Allstream helps Praxair gas up MPLS

During peak business hours, Canadian employees at Praxair had to deal with a sluggish single-pipe frame relay network for large file transfers to Praxair’s offices in the U.S. The frame relay network did more than merely annoy Praxair’s network users. It also affected the industrial gas company’s pocket book.

“In the frame relay network there was a cross border penalty [where] you have to pay more for an international PVC (Permanent Virtual Circuit) connection across the border,” said David Kehmna, director of global network services for Praxair in Danbury, Conn.

In the past, he said, all of Praxair’s 172 remote sites in Canada were connected through a single pipe to Mississauga, Ont. In order for these sites to reach Praxair’s locations in Danbury, Conn. and Tonawanda, N.Y., two connections were needed.

“With that kind of architecture it was expensive to have leased lines from the U.S. into Canada. The other thing [was] they were full. Too much demand, not enough capacity,” Kehmna said.

To help meet this need, Kehmna switched from frame relay over to an MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) service. Winnipeg-based MTS Allstream Inc. (who also provided Praxair’s frame relay network) won the RFP to provide the MPLS network.

“By going with MPLS it allows any of our sites in Canada to connect directly to either Mississauga, Tonawanda or Danbury. It doesn’t have to go through another hub and we were able to increase the speed of connection here in Danbury and Tonawanda by a factor of six for less money,” Kehmna said.

Allstream will be using the existing circuits of Praxair’s frame relay network to migrate over to MPLS and all that is required is a software change. Kehmna added the company will not need to upgrade any of its customer premise equipment and will still use its existing Cisco routers and switches.

The MPLS network will be used to prioritize Praxair’s IP traffic such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) traffic but the company has no immediate plans to add voice. Kehmna said the reason behind that decision was the cost of voice traffic in the U.S. and Canada is minimal and he sees no benefit in putting voice onto the MPLS network.

One analyst said Praxair partnering up with Allstream is a good move.

“Allstream’s network is one of the best networks. Bell and Telus are catching up but Allstream’s MPLS network [is] great for Praxair [as it] saves them a lot of money,” said Brian Sharwood, principle at the Seaboard Group in Toronto.

In order to get the MPLS network across the border, Tal Bevan, executive vice-president of sales for Allstream, said the carrier is working with partners in the U.S. Although he did not disclose the partners, Bevan said Allstream and the U.S. carriers are working together on mutually agreed upon classes of service to solve any cross-border MPLS connection issues.

One challenge Kehmna faced was having mulitple MPLS network environments.

“It is making those different virtual networks all work together and be able to provide alternate routing between those networks for our sites is always an initial design challenge,” he said. To get these different networks to communicate with each other, Kehmna said, a common MPLS routing protocol called Border Gateway Protocol (BPG) is being used internally in Praxair’s network.

“Then we have routing between our providers at our router in our infrastructure that allows [the BPG] to pick the best path. It is just a matter of getting the BGP networks to know about each other and then assign the appropriate routing information to them,” Kehmna said.

The migration to MPLS began this past June. Kehmna said things have been going smoothly and he expects full migration to be completed before the targeted September 30th completion date.

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