Network Course: MPLS and Carrier Packet Networks

Detailed Course Outline

1. Course Introduction

2. Carrier Packet Network Basics
The fundamental concepts of packet switching and bandwidth-on-demand or overbooking, the physical components involved in using a carrier packet network service including Customer Edge, types of access circuits, the Provider Edge and the network core – and why PE equipment is sometimes deployed at the customer premise. This is completed with a roundup of the benefits of packet services over dedicated lines and circuit-switched connections.

3. Service Level Agreements: Traffic Profile and Class of Service
How performance is specified, measured, guaranteed and controlled on an overbooked bandwidth-on-demand network – the Service Level Agreement where the network guarantees specified transmission characteristics, sometimes called a Class of Service, on condition that the customer stays within a defined traffic profile … and what happens to out-of-profile traffic.

4. Virtual Circuits
The fundamentals of virtual circuits, an essential part of all packet communication networks. We'll cover the concepts of traffic classes, virtual circuits, virtual circuit IDs and the fundamental principles of operation that are common to all technologies, including MPLS, and how virtual circuits are a powerful traffic management tool.

5. Packet-Switching using Virtual Circuits
Very briefly, we will review X.25, the first virtual circuit technology, not to cover details but instead to introduce a graphical method of showing how packets travel between routers in frames over physical connections from user to network to user, plus concepts and jargon including connection-oriented vs. connectionless network service, and reliable Class of Service vs. unreliable, and pave the way for understanding current technology MPLS.

6. QoS Requirement for Voice Over IP
Packet network services were originally designed for data communication. In this, we'll understand how live voice is packetized, carried over a packet network, then reconstructed at the far end – and the transmission characteristics necessary for voice quality.

7. ATM
ATM was supposed to be The Solution, allowing integration and convergence of all services on a packet network, as it was designed to guarantee the transmission characteristics necessary for voice and video in packets – but it became horribly complicated and expensive and is on the way out, so will simply provide an overview of ATM and its jargon.

IP has emerged as the standard for packets that will be used to carry all traffic. However, since IP provides a connectionless network service, additional protocols are required to implement virtual circuits on IP networks to enable management and prioritization of traffic. The choice for virtual circuits over IP is Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS). The concepts are the same as other virtual circuit technologies X.25, Frame Relay and ATM… but the jargon is changed. We'll begin by identifying MPLS components, jargon and basic principles of operation.

9. TCP/IP over MPLS
In this, we'll revisit tracing the path of a file download from server to client, this time over an MPLS network. This will reveal a significant advantage of MPLS-based network services compared to Frame Relay in the user-network interface. We'll also discuss the "M" in MPLS, noting how MPLS can be used to carry frames for VPLS in addition to the usual IP packets.

10. Differentiated Classes of Service using MPLS
Here, we'll examine how classifying traffic and mapping classes onto virtual circuits can be a Quality of Service (QoS) mechanism to implement multiple Classes of Service on a packet network. This is sometimes referred to as differentiated services or Diff-Serv, i.e. providing a different Class of Service for each application: VoIP, IPTV, email, web surfing and others.

11. Integration and Convergence using MPLS
In this, we'll see how virtual circuits and traffic classification can be used to combine all of the types of communications of a business or organization onto a single access circuit. This idea is sometimes called convergence, though service integration is a more accurate term. It results in a large cost savings compared to one access circuit for each type of communications.

12. Managing Aggregates of Traffic with Label Stacking
Here, we'll understand how MPLS labels can be stacked. In other words, virtual circuits carried over other virtual circuits, and how this is implemented to aggregate traffic for both routing and prioritization reasons – both on access circuits and in the network core.

13. MPLS Services vs. Internet Service
This completes the course on carrier packet network services with a discussion of terminology used in sales and marketing of MPLS services, and how that translates to reality. We will use a quiz question-and-answer format to understand the difference between Internet service and what sales brochures often call "MPLS service"… and what exactly an "MPLS service" is.

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