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CHAPTER 3

From MPLS to GMPLS

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), as described in Chapter 1, is concerned


with data forwarding in packet, frame, and cell networks. Chapter 2 introduced the
different transport networks that are deployed or under development. Generalized
MPLS (GMPLS) is concerned with merging the two concepts so that a uniform
control plane can be applied to any transport technology.
Traditionally, network elements of transport networks were provisioned via
manual planning and configuration. It could take days (if not weeks) to add a
new service and have it operate properly because careful network planning was
required, and because network downtime might be needed to reposition other
services. Removing services was also slow and painful because any mistakes could
affect other services. It is obvious that the larger and more sophisticated transport
networks become, the more demand there will be for dynamic provisioning using
some sort of control plane and, as a consequence, for traffic engineering.
This chapter examines how GMPLS came about and how the concepts
of MPLS can be applied to transport networks that use non-packet technologies.
The consequent changes to the MPLS signaling and routing protocols are described
in Chapters 4 and 5, whereas Chapter 6 discusses the Link Management Protocol
that is added to the protocol family in order to support link discovery and
verification in GMPLS networks.

3.1 The Origins of GMPLS


Copyright @ 2006. Morgan Kaufmann.

As interest grew in offering a control plane solution to provisioning in transport


networks, one option was to develop a new set of protocols from scratch for all
types of transport networks: one for WDM networks, one for TDM networks, and
so forth. The obvious advantage of such an approach would be that each control
plane could be designed to be very efficient for the target network. For example,

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26 CHAPTER 3 From MPLS to GMPLS

a control plane designed for photonic networks could have built-in mechanisms to
take care of optical impairments and wavelength continuity constraints, whereas
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one designed for TDM networks could take advantage of the SDH overhead bits
for signaling.
The obvious disadvantage to individual, specifically tailored control planes is
the enormous amount of effort needed to develop the many new sets of signaling,
routing, and traffic engineering protocols and applications. Another disadvantage
is the fact that services have a tendency to span networks of different types: Some
segments are built from IP routers and Layer 2 switches, others from SONET/SDH
switches, while the core network could interconnect optical add-drop multiplexers
and cross-connects. End-to-end provisioning on such heterogeneous networks,
each with its own separate control plane, would be a formidable task.

3.1.1 Lambda Switching

With the rapid rise in popularity of WDM networks at the end of the 1990s,
vendors and Service Providers started to search for an intelligent control plane that
could simplify provisioning, reduce operational expenditure, and offer the ability to
provide new services. It was noticed that the basic switching operation in a WDM
network was logically very similar to that in an MPLS device. That is, a switch
was required to convert an input wavelength on an incoming interface to an output
wavelength on an outgoing interface in an operation so similar to the MPLS
mapping of {input label, incoming interface} to {output label, outgoing interface}
that it made obvious sense to attempt to reuse MPLS signaling techniques. From
this initial observation, Multiprotocol Lambda Switching (MPLambdaS or MPS)
was born.
The initial MPS protocol specifications borrowed heavily from the MPLS
signaling and routing protocols. They worked on the basic assumption that,
although the LFIB was logically embedded in a physical switching device (such as
a set of mirrors in a MEMS), the cross-connect operations in the switch were
identical to those in an LFIB. The MPS protocols needed to install mappings of
{incoming lambda, incoming interface} to {outgoing lambda, outgoing interface}.
Copyright @ 2006. Morgan Kaufmann.

3.1.2 Generalizing the Technology

It wasn’t long before other optical switching technologies were put forward
as candidates for a similar control plane. What about fiber or port switches? Could
they use techniques like MPLambdaS? How about TDM networks? Isn’t a device
that switches timeslots doing exactly the same type of functional operation?

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3.1 The Origins of GMPLS 27

Fortunately, the techniques and procedures of MPLS represented a proven


technology with similar switching notions that work on heterogeneous networks
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and solve the traffic engineering issues that need to be addressed for all types of
transport networks. So the MPLambdaS work was broadened to cover not just
lambda switching, but also fiber switching, TDM, layer 2 switching, and the
existing packet/frame/cell switching technologies. The concepts were truly general-
ized, and the work was named Generalized MPLS.
But are all of the concepts of MPLS applicable? Not completely. Some
MPLS techniques were focused on establishing LSPs that matched the IP
routing tables; these functions (such as that provided by the LDP signaling
protocol) are not applicable to non-packet transport networks. Transport
networks are more concerned with the provisioning of end-to-end connections
or circuits. The MPLS protocols on which GMPLS is built were designed and
implemented to apply traffic engineering to MPLS networks. Traffic engineering
(described more fully in Chapter 8) is the process of placing traffic on selected,
pre-computed paths within the network in order to maximize revenues from the
available resources. In practical terms, this means routing traffic away from
congested ‘‘hot spots,’’ picking links that provide the desired quality of service
or satisfy other application constraints, or directing data so that it utilizes
underused links. But these are all packet-based, statistical concepts. Can they
also apply to transport networks or should GMPLS be limited to simple control
operations? Is the requirement for a rapid provisioning system that offloads
some of the burden of operator function, or can we take advantage of the
capabilities of the MPLS traffic engineering protocols and place intelligence
within the network?
It turns out that traffic engineering has its place in a transport network. This
certainly isn’t every Service Provider’s cup of tea. Many take the view that,
although signaling and network discovery are valuable control plane tools, there is
no way that they want to allow the network to make decisions about the placement
of services, no matter how clever the software. Still others prefer to limit their
view of GMPLS to an operator aid — a process that allows the network manager
to provision services rapidly, monitor their status, and tear them down in a
coordinated way. These uses of GMPLS are sufficient to make OPEX savings and
get better leverage of existing equipment, but other Service Providers are
enthusiastic to embrace the possibilities of a fully functional GMPLS control
plane that will discover resources, advertise their availability and usage, compute
paths for complex services such as path protection, and install trails to support the
Copyright @ 2006. Morgan Kaufmann.

services.
In general, many or most of the techniques in MPLS traffic engineering
are applicable to the generalized problem of the control of an arbitrary transport
network. So why not just adopt the MPLS control plane and make it work on
transport networks? After all, if it can handle ATM switches, why wouldn’t it work,
say, for digital cross-connects?

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