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Ensuring IP/MPLS Network Performance in Power Utilities

Electric power utilities are responsible for generating and/or distributing electricity to homes and businesses in a geographical area. A large electric utility can have millions of customers using the power grid. And today, many power distribution companies also use their existing network infrastructure to deliver broadband Internet services. So, it is easy to understand why network uptime is critical. But maintaining uptime is not enough; network performance in power utilities must also be assured. To understand why, let us first look at how power utility networks are built.

Power Utilities Networks

Electric power, natural gas, water and waste management utilities have traditionally used TDM (Time-Division Multiplexing) networks, such as SONET (Synchronous Optical NETworking) or SDH (Synchronous Digital Hierarchy), for supporting grid operations. TDM technologies deliver carrier-class performance and provide high reliability by reacting to failures in milliseconds. TDM’s deterministic characteristics are suitable for carrying real-time traffic critical to grid operations.

But utility companies are shifting to IP/MPLS networks. One reason is because TDM networks often were built for specific applications and cannot support future needs. Another is the advent of the Smart Grid which runs on IP networks. A third reason is to save on circuit costs because IP/MPLS networks can share bandwidth to carry multiple applications, including Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition” (SCADA), IP-based surveillance, VoIP, and other IP applications that are used for streamlining power grid operations. Finally, IP/MPLS networks enable utilities to offer Internet services to customers over the existing infrastructure.

network performance in power utilities

Comparison of TDM and Packet-Based Systems

This is not to say that utilities are abandoning their TDM networks and migrating to IP/MPLS. Many are investing in and running IP/MPLS networks for the new applications in parallel with their TDM networks. Thus, for utility companies, uptime means assuring “five nines” reliability for both the traditional power grid TDM networks and the IP/MPLS networks over which the Smart Grid and IP applications run.

IP/MPLS Network Performance in Power Utilities

It is essential to closely monitor IP/MPLS network performance in power utilities. One reason is that IP/MPLS networks, compared to TDM networks, may introduce delay and jitter that affect the performance of legacy TDM applications.

It is also important to protect IP/MPLS network tunnels with carrier-class protection similar to that afforded by the costly SONET/SDH 1+1 protection scheme. This can be done by using FastReRoute (FRR) protection for nodes and links, adding secondary tunnels, and other methods. Due to the importance of protection mechanisms, it is critical to monitor the behavior of both the primary and the protected secondary tunnels, which can number several thousands in a large network.

IP/MPLS Control Plane Telemetry

Having real-time visibility into the network control plane can help engineers assure IP/MPLS network performance by highlighting changes in routing paths that cause an increase in delay or jitter. It also provides detailed tunnel information, including paths and whether or not tunnel protection is in place.

Real-time visibility into the control plane is not possible with traditional network monitoring technology, such as SNMP and CLI screen scrapers. Network engineers managing power utility networks should be able to correlate real-time routing, path and tunnel behavior with SNMP path performance metrics, such as delay, packet loss and jitter. This combination helps to pinpoint the root causes of network performance degradation and resolve them quickly.

If you would like to learn more about how the Packet Design Explorer Suite is used to assure power utility IP/MPLS networks, download our tech brief, IP/MPLS Performance and Path Analytics for Teleprotection in Power Utilities.