Lately, more and more people, including our clients, who want to improve their business and network capacities, have been asking the same question, “Is SD-WAN better than MPLS?” The short answer is yes, but it is not all that simple. MPLS definitely has some benefits and some situations where it is a good solution. However, SD-WAN is a new technology that is becoming somewhat indispensable for any company that is running apps from the cloud. So, let’s juxtapose these two and talk a little bit about the benefits of both, and eventually explain how SD-WAN is a better MPLS alternative overall.
Benefits of MPLS
Even though MPLS is considered a traditional approach, compared to SD-WAN, in some situations it can still outperform its younger sibling. For example, if your company runs many real-time apps, but they are not hosted in the cloud, using an MPLS Solution can secure you better performance.
One of the important benefits of MPLS is that the carrier will handle WAN routing. In this case, users have less maintenance-related work on their hands and it makes MPLS a simpler choice than running a huge routed network. This is especially important for smaller companies that cannot afford big IT teams. With this solution, they can hire fewer IT engineers on their staff and direct their resources towards other causes.
Apps, like video and voice, include any-to-any traffic patterns. By using MPLS, it is easier to interconnect sites together and better handle these specific types of traffic patterns. Moreover, network designers can lower the instances of “hops” to a minimum, that happen between networks and cause higher response time, and overall better app performance.
Quality of Service
Almost all commercially suitable MPLS services include several levels of QoS. This means that businesses can create specific tolerable thresholds for latency, packet loss, and jitter for all kinds of traffic, including video, voice, file transfers, email, and so on. The MPLS network then treats traffic that is marked as latency-sensitive with preference over that that is less sensitive. This is especially key for those companies that are consistently rolling out voice and video services and cannot afford performance drops.
Disaster recovery is greatly improved by using MPLS services in many ways. In the first place, you can connect data centers in multiple ways with the cloud or other points on the network. Secondly, remote points can reconnect to back up locations quickly if they need to. Compare this to the frame networks and ATM, for which either backup or switched permanent circuits are required and the advantage becomes evident.
Even though MPLS is applicable in some situations, it still has some shortcomings, especially so when compared to SD-WAN. These are the biggest ones that you should be aware of.
Some of the conclusions that led to the research into multilayer routing, such as that routers are too slow or routing tables becoming too large, have been weakened by the appearance of fast and powerful gigabit routers. MPLS is mostly applicable inside networks that are well-managed, in which every component is able to give support to MPLS and each individual distribution protocol that is used.
While the multi-layer approach has its advantages, the prospect of having packets that carry several labels carries a potential of increasing overheads, definitely so in terms of making a larger MPLS header. Another issue is that there is a single point of failure. Even though MPLS promises higher SLAs, the idea that all of the connectivity is dependent on one carrier network is a source of the problem because of a single point of failure.
Data Link Layer
Certain mechanisms are needed to make sure that the underlying link layer maintains the Quality of Service specified for an LSP. In some cases, this won’t be possible because of the general nature of the technology in question.
A standard MPLS network generally offers little data protection, so improper installation can make your whole network vulnerable. You should consult with your provider to make sure that every device is sufficiently protected in order for your network to be safe and for the threats to be minimized.
Why Moving to SD-WAN Is the Right Move?
To link to the discussion above of the shortcomings of MPLS, SD-WAN has several advantages compared to it. The main idea of SD-WAN is that it ensures to dramatically improve the complete networking infrastructure of an enterprise. SD-WAN erases geographic boundaries and brings important benefits such as scalability, visibility, control, and performance.
Contrary to MPLS, SD-WAN has no bandwidth penalties. Businesses can easily upgrade their bandwidth by stacking new links, while no modifications on the network are needed. Arguably the biggest selling point of SD-WAN is that it can cost-effectively connect different links depending on priority or content type. Both 4G LTE and broadband are cheaper than MPLS, so it’s natural for customers to go with these links instead of MPLS network for some low-priority traffic.
Finally, security is one of the biggest advantages of SD-WAN. For businesses today, it is important to have a network that integrates security and SD-WAN does exactly that. A company can benefit from end-to-end encryption at every point of the network. Every device and endpoint is authenticated, thanks to the SD security.
How to Migrate from MPLS to SD-WAN?
Many businesses believe that migrating to SD-WAN from MPLS is a painful process that will harm their business and infrastructure during that period. Well, it does not have to be like that. Opting for a managed SD-WAN is a step towards eliminating that risk. At Spooster, we have proven time and again that this is possible and we achieve it through several fail-proof tactics. This is what the process looks like.
- Analyzing your IT environment to get it SD-WAN ready.
It’s important to understand how the whole IT environment works together. This means business apps, priorities, patterns and flows, SaaS, and how to connect all of these together.
- Recognizing and eliminating poor access types.
Just bringing together several poor connections does not mean that they will perform well. You need to assess which connections perform well and which do not meet the standards to ensure that applications perform at their best.
- How SD-WAN integrates into the current infrastructure.
SD-WAN will not always ensure full network functionality. It needs to be integrated into a wider infrastructure in order to bring focus to app and protocol usage, as well as bandwidth and routing.
- Make sure SD-WAN fits the cloud strategy.
Cloud connectivity is a big aspect of SD-WAN migration. SD-WAN needs to be enabled to operate in clouds like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Some solutions will not be optimized for performance or latency or they will not support a wide-enough list of cloud providers.
- Make a thorough plan for the deployment and run pilots.
SD-WAN is more than connecting points. It is a process that requires a lot of thought and planning. Running pilots will ensure that any weak points are eliminated and also make sure that the best network access types are utilized.
Finally, the takeaway from this discussion is that switching to an SD-WAN solution is definitely a good idea. Whether you will do it or not has to do with your specific networking and business needs but have in mind all of the benefits that this system carries.
If you are still unsure if SD-WAN is the right solution for your environment and if you should ditch MPLS, or if you are just not certain of how to go about it – reach out to us, we’ll figure it out together!