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MPLS - Management

A look at the current state of MPLS management.

This week's tip will focus on MPLS management and the how the management vendors and MPLS vendors are addressing this critical element of MPLS solutions.

MPLS networks are deployed by creating VPNs with virtual paths and virtual routers. These virtual paths (Label Switched Paths –LSPs) and virtual routers (Virtual Routing Fields – VRFs) represent a new continuum of VPN services that must be provisioned and managed in a manner that provides rapid provisioning and continuous operation. As with most technologies, the level of MPLS management is somewhat behind the deployment rate of that technology. The key aspects of MPLS management are the same as other technologies in that one must provide fault, configuration, accounting, performance and security management to the deployed solutions.

Most management tools rely on polling of network elements and MIB information to provide management information regarding the network elements and the services delivered by the network. The development of MPLS MIBS are critical to the evolution of MPLS management. The IETF has made some inroads in the development and publication of MPLS MIB libraries. The separation of the control and forwarding planes as well as the development of the VRFs and LSPs have created a need for these MIBS. A list of MPLS MIBS can be found at the MPLS Resource Center.

Many of the network management vendors -- including HP Openview, Smarts, Micromuse and Aprisma -- have developed and added MPLS management capabilities into their solutions. However these enhancements primarily focus on one aspect or another of MPLS management such as provisioning and performance and may not cover all aspects of the management spectrum. This creates a burden on operational environments as may require utilizing multiple tools. Rolling out multiple tools can be difficult to deploy and increases training and costs.

The two main vendors utilized today for MPLS deployments are Cisco and Juniper and each has taken a different approach to managing MPLS. Cisco offers a combination of Cisco element management systems including Cisco Info Center, Cisco IP Solution Center and Cisco Info Center VPN Manager. For performance management, Cisco offers Service Assurance Agent, which is an IOS add-on. Juniper on the other hand has taken a different approach by developing an Operations System Support (OSS) Alliance Program which certifies vendors that provide MPLS functionality. These vendors are required to align their network management strategies concerning MPLS to Juniper's product roadmap and must pass an extensive testing phase before coming on board. In addition the alliance partners agree to participate in joint marketing and sales initiatives with Juniper.

The difference in the vendors' approach may or may not make a difference in the decision of which vendor to deploy, but the management of MPLS environments can greatly impact the ability of the deployed solution to deliver the desired services. As it stands right now the management solutions are catching up, but there is still quite a gap. When evaluating MPLS solutions, be sure to take into consideration the management of the desired solution as a contributing factor in the decision process.

Robbie Harrell (CCIE#3873) is the National Practice Lead for Advanced Infrastructure Solutions for SBC Communications. He has over 10 years of experience providing strategic, business, and technical consulting services to clients. Robbie resides in Atlanta, and is a graduate of Clemson University. His background includes positions as a Principal Architect at International Network Services, Lucent, Frontway and Callisma.

This was last published in September 2004

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