MPLS vs. SD-WAN: Which one’s right for your business?

April 5th, 2018 - Get new posts sent straight to your inbox, click here. Aaron O'Keeffe

Before Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) came along, there was Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). While SD-WAN has the potential to reduce a company’s dependency on MPLS, the benefits of the latter shouldn’t be dismissed – particularly if Quality of Service (QoS) is important to your business.

Choosing one over the other comes down to many factors. In this article, we look into the various pros and cons of each to give you a better idea of which one is right for your business.

What is MPLS?

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a type of data-carrying technique used in high-performing networks. Essentially, it’s a protocol for speeding up and shaping network flow – and has traditionally been used in most telecommunications environments.

What are the advantages of MPLS?

MPLS has one big advantage in this debate: its capability to deliver packets and provide a high Quality of Service (QOS). Generally, MPLS excels at managing and avoiding packet loss, keeping a business’s most important traffic flowing.

This is good news if your business regularly uses real-time protocols such as VoIP, video conferencing, or virtual desktops. Due to the high packet availability of MPLS, these systems can work without loss of quality or signal.

How is this reliability possible? MPLS operates much in the same way to switches and routers – sitting between layers 2 and 3. It uses packet-forwarding technology and labels to make data forwarding decisions. It also puts special labels on each packet, which isolates them from other traffic on the network. Through this, MPLS creates traffic predictability, which is useful when there are many customers on a shared network.

On top of its guarantee to not lose too many packets, MPLS can also offer CoS/QoS buckets. You can put your most crucial traffic into these so that they have a higher priority for delivery – and a lower probability of being dropped.

What are the disadvantages of MPLS?

Generally the biggest downside of MPLS is bandwidth cost. We’ve moved into an age where consumers and businesses are churning through content that requires high levels of bandwidth, from videos to virtual reality and everything in between. When it comes to MPLS networks, bandwidth is an expensive resource but the more bandwidth you use the cheaper it gets and some providers are now providing MPLS pricing that rivals SD-WAN pricing.

What is SD-WAN?

Many businesses have replaced their MPLS network with Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN). For businesses who want more flexible, open, cloud-based, and cheaper WAN technologies, SD-WAN can provide this. But should your business make the switch? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

What are the advantages of SD-WAN?

With SD-WAN, the big benefits include enhanced global availability, visibility, scalability, control, and performance. It’s also easy and quick to implement, and bandwidth can be added or reduced as required.

But perhaps the greatest benefit is the cost factor. Both internet broadband and 4G LTE are much less expensive than MPLS is some cases. And unlike MPLS, you can easily upgrade by adding new links – generally without changes to the infrastructure or network needed.

Security is another big selling point. Many modern businesses and companies tend to prefer network systems that integrate security, policy, and orchestration. Through unifying secure connectivity, SD-WAN can offer this. Your business will also benefit from end-to-end encryption across the entire network – including the internet.

SD-WANs don’t need to rely exclusively on private MPLS services. Instead, they connect branches though any type of data service, including xDSL, cable, LTE, and even through MPLS.

What are the disadvantages of SD-WAN?

Reliability is the main question mark hovering over SD-WAN. MPLS networks typically offer highly reliable packet delivery. On the other hand, when using SD-WAN, internet uplinks can occasionally fail. To ensure that your business operations run smoothly, it’s recommended you choose an internet provider who can offer consistent reliability in their internet connections.

While SD-WANs make it easier to connect to the cloud, there’s still the possibility of packet loss once you’re there. If you’re part of a digital business, this is one of the main areas you’ll want to consider when choosing between MPLS and SD-WAN.

What’s right for my business?

From cost and agility, to the ease of use and scalability, the benefits of SD-WAN can’t be underestimated. And for businesses that rely on cloud-based applications, SD-WAN offers direct access from any location. However, if QoS is important to you, or you have very specific connectivity requirements, MPLS might be the way to go.

Answering the question, “Should I use SD-Wan or MPLS?” is complicated – and it really depends on what environment you’re working in, and the specific needs of your business. If you need high-performing and reliable communication, you should consider both solutions.

To discuss your company’s individual needs and which service might be best for you, contact the expert team at Aussie Broadband for an obligation-free chat about your internet services.

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About the author

Aaron O'Keeffe

Aaron O'Keeffe

Aaron works from an office in the tropical Northern Territory, inciting intense jealousy from his Victorian workmates during winter. He’s an expert in IT solutions from the ground up. Aaron is National Sales Manager of Wideband, which specialises in bespoke telco solutions for corporate and government customers.