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Getting the most out of broadband to back up MPLS

By , Network World
September 18, 2012 03:14 PM ET

Network World - The problem with using broadband to back up branch office MPLS links is 1) you spend all that money on the pipes and most of the time they simply lie fallow, and 2) when MPLS does go down the failover process often takes so long it kills active sessions.

Greenbrier Companies and Hydrite Chemical Co. separately went looking for an answer to this common problem and found Talari Networks, a vendor that sells appliances that can amalgamate the capacity of MPLS and broadband links and share the capacity as necessary.

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Steve Eaton, senior network engineer at Greenbrier, says he is using Talari's Mercury appliances to increase reliability and add bandwidth.

Greenbrier is a $1.8 billion supplier of transportation equipment and services to the railroad industry. It makes different types of railroad cars (from tank cars to boxcars, flatbeds, etc.), and has a number of related business, including a rail car repair/maintenance business, and businesses for parts, hydraulics and wheels. It even has a railroad car leasing business.

The company, which employs about 5,000 people, has 45 sites on its MPLS backbone that is used to support a centralized VoIP system and different types of data traffic -- email, access to centralized databases and other back office applications.

Most sites, which have 10 to 20 people with PCs and phones, are connected via a single T-1, meaning if that link goes down operations are severely hampered. The failure that pushed Eaton to look for new answers was a 10-day outage at one of the rail car repair shops that stemmed from a hand-off problem between Verzion, the MPLS provider, and CenturyLink, the local link provider.

"We had SLAs but they just pro-rate the service fees and give you back a few hundred dollars," Eaton says. "The downtime, on the other hand, can cost you thousands upon thousands."

Eaton quickly ruled out dial-up as a suitable backup plan, but considered adding cellular modules to its remote Cisco routers, but determined that that would be too costly.

What's more, the company had another demanding capacity need pending: It wanted to add video surveillance at some remote sites and move away from an expensive video surveillance service. That would make link reliability even more important and drive up bandwidth needs.

Ultimately Eaton became aware of Talari, which sells appliances that would let him add DSL or cable modem links to each site for redundancy, while also using the secondary links in a load-balancing scenario instead of just reserving that bandwidth for backup. The appliances constantly assess the quality of both links and route traffic accordingly.

"Business-grade broadband connections are good because the service profile -- usually something like 3Mbps down and 1Mbps up -- matches the typically traffic to our remote sites, which tend to pull more stuff down versus post it up," Eaton says.

Today Eaton has Talari appliances installed at four locations with the short-term plan to add 10 more.

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