is formed and decisions are made for traversal of the network, until the packet reaches a new network in which this process happensagain [2].MPLS has a number of advantages over previous routing algorithms which werepreviously used for path selection. First, MPLS has the ability to be used onswitches, with very little modification to the switches other than a software upgradewhich allows them to read and write labels to individual packets. This makes pathselection more fault tolerant because of more hops in the network and the ability tochange which path the packet takes if a better one becomes available. MPLS alsohas a large dynamic factor in which packets coming into the network can be

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