July 19, 2022 by Siobhan Climer, Eric White, and Kim Morgan
This article was originally published in February 2020.
When this article was first written, in February of 2020, the world, as we know it, was a totally different place. Lockdowns, stay at home orders, the shift to remote work, and event shuttering of physical offices changed how IT teams managed their infrastructure. At that time, 61% of enterprise businesses started down the path of SD-WAN rollouts, but, when surveyed again, only 36% said they had actually deployed the solution.
So what does that mean for the future of SD-WAN? Now, in 2022, SD-WAN is still a robust option to support ever-evolving work environments. SD-WAN provides the data management, centralized security, and performance capabilities required for today’s work-from-anywhere or cloud-first business environment.
As software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) has grown, analysts have naturally compared it to multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) – a protocol optimizing efficient network traffic flow. MPLS has been the go-to traffic protocol, especially given the rise of real-time traffic like video or voice, ensuring reliable packet delivery and traffic priority prediction.
SD-WAN vs MPLS: Similarities And Differences
SD-WAN and MPLS are fundamentally different. MPLS is a protocol, a predetermined rule-set that prioritizes and distributes traffic between locations. SD-WAN, on the other hand, is the application of software-defined networking technology to WAN connections, such as broadband internet, 5G, LTE, or – even – MPLS.
The SD-WAN vs MPLS debate is, therefore, difficult to position. It’s like comparing an apple to apple pie. Fortunately, while the comparative framework might not be straightforward, the quantitative benefits of SD-WAN vs MPLS are a bit easier to compare.
MPLS: Pros And Cons
To review: MPLS is a protocol that efficiently routes network traffic between two or more locations.
MPLS is most well-known for the reliable delivery of packets and overall quality of service, especially for VoIP and other real-time protocols. There is also a greater degree of control over MPLS network traffic. MPLS providers predetermine network traffic priority levels and optimize routes, which brings predictability and reliability to the network.
- Real-time application protocols (i.e. VoIP, video, remote desktop)
- Packet retention
- On-premise data centers
- Data privacy
MPLS requires high-bandwidth capabilities. For organizations where users are likely to stream videos or other multimedia content, MPLS can become quite expensive. In the same vein, MPLS works within a more traditional network topology model (hub and spoke), which requires all data to travel to the central hub, or data center, for processing.
Plus, MPLS is not as secure as SD-WAN. A simple misconfiguration raises the risk of a security vulnerability – and many businesses cannot afford that risk today.
- Requires high-bandwidth
- Less secure than SD-WAN
- Rigid/less scalable
- More difficult to manage
- Can become too expensive
SD-WAN Pros And Cons
SD-WAN is a software-defined overlay that disrupts traditional network management and flow. It is not a protocol.
SD-WAN disrupts the traditional architecture, so the conversation around pros and cons is a bit different. Broadly, SD-WAN leads to increased scalability, performance, and security. SD-WAN is dynamic and makes managing traffic flow much simpler.
- Increased bandwidth
- More scalable
- Easy to manage
- More flexibility around network connections
- Unifies secure connectivity
- Easy to upgrade
There are a few cases where MPLS might still be superior. Specifically, if companies have a lot of mission-critical real-time applications, MPLS is preferable. Plus, SD-WAN uses the public internet to connect locations. That means organizations lose control of traffic, which can lead to packet loss and higher latency.
- Less reliable packet delivery
- Less direct control over traffic
- Can be more expensive if not managed
SD-WAN vs MPLS or SD-WAN and MPLS?
Thankfully, organizations don’t have to pick between SD-WAN and MPLS. Remember how we have apples and apple pie? Apples are a key ingredient of apple pie, and MPLS is a key protocol to manage network traffic – with an SD-WAN overlay on top.
Instead of SD-WAN vs MPLS, the conversation should really be framed around SD-WAN and MPLS. MPLS can continue to provide the highly reliable service connections, while SD-WAN helps run the network more efficiently.
Using both SD-WAN and MPLS ensures mission-critical applications get where they need to go quickly, and SD-WAN can provide opportunities for rerouting and scaling connectivity for the flexible traffic flow needs businesses have today.
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About The Authors
Eric White is Chief Technology Officer and VP of Consulting Services at Mindsight. With over ten years of experience in information technology and leadership, Eric excels at implementing network and data center technologies, designing high-yield solutions for the business. Holding professional certifications from Microsoft, VMware, and EMC, as well as the Cisco CCNP, Eric is an expert at solving business realities with a client-centric focus that delivers.
Siobhan Climer, Mindsight’s Technology Writer, writes about technology trends in education, healthcare, and business. With over a decade of experience communicating complex concepts around everything from cybersecurity to neuroscience, Siobhan is an expert at breaking down technical and scientific principles so that everyone takes away valuable insights. When she’s not writing tech, she’s reading and writing fantasy, hiking, and exploring the world with her twin daughters. Find her on twitter @techtalksio.
Kim Morgan is part of the Marketing Department at Mindsight. Since 2007, she has devoted her career to using digital media to educate and effectively communicate a variety of topics at all levels of expertise. Kim’s favorite part about Mindsight is how team members are encouraged to always be curious, and continue developing not only professionally, but also personally. When not working, she can be found coaching youth lacrosse or toting her 4 kids around in her sweet sweet minivan while rocking out to hits from the late 90’s and early 2000’s.