Praxair boosts network performance with multi-protocol label switching

The largest industrial gas company in North America is rolling out a cross-border MPLS network to prioritize its network traffic. Praxair, which produces, sells and distributes atmospheric and process gases, is making the switch from Frame Relay to Multiprotocol Label Switching across 172 locations in Canada and the U.S. under a three-year contract from Allstream.For Praxair, it was the right time to move to MPLS. “We had to do something with our cross-border [network] because our pipes were full and users were definitely suffering,” says David Kehmna, global director of telecommunications with Praxair Inc. in Danbury, Conn.
Its existing network was becoming clogged, resulting in performance issues. Praxair was looking for a network that offered greater bandwidth, faster performance and the ability to expand with new applications.
“We used to have a Canadian hub that everything ran through on Frame Relay and then we had two leased lines coming down to our main U.S. locations,” he says. As applications became more centralized in the U.S., this became problematic.
“By going to MPLS we’ve been able to put high-speed links into our main U.S. locations and Fast Ethernet connections into Mississauga,” he says. And, with MPLS, there are no cross-border issues. “With the Frame Relay network, there was definitely a penalty,” he says.
Praxair looked at extending its main U.S. vendor into Canada, but stayed with Allstream, which provided its Frame Relay network, because it’s able to use its existing connections at all of its remote locations — it’s simply a matter of changing the configuration on the routers.
The project is scheduled for completion at the end of September, but Praxair is on track to finish early — and under budget. So far, it’s upgraded its major hubs, and is starting the remote site rollout, which includes its Medigas operations in Canada. Medigas sells oxygen for medical use in Canada.
Already, it’s seen the speed of its network increase six-fold. When the remote sites are up and running, they’ll go directly to the host instead of through another hop, which will help employees get information faster.
As part of the three-year contract, Allstream will provide high-speed access for Praxair’s Canadian and two U.S. sites, as well as the ability to prioritize network traffic with four classes of service.
MPLS will allow for the convergence of voice and data traffic onto a single network, but Praxair will mainly be using it for data applications. The company already gets a low voice rate with Allstream, so it doesn’t make sense to put voice traffic over the data network. “We’re doing it in other locations in the world where it makes sense because of the cost, but not in Canada,” says Kehmna. The network will be used to prioritize time-sensitive applications; Citrix, for example, will be a high priority whereas Notes traffic will travel at best effort.

more network applications

It will also make it easier to locate applications and develop new ones. For example, with MPLS, it could consolidate its mail services in the U.S. “We’re not going to do that right away,” he says, “but it’s a possibility down the road.”
Over time, Praxair wants to have more applications on the network rather than on the edge. “The MPLS implementation really gives them more opportunities to do network-resident applications in the future as their business requires it,” says Tal Bevan, executive vice-president of sales with Allstream in Toronto. “We’re not implementing it today, but that’s part of the architectural design that we’re working on.”
It will also give them more scalability. “Frame networks aren’t particularly scalable,” he says. And it’s a friendly architecture for IP VPNs. “The network has been designed in such a way to enable more of that kind of access compared to a Frame environment,” he says.
This is part of a global effort by Praxair to upgrade to MPLS. “We’re aggressively moving away from Frame Relay, leased lines and VPNs to a private IP solution,” says Kehmna. The company will eventually have MPLS networks in the U.S., Mexico and South America, and it’s already up and running in Asia.
Praxair, which started distributing liquid gas in 1917, produces both atmospheric gases (including oxygen, nitrogen and argon) and process gases such as carbon dioxide, helium, hydrogen and acetylene.
Its customers include industrial operations in the automotive, aviation and food and beverage sectors.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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