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Wednesday, 11 Apr 2018 | 4 min read

SD-WAN vs. MPLS – which is right for your business?

A close-up image of a laptop. On the keyboard there is a small sphere with a network inside it representing a business network, points in the network, which resemble stars, travel from the sphere to the computer screen.

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 SD-WAN and MPLS 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 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. Some providers are now offering MPLS pricing that rivals SD-WAN pricing.

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 as 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 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.

Discover how SD-WAN is revolutionising the future of networking – and what that mans for your business – in our free e-book.

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 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 you can add or reduce bandwidth 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 needing to make changes to the infrastructure or network.

Security is another big selling point. Modern organisations 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.

Moving from MPLS to SD-WAN

Migrating from MPLS to SD-WAN is project that needs to be planned and managed well. It’s likely your business is highly dependent on a functional network, which means maintaining your network’s integrity throughout the migration process is vital.

Migrating your network is a highly complicated process that will be different for each business, depending on the systems and structures you have in place. If you’re considering making the transition to SD-WAN, we recommend getting in touch with one of our experts to chat through your specific needs.

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.

Tags:Enterprise and GovernmentHardwareBusiness

Written by

Headshot of Aaron

Aaron O'Keeffe

Chief Growth Officer

Aaron worked as an IT professional for 10 years before shifting into telecommunications sales. He joined Aussie Broadband as a Business Development Manager in 2008, was promoted to National Sales Manager of the Company’s business division i...

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