2020 was a year that clearly demonstrated the importance of having a secure, reliable network for your organization. The shift to cloud-based platforms and remote working was dramatically accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But the value of robust network infrastructure will only increase as we move forward. And regardless of the vertical or industry you serve, having a network solution that provides security, performance and reliability — at a reasonable price — is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity. So how do you choose the solution that’s right for your organization? This post will offer a side-by-side comparison of SD-WAN vs. MPLS, examining the pros and cons of both.
Ease of Deployment and Management
First things first — our comparison of SD-WAN vs. MPLS starts with looking at how complicated it will be to deploy and manage your solution.
SD-WAN simplifies the configuration, deployment and management of the organization’s network and provides visibility into performance metrics like link health.
Common MPLS deployments are black box to the end-customer or the wholesale partner. The core network and devices are controlled by the incumbent service provider with little visibility into performance or network health.
Configuration and Scaling
With SD-WAN, changes in network topography no longer need long provisioning and architecture lead times to implement. Because of this, there is no limit to how rapidly the organization’s network can adapt in scale and/or size.
As MPLS is provided by the larger telecoms, the architecture requires long design, quote, order and implementation cycles. Configuration is also a complex undertaking that can lead to costly errors that take time to identify and fix.
Adding cloud services into SD-WAN networks is simple, especially if the cloud service is reachable using Internet connections and the SD-WAN platform can be deployed in containers or virtualized at the cloud or hosting provider.
Extending MPLS networks into cloud hosting or to reach cloud services requires engaging the carrier in additional design, quote, deployment cycles and will increase costs.
Ultimately, organizations reliant on MPLS are using a network owned and maintained by someone else — and are dependent on their service provider to address issues and changes. With an SD-WAN network in place, your team controls the timing of all moves, adds, changes and deletions.
As a bonus, SD-WAN can be integrated into existing MPLS networks in cases where an organization has already invested heavily in MPLS. In this round of SD-WAN vs. MPLS, SD-WAN wins.
MPLS, by nature, is a mature product with pricing and margins that have eroded over time. Service providers who continue to rely on MPLS as a source of revenue must look for value-added products and services to upsell in order to maintain profitability levels and attain financial goals. In addition, long-term fixed contracts are a detractor to organizations considering developing their WAN strategy using MPLS.
In contrast, SD-WAN deployments pay for themselves in under a year and continue to generate revenue for years. These higher profit margins offset any margin erosion experienced by service providers. Flexible contracting is a feature that is attractive to organizations that are in the midst of a digital transformation.
Security and Reliability
With SD-WAN, data flows are routinely encrypted end-to-end using AES 128- or 256-bit encryption, using software configuration and implementation on the SD-WAN equipment itself. In contrast, encryption is not enabled on MPLS networks, as it requires a separate endpoint device to handle the encryption portion. Instead, MPLS relies on a secure network core and labeling for data privacy.
In addition, when bonding links in SD-WAN, data flows can be obfuscated by using both links to transmit and receive data thereby mitigating man-in-the-middle attacks that may seek to capture data while in transit. These bonded links work in an active/active configuration to deliver seamless connectivity and up to 95% of the available bandwidth. For organizations requiring redundancy, MPLS requires reconvergence of routes so that failover links become active in the event of primary link outage. This means that at any given time, the organization is effectively only using 50% of its available bandwidth.
When comparing security and resilience offered by SD-WAN vs. MPLS, SD-WAN wins again.
SD-WAN vs. MPLS: At a Glance
|AES data encryption||✓||✘|
|Quality of service (QoS)||✓||At an extra cost|
Profit margins on traditional leased lines have been eroded over the past 20 years, leaving service providers to look for new revenue streams. The introduction of multi-protocol labeling switching (MPLS) helped to relieve that strain on SP finances.
But the increasing mobility of applications and services on WAN technologies in recent years has prompted many organizations to evaluate the cost, reliability and security of their internet-facing operations. Integrating SD-WAN as a value-added offering allows service providers to increase revenue — and profit margins.
And with the ability to integrate SD-WAN and MPLS into a single, managed virtual network, service providers that deploy SD-WAN can support customers with existing MPLS networks, expand their reach, and support migration to 100% SD-WAN networks over time.