SD-WAN vs MPLS: The Pros, Cons, And Gartner’s Forecast For 2020: An Infrastructure Report


February 27, 2020 by Siobhan Climer and Eric White

It’s been two years since Gartner released its SD-WAN forecast anticipating 59% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) through 2021. This growth has been supported by an increase in SD-WAN sales of 64.9% in 2018 – with the market estimated to reach $5.25 billion by 2023.

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.

sdwan vs mpls


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.

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MPLS: Pros And Cons


To review: MPLS is a protocol that efficiently routes network traffic between two or more locations.




sdwan vs mplsMPLS 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

sdwan vs mpls


SD-WAN Pros And Cons


SD-WAN is a software-defined overlay that disrupts traditional network management and flow. It is not a protocol.




sdwan vs mplsSD-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

sdwan vs 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.

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