Consolidated Fastfrate moves to MPLS for bandwidth flexibility

One of Canada’s largest transportation and logistics companies hopes the flexibility of Multiprotocol Label Switching will put it in the driver’s seat in order to adapt its network to changing needs.

MPLS will make it faster and easier to add bandwidth where needed, said Ahmet Taran, director of information technology at Consolidated Fastfrate Inc. in Woodbridge, Ont. It will also mean that should the company ever need to activate its disaster recovery site in an emergency, network traffic will switch over from the main data centre instantly.

Consolidated Fastfrate has been using a Frame Relay network provided by MTS Allstream Inc. The Frame Relay technology makes adding bandwidth a slow and awkward process, Taran says, while the new MPLS network – also to be provided by Allstream — will allow much faster upgrades to meet changing needs.

For instance, Taran said, one of Consolidated Fastfrate’s small branch offices will soon be expanding with the addition of a warehouse. “The need for data communication bandwidth will skyrocket.” Dealing with that increase will be much easier with the new MPLS network, he said.

With its MPLS offering, Allstream can provision added bandwidth for a customer in three to five days, said Eric Fletcher, senior vice-president of marketing for enterprise solutions at MTS Allstream.

“When Ahmet and his group approached me about this technology,” said Leonard Wyss, vice-president of finance and chief financial officer at Consolidated Fastfrate, “the one key word I picked up was flexibility.” To Wyss, that means the ability to respond faster to customer needs. “The last thing that I would want to do to a customer is say yeah, we’re ready to go, but our technology isn’t, so we’re going to have to wait another six weeks,” he said.

Delays would be even more serious if a disaster put the company’s main data centre out of commission. Fastfrate has a backup site, but with Frame Relay, Fletcher said, it would take a phone call from the customer to Allstream and about 15 minutes of reconfiguring the network to redirect traffic to that site. With MPLS, he said, the network is able to detect if the main data centre is offline and automatically reroute that traffic to an alternate destination.

Added bandwidth is also cheaper with MPLS. One of Consolidated Fastfrate’s customers is a major retailer that imports large amounts of merchandise from China. The shipping company updates the retailer’s systems as goods arrive in Vancouver and are transferred from containers for distribution. To keep its systems up to date, the retailer wants those updates to happen faster. MPLS will help Fastfrate do that, said Taran: “We are doubling the bandwidth to increase (the speed of updates) and the cost is basically the same.”

MPLS is seeing growing adoption in wide-area networking, said Fletcher, whose company was the first in Canada with a national MPLS offering in 2000. Besides its flexibility, MPLS offers more raw bandwidth – the current maximum with Allstream’s service is one gigabit per second, versus 45 megabits with Frame Relay.

“I would say that Frame over the course of the next five to seven years is going to be eliminated as a wide-area technology,” Fletcher said.


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