Frame Relay as
a Networking Option
Frame relay networks offer the
advantages of multiple point to point connectons at lower cost
than full time dedicated lines.
By: John Shepler
If your business has two locations, each with its
own local area network, and you want to connect them together,
how do you do it? The first idea that comes to mind is a dedicated
line running from point to point. You order a T1 or T3 line and
you enjoy continuous and exclusive use of it for the duration
of the lease. That's great when you are basically looking for
a piece of wire to connect two far flung networks that are busy
all the time.
But what if your business locations are
on opposite sides of the country and they only need to exchange
sales and inventory data once a day. Or what if you have multiple
locations? If you don't have a need to load up a T1 line or a
bunch of them 24/7, there is another option that may be much
more affordable. It's called Frame Relay.
Frame Relay is a digital transmission service
that is something of a cross between the public switched telephone
service and a point to point dedicated line. With frame relay
you don't have a length of wire "nailed up" between
your locations. Instead, you have what's called a PVC or permanent
virtual circuit within the frame relay network. When you order
service, the frame routers are set up to know your location and
all the of locations you are going to communicate with. Those
are your permanent virtual circuits. Anytime you are using one
of the circuits, it's just like having a direct line between
locations. However, when you are not sending data, the actual
physical network lines are busy transferring other customer's
The advantage of this arrangement is that
you don't have to bear the whole cost of maintaining an extensive
private network that you're not using all the time.The frame
relay provider maintains the network and you pay only for your
usage of it. Unlike the Internet, frame relay networks offer
you a CIR or committed information rate. That's the speed of
reliable transmission that you are guaranteed. In most cases,
you will be allowed to "burst" above that rate for
short periods of time, but the extra packets you send may or
may not be guaranteed to get where they are destined. Frame Relay
networks are set up to be able to reduce congestion by dropping
packets in excess of what you are guaranteed on the network.
Access to a Frame Relay network is done
through an interface circuit known as a FRAD or Frame Relay Access
Device. Sometimes it's called a Frame Relay Assembler / Disassembler.
Most often, it's an option card in a router. Frame Relaynetwork
access can be as slow as a dedicated 64 Kbps ISDN line or a standard
T1 at 1.5 Mbps or T3 at 45 Mbps. The shared network itself most
likely runs at optical carrier speeds.
If you need to share data between business
locations but wince at the cost of full time dedicated trunk
lines, consider Frame Relay or the newer MPLS networks as a viable cost saving alternative.
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