When contemplating Software-defined WAN vs. Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), it is essential to consider one of MPLS’s most important characteristics: reliability. MPLS generally offers superior quality of service (QoS) to avoid packet loss and keep business-critical traffic flowing. That’s because MPLS uses packet-forwarding technology and labels to make decisions about routing data. Real-time applications that may require this high reliability may include Voice of IP (VoIP), video conferencing, or remote desktop applications, for example. According to SDXCentral, MPLS works by virtually isolating packets and assigning a higher priority to specific network traffic. The protocol sets a predetermined path for traffic to eliminate disruptions to service based on particular parameters. Because of its high reliability, however, it’s also more costly than other high-performance bandwidth options. In addition, the MPLS network does not offer built-in data protection, and if incorrectly implemented, it can open the network to vulnerabilities. (Source: Best).
On the other hand, SD-WAN promises high reliability, although not to the bulletproof level of MPLS, without the high costs and management complexity of conventional MPLS links. That’s because SD-WAN changes the entire enterprise networking paradigm, making it software-based instead of hardware-based. A software-defined WAN network architecture gives businesses the ability to utilize less-expensive network links – such as cable, fiber, and 4G – instead of exclusively relying on private lines depending on the application type and priority level. Lower priority traffic can run over internet broadband like 4G LTE, and mission-critical traffic like cloud-based communication systems can run on MPLS. This ability to mix-n-match traffic to bandwidth saves money, but it also increases the network’s scalability and performance. Considering what’s right for your business depends on your company’s biggest goals. To get there, ask yourself these questions.
- Am I running real-time applications over my WAN? The truth is most applications running on the WAN today aren’t real-time – email, file-sharing software, ERP, CRM systems, and more. For all of these non-real-time applications, SD-WAN connections are more than sufficient. SD-WAN networks can intelligently route and re-route traffic across the best-suited, fastest internet link at the time. By aggregating multiple, lower-cost connections, an organization can experience a fast internet experience at a much lower cost. Leveraging multiple circuit types and service provider networks also achieves circuit redundancy, increasing uptime, and reliability of connections.
- Do I have remote workers and branch offices? Back when there was one main corporate office, MPLS and a traditional hub-and-spoke WAN architecture were sufficient. Teams could re-architect a WAN network by manually updating configurations to routers and setting up custom scripts. They then set up MPLS links to add capacity as needed. However, today most companies are juggling multiple locations, remote and mobile users, cloud-based apps, and increasing network traffic. Making manual configuration to routers is tedious, and MPLS provisioning at new sites often takes months or longer. That same centralized network architecture can no longer keep up because it creates bottlenecks that drive up connection costs and hinder network performance. A virtualized software-defined network enables administrators to manage traffic flows and third-party cloud networks much more efficiently.
- Am I using a lot of applications in the cloud? Conventional MPLS circuits are not designed to support a cloud-first network strategy. That’s primarily because internet-bound traffic is backhauled to a centralized data center before routing out to the appropriate destination. Suppose your company uses several as-a-service cloud-based applications such as Office 365, Salesforce. A cloud-enabled SD-WAN solution gets around this by providing local or regional routes so that traffic can flow directly to the internet from the closest and most appropriate link. If you’re sending sensitive information over the link, teams can also add additional security, and they can segment sensitive data.
It’s your call
SD-WAN’s benefits are hard to deny, from lower costs to improvements in agility, flexibility, and deployment. It’s also true that private circuits such as MPLS will always be in demand for businesses with specific security and connectivity requirements. As companies continue to adopt cloud and mobile-first strategies and require more centralized network management, it will be interesting to watch the SD-WAN technologies’ adoption curve. When asking ‘SD-WAN vs. MPLS? Organizations should look at each’s pros and cons and prioritize ‘must-have capabilities’ vs. cost and performance.