July 5, 2022

Can you increase flexibility and lower costs with SD-WAN vs. MPLS?

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A significant question for your business to ask: should you invest in SD-WAN over MPLS? For decades, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) was the solution for enterprises to deliver a dependable, stable connection between headquarters and branch offices.

Technology evolved, because businesses adopted remote work and the cloud. Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) was a new approach that allowed edge users reliable, secure connections to access business data and applications from anywhere.

Is there still an uncertainty that transitioning to SD-WAN technology is the right choice? For some industries — like healthcare and defense — compliance and security reasons require keeping MPLS infrastructure. Even for industries where these regulations are not an obstacle, the transition to new technologies takes an investment of time and effort that not every business is ready for. So, the question remains: is the investment in SD-WAN to replace MPLS worth it? Let’s take a closer look.

Infographic showing the breakdown of global IT market spending by category

What is MPLS? What are the pros and cons to MPLS?

Similar to switches and routers, MLPS is a transport protocol that uses physical hardware at sites where data packets need to be exchanged. A proper deployment includes MPLS circuits installed at the headquarters and all the remote branch offices that require data access. Because of this, it can be time-intensive and expensive to set up and add remote offices.

MPLS’ best feature is reliably delivering packets with minimal data loss. This is because the labels it uses and assigns to all packets allow you to assign certain labels higher priority within network traffic — ensuring important traffic stays flowing. When dealing with certain real-time protocols, like VoIP, this is an extremely important way to maintain quality.

On the other hand, a big downside of MPLS is bandwidth cost. There is a high per-megabit cost that can make it expensive to transfer video and other large data files that have become popular and necessary. On top of that, MPLS deployments are limited to a fixed level of bandwidth. This means you need to lease a connection based on your worst-case traffic load scenario, so often you will be paying for bandwidth you are not using. Even if you have a sliding level of connectivity, it can be difficult to dynamically make the adjustments needed based on the unpredictable nature of traffic.

Infographic showing the breakdown of global IT market spending by category

What is SD-WAN? What are the advantages and disadvantages of SD-WAN?

A software defined networking (SDN) approach to Wide Area Networking, SD-WAN elevates traffic management away from hardware on premises to software in the cloud. This allows for quick deployment when adding new branches, offices, or even individual remote workers needing access to business data and applications from anywhere at any time.

SD-WAN can be seen as an evolution of MPLS technology and offers a more cost-effective transport method, because you can use multiple transport methods together and prioritize critical business traffic using different methods — like MPLS circuits, direct internet broadband, or LTE/5G. Because it enables you to use other methods, you can mix and match network links according to the priority and type of content. This allows you to use less expensive connections (like internet broadband or 5G) compared to MPLS connections.

In addition, because SD-WAN is software-based in the cloud, your IT teams can more easily manage and administer your network resources. Coupled with the automation SD-WAN can offer, instead of your team troubleshooting issues and rerouting traffic, SD-WAN can automatically do this work for you. Plus, your teams can do much of the operational work remotely, instead of having to be onsite which MLPS demands.

Because SD-WAN is open to a variety of transport methods, however, like public internet, it can be considered less secure than MLPS, which utilizes private, dedicated leased lines. While many SD-WAN vendors offer additional security options (like SASE), SD-WAN must be paired with additional security postures, like firewalls, URL filtering, end-to-end encryption and more. Doing less can open you up to cyber attacks.

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Should you replace MPLS with SD-WAN?

The benefits of SD-WAN over MPLS make for a good case:
  • SD-WAN offers better performance options and a more reliable user experience
  • SD-WAN is less expensive than MPLS and gives you way more flexibility
  • SD-WAN, paired with the necessary security solutions including SASE, can be just as secure (if not more) than MPLS
  • SD-WAN management requires less time and attention from your IT teams, making it easier and more efficient to administer than MPLS

With so many benefits over MPLS, should you replace your connections with SD-WAN?

With the rise of remote work and the need for cost-effective solutions, SD-WAN is a great solution. The cost, scalability, and flexibility it offers cannot be beat.

For organizations that have strict regulations around security and connectivity, MPLS remains the solution for on-premise data centers and applications.

If you want the best of both worlds, fear not: a hybrid solution is possible. Get the cost savings offered from SD-WAN (and flexibility and scalability), while still being able to follow security regulations by routing sensitive data on MPLS. Remember, one of the benefits of SD-WAN is you can have MPLS circuits used for designated network traffic, and 5G or internet broadband for other types of traffic.

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Not sure which is best for you?

Talk to network experts at FiberWave. Our team can design and deploy the best network infrastructure for your organization.