Can MPLS-TP Help Utilities with the Big Four 'S's (Simplicity, security, SDH/SONET-like Resilience and Savings)?
IT challenges for utility companies are diverse and getting increasingly complex with the growing demand for energy, the implementation of the smart grid and two-way communication, the introduction of new energy sources that are spread out and the need to comply with security requirements. These are only a few of the issues that burden utilities’ communication needs and requirements.
As telecommunication is not their main business and, therefore, not their main competency and point of strength, many companies are not clear on which path to take. Even though many understand that the future probably lies with the implementation/migration to packet-based transport networks, they are not sure how they will be able to provide a solution for the unique needs and key concerns of this industry. It is challenging to implement packet transport networks without hiring IP experts and investing heavily in retraining the operations team. This can create unwanted expenses and sometimes also organizational structure challenges and changes that are not always welcome.
One of the key pain points is how to protect the data and comply with security requirements. Cyber security, that is, protecting the grid and the mission-critical data over private networks, and even more importantly over the public network, is a major priority, if not THE priority for these utilities.
One of the key benchmarks that SDH/SONET networks have (and which lead it to become a mandatory requirement for any transport solution) is known as “less than 50msec switchover protection.” It is expected that any network should be able to provide this same level of protection. When choosing between IP/MPLS and MPLS-TP, only MPLS-TP can provide sub-50msec protection.
As the smart grid is being deployed, the question of how to pay for it is on everyone’s mind. Additional infrastructure, training expenses, new regulatory models – all these issues can add on capex and opex.
As MPLS-TP is built with the same layer principles as an SDH/SONET network, provisioning services is very much the same. The path is built in a similar static way to the path built over a SDH/SONET network. This allows utilities to improve time to market, as there is no learning curve.
Using a non-routable static network such as Frame Relay, PDH, SDH/SONET and MPLS-TP enhances security. This complies with standards and requirements enforced by organizations such as the North America Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) for Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) requirements for cyber security. The logical or physical static tunnel is preconfigured when the path is built. MPLS-TP routing is based on the label and not on the destination address, so the end-to-end path is predetermined and, therefore, no changes can be made to the path based on destination address. This results in a more secure transport network since it is less susceptible to unauthorized changes.
The protection mechanisms of MPLS ensure reliability similar to SDH/SONET, as an alternative path can be predetermined within a known recovery time. Combining this with QoS-class base for differentiating mission-critical traffic can create “SDH/SONET-like” protection effectively.
MPLS-TP as a packet transport network is low-cost L2 transport and, therefore, provides an opportunity to reduce the capex and opex associated with SDH/SONET or L3 networks. Also, it requires less IP expertise, and the operation teams can adapt more quickly to changes.