Managed SD-WAN solutions are taking over networking and improving enterprise connections. But despite the boom, many businesses are still holding on to MPLS as a tried and true, network solution. In this post, we’ll review the advantages to making the switch and why SD-WAN is an ideal MPLS replacement.

The relationship between MPLS and Managed SD-WAN is complex. Both are QoS (quality of service) technologies that manage data traffic to reduce packet loss.

But unlike most traditional, out-of-date technologies, MPLS was not made obsolete by SD-WAN, the next-generation of network technology.

MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) is still relevant and effectively used by many businesses. But with new modern business practices like cloud-based applications, the limitations of MPLS necessitated a newer, more robust technology.

SD-WAN – a software-defined wide area network – provides a way to use cloud-based software to increase network performance while also optimizing bandwidth in a way that helps cloud-based applications perform optimally when you need them to.

SD-WAN has replaced MPLS for some businesses but not others. And sometimes the two are used in conjunction. So instead of asking if SD-WAN is an MPLS replacement, you should ask: “does it make sense for SD-WAN to replace MPLS in my business?”

Here’s a few factors to consider.

MPLS

MPLS was created in the 1990s as an alternative to traditional IP routing. Organizations used MPLS for dedicated and private networks that could connect data centers and offices. It works by directing data throughout the network using short path labels instead of long network addresses. This speeds up traffic and streamlines network connectivity solutions.

As a QoS technology, MPLS is a mechanism for routing traffic, allowing for some prioritization of traffic through different service levels. It offers a more sophisticated control over networks than Ethernet but is less granular than SD-WAN.

The main benefit of MPLS is its consistency. It offers extremely high packet deliverability at 99.99%, making it great for businesses that needed consistent uptime. Additionally, with MPLS, QoS is honored across the entire network, which offers more predictability of traffic prioritization.

However, the hardware-based nature of MPLS services typically makes them more difficult to manage and expensive to implement than SD-WAN. This means capacity and network bandwidth is constrained by budget and can be overwhelmed by a growing business with new application and bandwidth demands. In addition, as the hardware ages, it gets more expensive to service and replace.

SD-WAN

With the widespread adoption of cloud applications further increasing bandwidth demands, MPLS was struggling to deliver high QoS on mission-critical software.

WAN and then SD-WAN emerged as alternatives that could increase network agility and reduce costs. SD-WAN differentiates itself by using cloud-based software to control network traffic.

SD-WAN lets your business leverage the cloud, the bandwidth of broadband, LTE and existing infrastructure you already have to more efficiently transmit data.

And the operational benefits are staggering.

SD-WAN gives you the control to prioritize necessary bandwidth for cloud-based applications and voice, optimizing performance for the tools your organization uses the most.

SD-WAN also offers ease of deployment. You can choose between on-premises, hybrid or cloud application. This ensures you can find the right fit for your data connectivity and routing needs.

Beyond application prioritization, SD-WAN can also reduce downtime through proactive bandwidth usage monitoring and the use of failover to respond to outages or volume spikes.

As far as implementation, you generally have two options: DIY SD-WAN or managed SD-WAN. DIY SD-WAN involves businesses that have in-house IT expertise implementing and managing the solution.

In contrast, managed SD-WAN involves outsourcing the entire SD-WAN solution – from design to management to monitoring – to a managed services provider (MSP). Managed SD-WAN is quickly becoming the preferred choice for its ease of use and the ability to move internal operations to revenue generating tasks.

Key Differences

Aside from the key features and benefits, there are two additional areas of differentiation that need to be considered between SD-WAN and MPLS.

Access Links

MPLS usually has a single access link, while SD-WAN can support multiple links. This impacts network performance and how you should approach installation.

While MPLS as a technology is reliable, its single point of failure makes it more vulnerable to outages and manual intervention.

SD-WAN can utilize multiple active internet connections. This is advantageous because secondary connections serve as a backup while also providing additional functionality for everyday use. This makes it possible to always send high-priority applications through the best path. A multi-connection SD-WAN solution thus reduces packet loss, increases application and voice quality, and offers a built-in network backup solution.

Network Security

MPLS is inherently secure because the network doesn’t connect to public internet. This means fewer considerations are required for security protocols.

SD-WAN can utilize public internet to route traffic more efficiently for a lower cost. Therefore, traffic is secured through built-in firewalls and security tools. Often, SD-WAN can integrate with existing or new security tools to expand security precautions to connections.

Conclusion

SD-WAN and MPLS both offer network connectivity solutions and QoS technology. But as MPLS gets more difficult – and more expensive – to maintain, more businesses will likely turn to SD-WAN because of its ease of implementation and management – especially when working with an MSP.

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