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Utilities also are finding these new Internet protocol (IP)-based networks can do more than just enable the smart grid.
An IP/MPLS network offers utilities several advantages:
While network traffic will generally take a prespecified path on the network, an alternative path also may be specified in advance, making it possible for the network to be self-healing, increasing quality of service and availability.
Because traffic is labeled at the source, it can be prioritized over other traffic.
Voice and video traffic can be given travel paths with the least delay and the best redundancy.
“IP/MPLS allows us to bring security, segregation and a broadband foundation all the way out to smaller distribution offices,” said Mark Madden, Alcatel-Lucent's regional vice president for North American energy markets. “Instead of building multiple single-purpose networks, we can now safely and reliably put all applications on a single broadband network.”
While, there have been concerns about putting all those applications on a single network, Madden conceded, “IP/MPLS can segregate traffic and provide firewalls to ensure quality of service for critical applications, so less-critical applications, like web browsers, don't interfere with control traffic.”
Todd Gurela, worldwide operations director of connected energy networks at Cisco, has a similar view. IP allows utilities to have a managed secure network with quality of service, he said. “In the IT world that means prioritization of traffic over the network.” With IP, he noted, “You can prioritize so that safety and security of data always takes priority.”