SD-WAN vs. MPLS: Benefits and Drawbacks

September 24th, 2020
SD-WAN vs. MPLS: Benefits and Drawbacks

When it comes to networking technologies, you may hear IT support providers and consultants throw around big terms like “software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN)” and the legacy WAN, “Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)”.

With a lot of different opinions out there on which technology is better between the two, deciding the right one for your company can be quite confusing.

To help you out, this blog will compare SD-WAN versus MPLS.

What is SD-WAN?

Just as its name implies, SD-WAN is a software-defined approach to controlling and managing the connections between multiple locations.

What is MPLS?

MPLS is a protocol that ensures efficient network traffic flow between two or more locations. Similar to how routers and switches work, an MPLS delivers traffic based on the latter’s type, priority, and destination.

What are the differences between the two?

Hardware vs. software

To manage a network, MPLS requires programming at the hardware level, particularly using proprietary hardware. In contrast, SD-WAN operates on the software level, enabling it to run on commodity hardware.

Traffic routing

MPLS directs traffic through static, predetermined routes of a private network. On the other hand, SD-WAN dynamically routes traffic, efficiently using all of your existing bandwidth on multiple links across the entire WAN, rather than just the link between path A and path B.

Based on your defined business priorities, SD-WAN intelligently selects the best path for network traffic. For example, its default routing decision can be based on the lowest network costs, but it can prioritize application availability for traffic coming from latency-sensitive apps such as voice and video calling software. SD-WAN is able to do this since it can identify applications and monitor networks in real time.

Use of lines

While MPLS networks use only dedicated leased lines, SD-WAN can leverage any combination of dedicated lines (e.g., MPLS links) and public connections (e.g., LTE and broadband internet services).

What are the pros of MPLS?

Reliable packet delivery

MPLS provides a clean and secure connection that guarantees packet delivery. This helps maintain excellent data quality, especially for latency-sensitive apps, and ensures a consistent user experience.

Traffic predictability

Since network routes are predetermined, packets travel only along the routes to which they are directed.

What are the cons of MPLS?

Rigid connections and high bandwidth costs

MPLS connections have fixed bandwidth levels, so companies need to lease a connection for their worst-case traffic load scenario, leading to high bandwidth costs. This means that there may be a lot of times when expensive bandwidth is unused. And with today’s apps and multimedia content increasingly requiring more bandwidth, these fixed connections also run the risk of constraining connectivity.

Lengthy network deployment and configuration process

MPLS networks take several months to deploy. Connecting international and extremely remote locations can even go over a year. This is because you need time for circuit delivery, equipment provisioning, and on-site hardware configuration. In fact, each hardware must be programmed individually by IT staff with specialized networking skills.

Should you need to make changes to the network, such as installing updates or implementing new policies, you’ll also need to conduct manual configuration of every hardware at every office branch. These are the reasons why deployment and network configuration tend to be lengthy, complex, and expensive.

What are the pros of SD-WAN?

Real-time traffic monitoring and dynamic routing

Today’s network traffic can be highly unpredictable. It can suddenly increase the moment a user conducts online backup, streams media, or does other bandwidth-intensive activities. Then, it can drop drastically once they’re done. What’s more, traffic coming from latency-sensitive apps requires continuous monitoring since it needs to be prioritized when multiple applications are running through the same connection tunnel.

Given its real-time traffic monitoring feature, SD-WAN is able to quickly adapt to the network status and regulate traffic flows to improve app performance. It can balance the traffic load across multiple connections and automatically move traffic over to available ones should a connection fail. SD-WAN’s application recognition feature also allows it to prioritize traffic from latency-sensitive apps so these receive all the room and horsepower they require.

These SD-WAN features result in increased performance and availability of all applications, whether they are hosted on premises or in the cloud.

Centralized network management

With SD-WAN’s centralized platform, you have a consolidated view of your entire network and all of the applications that you use. This allows you to easily analyze and manage app performance and network security. Not only that, but it also lets you easily implement and monitor protocols and policies for networking, security, and optimization solutions — and simultaneously roll these out to all connected devices in different branch offices.

Quick and simple network deployment and configuration

Since SD-WAN is software-based, you can deliver it via the cloud. This means you can add or shut down a branch site online in just minutes, without having to send an IT specialist on-site. You can also conduct remote configuration should you need to add a new application, deploy upgrades, troubleshoot, or apply other network changes.

Learn about the benefits of SD-WAN here.

Cost reduction

Since SD-WAN can utilize multiple data transport services (e.g., MPLS, LTE, broadband) and intelligently route traffic through any of them, your policies can select lower-priced connections (i.e., using broadband instead of MPLS) for lower-priority traffic. You can also reduce the number of expensive MPLS links you have.

With SD-WAN’s centralized platform, you also get to enjoy cost (and time) savings on provisioning, configuration, updates, monitoring, and management. You can even reduce the number of network technicians you have, thus reducing expenses related to hiring, training, deploying, and paying them.

Read our previous blog to find out about more ways that SD-WAN can deliver cost savings to your business.

What are the cons of SD-WAN?

Pervasiveness of MPLS

Since MPLS has been around for several years, many organizations have already heavily invested in this networking technology. This is why implementing SD-WAN, and possibly replacing MPLS altogether, can be quite a challenge for them.

Should you go for SD-WAN or MPLS?

Aside from weighing the pros and cons of SD-WAN and MPLS, you should also take into account the following variables when deciding between the two network technologies:

  • Budget
  • Apps used
  • Existing technology investments (e.g., hardware and network connections)
  • Geographic spread between office branches
  • Security and compliance requirements

Our checklist of things to consider before implementing SD-WAN may also help you decide.

Still confused between SD-WAN or MPLS? You can turn to the IT experts at Ubisec Systems to simplify things for you. We’ll make sure your business is equipped with the right technologies that will empower your business. Schedule a free consultation today!

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