One of the most common questions that customers ask about their WAN architecture is: “Should I select an SD-WAN or MPLS Network? It is a very good question to ask. With all of the hype around SD-WAN, it is easy to get caught up in digital transformation mode. However, the decision to move to an SD-WAN architecture can have significant implications for businesses and IT departments.
In this article, we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of SD-WAN vs MPLS. We will also take a look at why your business might want to consider SD-WAN over an MPLS Network.
Current State of SD-WAN vs. MPLS?
It is no secret that SD-WAN has the ability to offer better visibility, availability, improved performance, and management. That is part of the reason why the industry has seen so much interest in SD-WAN over the past few years.
Another reason for the hype around SD-WAN is based on the deficiencies centered around MPLS Networks. Most network infrastructure architects and solution engineers would agree that MPLS does not offer flexibility. It is rigid with fixed connections that cannot easily be adapted to the types of interconnection between branch offices. It can also be argued that MPLS does not offer the type of dynamic networks that today’s businesses require.
However, that is not the whole story here. MPLS is a very reliable network architecture that offers security and availability that SD-WAN cannot. The challenge with the majority of SD-WAN solutions is that they do not provide the same levels of security as MPLS. With MPLS, traffic is routed through the carrier’s secured network. Many SD-WAN providers recognize this and are working to provide integrated security from both a security and network perspective.
Advantages of SD-WAN Solutions
There are three key advantages that SD-WAN has over an MPLS Network. They include the following: cost-savings, performance and security protections. I know that I said SD-WAN is not as secure as MPLS. I will explain why this might be changing and how SD-WAN may be able to offer better protection than MPLS with new advanced features.
SD-WAN Offers Cost-Savings Over MPLS
It is the simple truth that SD-WAN is more cost-effective than MPLS. With traditional WAN design, businesses connect their remote branches and other locations to a central data center with a hub and spoke WAN architecture that relied heavily on individual MPLS connections. This approach requires all data, workflows, transactions, and applications to be backhauled to the central data center for processing and redistribution which is very inefficient from a cost perspective.
SD-WAN, on the other hand, reduces network costs by providing optimized, multi-point connectivity utilizing distributed, private data traffic exchange and control points to give your users secure, local access to services from the network or cloud while securing direct access.
Secure SD-WAN Solutions Offer Advanced Protection
As mentioned previously, MPLS provides higher levels of security by providing a secured and managed link between the central data center, branch offices, and other locations. MPLS traffic is routed securely through the carrier or service provider’s internet backbone. However, with SD-WAN, traffic is routed over the public internet which natively does not provide the same level of protection.
However, MPLS does not provide analysis of the data it delivers. That falls on the MPLS client. Traffic is required to be inspected for malware and other exploits which requires deploying a firewall and additional security measures and at least one end of the connection.
Many SD-WAN solutions have the same issue with traffic analysis as MPLS Networks. It requires security to be an overlay of the SD-WAN network. Further, adding security to a seemingly complex SD-WAN architecture can be a real challenge. Many businesses get caught in this trap because they are focused on network modernization and security is an afterthought.
We are seeing more and more SD-WAN providers focus on solving security issues associated with SD-WAN. Some SD-WAN providers are building their SD-WAN with integrated functions within an NGFW application. This feature makes it possible for every connection to have a dynamically meshed VPN to secure data in transit. It also allows for the inspection of traffic using multiple security tools and best-practices such as IPS, firewall, WAF, web filtering, anti-virus, and anti-malware.
SD-WAN Delivers Greater Performance Than MPLS
MPLS is known for its performance and reliability. It offers a reliable, fixed level of bandwidth. Is that good or bad? What does that mean for your business? It means that some businesses are purchasing MPLS bandwidth based on their worst-case traffic load scenario. It is not right-sized to their demand. This means that businesses are overpaying for unused bandwidth. It also means that other businesses are purchasing too little bandwidth to meet the demands of their data and network which constricts connectivity and performance.
MPLS does provide some level of scaling for bandwidth. However, this is also limited based on the inability to understand traffic handling. It also limits businesses to adjust dynamically.
When it comes to network performance, it is all about the visibility into the network. Latency in the network is a big deal, especially for voice and video. These applications require constant monitoring. Latency traffic needs to be prioritized. MPLS does not provide application recognition, traffic shaping, load-balancing, and prioritization between different connections.
SD-WAN solutions are able to recognize applications and adapt to changing requirements. SD-WAN can initiate multiple connections and provide granular load balancing between them and even a failover connection in the event that there is a drop in available bandwidth. SD-WAN ensures that latency-sensitive applications have bandwidth they require at all times.
SD-WAN vs. MPLS? Which is the Right WAN for Your Business?
When it comes to selecting your WAN architecture, it is often a tough decision. Do you go with the time-tested, proven networking technology or the up and coming technology with all of the bells and whistles of modern network infrastructure?
From my perspective working with numerous clients in different industries, SD-WAN is the right networking solution for 99.99% of medium to large businesses. Sure, MPLS Networks still have their place with large global enterprises. Many CIOs and IT departments in the Enterprise space are still leery of SD-WAN solutions today. However, that mentality is changing rapidly as the innovation in SD-WAN technologies and security advances.
Need Help Selecting an SD-WAN Provider?
The SD-WAN space is becoming very crowded and it seems like every telecom carrier, ISP and network provider have jumped on the SD-WAN bandwagon with their own solution. There are good SD-WAN solutions and bad ones. How do you know which SD-WAN providers and solutions are the right fit for your business?
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