SD-WAN vs. MPLS:
What You Need To Consider For Your Organizations Network
By Jonathan Heacox, Director of Business Analytics, One Source
SD-WAN seems to be all the buzz recently, especially with businesses adopting hybrid working models or embracing a fully remote workforce. In fact, according to an IDC – US Enterprise Survey, more than 70% of medium to large U.S. companies intend to implement SD-WAN by 2022. But what about the legacy routing technique of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) that has been the standard for at least the last 20 years? What are the differences between MPLS and SD-WAN? Does SD-WAN make MPLS obsolete or are there reasons to combine the two and use both? Below we explore both technologies and the pros and cons to each to give you the information you need to decide what is best for you and your business.
What Your Network Needs In Today’s World
Digital transformation is sky-rocketing and traditional WAN (wide area network) architectures are frankly unable to keep up. They do not have the capabilities to support cloud applications or handle the demands on the bandwidth needed to support digitalization. This puts pressure on organizations to adopt a WAN architecture that goes beyond the norm with a more comprehensive approach, ensuring high performance, reliability, cost-efficiency, simplicity, and security. Your architecture should be easy to manage and efficient, appropriately steering traffic over various network paths, while maintaining dependability. Your WAN architecture needs to have the capacity to help your organization adopt cloud-based services and applications, which means optimizing bandwidth and traffic from every area. And finally, it needs to keep EVERYTHING secure regardless of the type of connection used.
What is SD-WAN?
SD-WAN stands for Software-Defined Wide Area Network. This technology brings “network visualization” to traditional WAN infrastructure and controls the traffic over all circuits. SD-WAN gives the ability for companies to install and manage a hybrid of private and public network services that can be deployed anywhere. By taking the intelligence from traditional telecom hardware and turning it into pure software, networks run faster, are less expensive, and become more flexible. You can give priority to mission-critical applications and make sure they always run smoothly. SD-WAN automatically measures the quality of multiple network paths and creates a combined path that runs better than the sum of its parts. This means a faster network with almost no downtime by directing traffic into the fastest and most stable lanes. SD-WAN tends to be more cost-effective than other techniques because it requires less physical equipment to get offices up and running. But, to make the most of SD-WAN, it is imperative to use a vendor-neutral technology advisor. This will allow your organization to get the benefit of a quality solution that is crafted to meet your specific needs while gaining access to multiple pre-qualified suppliers without having to negotiate contracts with each of them.
What is MPLS?
MPLS is a routing technique that redirects traffic based on predetermined “labels” unlike other network protocols that route traffic based on source and destination address. This avoids complex lookups in a routing table and speeds up traffic flows. For nearly two decades now, organizations have used MPLS to optimize network traffic flow and support virtual private networking (VPN) to connect remote offices and locations that require access to data or applications that reside in the organizations’ data center or headquarters. However, as many businesses start to transition to the cloud, MPLS can become problematic. MPLS is designed for legacy multi-point to multi-point connections, not cloud connections, and SaaS. The use of cloud services has driven up the bandwidth requirements organizations have in order to support many new technologies that are oftentimes adopted in order to gain competitive advantage, and MPLS services are difficult to scale on demand. Additionally, manually adding, switching, or merging lanes to increase the flow of traffic is costly and time-consuming.
Benefits of SD-WAN
- Centralized Management System – most SD-WAN solutions, such as Cisco Meraki, provide a centralized management system with automation, security, and application-level visibility built-in. This ensures new offices and devices are up and running as soon as possible without the need for onsite IT resources.
- Performance – SD-WAN routes traffic over multiple routes to find the fastest and most stable destination lane, providing better performance and increasing network uptime. With SD-WAN, companies reported a staggering 94% reduction in network downtime.
- Security – SD-WAN is secure by design, by creating encrypted tunnels between every site in the WAN architecture. You can also implement “micro-segmentation”, traditionally difficult to do, but with SD-WAN you can deploy this segmentation approach and produce a zero-trust architecture.
- Better Network Overlay – Build a private overlay over any network transport type, whether it be public internet, private MPLS, or a combination of both. Bundling these different types of network transport allows users to achieve higher bandwidth at a lower overall cost while security is improved. Expand easily with intelligent and flexible policies which enable you to scale and customize your network.
- Cost Reduction – MPLS lines are expensive and SD-WAN can reduce expenses by switching to commodity broadband like fiber, cable, and mobile technologies. On average, organizations see a reduction of about 40% in fees when they make the switch to SD-WAN.
What do SD-WAN and MPLS Have in Common?
While SD-WAN and MPLS have some key differences, they have many things in common. They both can deliver high-performance, reliable, and private WAN. They also both provide a private overlay, however, SD-WAN uses Internet Protocol Security VPNs while MPLS does this with labels. They support the classification of traffic into different priority and importance levels. But as it stands, SD-WAN can provide more support in digital transformation initiatives than MPLS. However, that doesn’t mean you need to ditch MPLS altogether. If you need to streamline connectivity between multiple endpoints and cloud providers, SD-WAN is a reliable, cost-effective solution. If consistency, reliability, and simplicity are what you’re after MPLS alone may be your preferred option, although it may be worth investigating SD-WAN options to find out if you can reduce costs. But if you have larger or more complex networking requirements, you can use MPLS together with SD-WAN to build a hybrid WAN design. The application-aware routing benefit of SD-WAN can ensure critical traffic like Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is directed over your reliable MPLS transport, with non-critical traffic directed over internet transport. Using MPLS and SD-WAN together is a great way to lay the foundation for your organization as cloud connectivity continues to grow and evolve in the years to come.
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