One of the most typical considerations network security architects and CISOs make when constructing their WAN architecture is whether to use SD-WAN instead of MPLS. As enterprises move from MPLS to support transition to a multi cloud environment for predictable user experience and the reduction of bandwidth costs, SD-WAN proves to protect their networks and prepare for a future move to SASE architecture in a way that MPLS cannot.


Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) can be less expensive, more secure, and deliver better performance than Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS). MPLS might be expensive when it comes to bandwidth, though SD-WAN can protect your network from considerably more risk than MPLS. SD-WAN provides significantly improved visibility, overall availability, performance, and flexibility. It is because of this and the rapid rise of remote work and cloud adoption that interest in SD-WAN has grown in recent years.


But when is MPLS actually preferable over SD-WAN? Which technology is the most ideal for most use cases? In this in-depth guide, we’ll break down the basics of SD-WAN and MPLS, examples of each, their key differences, and the pros and cons of using either technology.



What is SD-WAN?
What is MPLS?
Key Differences Between SD-WAN And MPLS
- SD-WAN VS MPLS Cost Comparison
- SD-WAN Pros & Cons
- MPLS Pros & Cons
- Secure SD-WAN Offers Better Protection Than MPLS
- SD WAN Delivers Greater Performance Than MPLS
When MPLS May Be Better Than SD-WAN Alone
Secure SD-WAN Wins Over MPLS In Almost Every Scenario

What Is SD-WAN?

Expanded as Software-Defined Wide Area Networking, SD-WAN is a software-defined way to provide wide-area networking to enterprises looking for more variety and control over their enterprise WAN, as well as LAN-like characteristics on a larger scale. An evolution in connectivity from traditional MPLS technology, SD-WAN enables customers to prioritize critical business traffic and take advantage of a variety of transport methods, including MPLS circuits, direct internet broadband, and LTE/5G, simplifying the management of the WAN and enabling it independent of transport layers.


As SD-WAN is a software-defined virtual network overlay that sits on top of a standard hardware-based networking infrastructure, a controller manages and provisions this overlay, eliminating the requirement for device-by-device network configuration and administration. The underlay, or data plane, is then in charge of processing and transporting packets between devices.


The overlay may be used with a variety of common network transport services, such as the internet, 4G, 5G, and MPLS. Application-aware routing will govern where and when an application utilizes a given service based on the performance of the underlying network transport to preserve the performance of real-time and sensitive apps.


What is MPLS?

From the perspective of Layer 2 Ethernet or Layer 3 Virtual Private Networks, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a label-switched-path network paradigm in which data packets travel a pre-defined, private route straight to their destination (VPNs). These label-switched pathways may be statically constructed to route traffic around crowded areas of a network in a low-latency, end-to-end manner.


MPLS services are isolated from the internet and other MPLS services on the carrier's network and can be thought of as dedicated services with SLAs for packet loss, jitter, and latency. Typically outsourced and managed by service providers guaranteeing network performance, quality, and availability, because MPLS is essentially a private network it is considered reliable and secure, but also expensive. 


Key Differences Between SD-WAN and MPLS 

SD-WAN and MPLS vary in that SD-WAN virtualizes network services so that they may operate as software on commodity hardware, whereas MPLS requires specialized hardware. SD-WAN technology has several advantages over MPLS technology. The following are a few of them:

  • MPLS has a long provisioning time as compared to SD-WAN technology, which provides an efficient alternative with a short setup time.
  • When compared to MPLS, SD-WAN technology is more secure.
  • In comparison to MPLS, which has limited insight into application performance, SD-WAN technology enables in-depth Application-Level Visibility.
  • When compared to SD-WAN technologies, MPLS bandwidth scaling takes longer.
  • SD-WAN's "zero-touch provisioning" (a.k.a. ZTP) eliminates the difficulties of manual MPLS configuration.
  • SD-WAN provides superior administration due to centralized device control, as opposed to MPLS, which has dispersed control over a range of networking equipment.
  • SD-WAN technology is less expensive than MPLS since it uses fewer internet connections.

With these differences in mind, let’s take a look at some reasons why SD-WAN is superior to MPLS in a majority of use cases.


SD-WAN VS. MPLS Cost Comparison

As organizations previously connected remote branches and retail locations to the central data center through a hub and spoke WAN model that relied on individual MPLS connections, requiring all data, workflows, transactions, including access to cloud-based services or the internet and traffic to be backhauled to the data center for processing and redistribution, compared to SD-WAN, MPLS proves to be extremely cost-inefficient. By providing optimized, multi-point connectivity using distributed, private data traffic exchange and control points enabling users with secure, local access to the services they need - network or cloud- while also securing direct access to cloud and internet resources, SD-WAN reduces costs.


MPLS bandwidth is not cheap. The cost of internet bandwidth is low. Because SD-WAN allows customers to set up failover between various lines, they may take advantage of low-cost Internet bandwidth without losing dependability. By abandoning MPLS, enterprises avoid paying for specialized provider circuits and services. While MPLS circuits have their place in the WAN, the majority of them may be retired and replaced by broadband or LTE connections. MPLS circuits are significantly more expensive than traditional modes of transmission. Furthermore, geographic location might increase the cost of MPLS lines.


SD-WAN Pros & Cons

Pros of SD-WAN

  • Many IT companies now provide SD-WAN solutions to help enterprises manage their increasingly distant and sophisticated networks. SD-WAN offers a number of advantages to its consumers.
  • Many SD-WAN devices offer ZTP, which means they may be supplied to your location straight from the factory without any configuration.
  • SD-WAN may create a private overlay over any network transport type, including public internet, private MPLS, and a mix of the two. Users may acquire more bandwidth at a cheaper total cost with enhanced security by combining multiple forms of network transport under this flexible paradigm.
  • By default, most SD-WAN solutions have a centralized management system that includes automation, security, and application-level visibility. This eliminates the requirement for SD-WAN devices to be integrated into another vendor's network management system, saving time and money.


Cons of SD-WAN

  • SD-WAN, like any new investment, may increase expenses in the short term, but it can bring operational efficiency and savings in the long run as implementation costs are amortized. While core WAN circuit prices are unlikely to alter in the near term, additional software licenses for this new layer of software may be required.
  • Because of the new approach to WAN administration, SD-WAN radically upends the WAN status quo and will necessitate extensive training for IT personnel.
  • Troubleshooting gets more difficult with SD-WAN since it involves both an underlay and an overlay in the WAN service.


MPLS Pros & Cons

Pros of MPLS

  • MPLS may be used to provide a dedicated private service with throughput, latency, and jitter SLAs.
  • MPLS can simply deploy WAN architectures with static and predictable requirements; an MPLS-enabled site with a simple redundancy design of two MPLS connections is straightforward to both construct and manage.
  • MPLS network capacity is maintained in a proactive way, and end-to-end latency is carefully monitored to ensure channels are free of congestion and faults are repaired as soon as they occur.


Cons of MPLS

  • Because MPLS is designed for point-to-point connectivity rather than point-to-cloud communication, it cannot immediately access any cloud or SaaS application.
  • It necessitates WAN optimization to expedite delivery, which adds to the expense of an already expensive system.
  • MPLS deployment takes a lengthy time, especially when offices are dispersed across many states or countries. Each new location might take anything from six to eight months to get up and operating.
  • Because there is little competition in the market, the price is high.


Secure SD-WAN Offers Better Protection Than MPLS

The biggest benefit of SD-WAN is security virtualization. Network designs that combine security, policy, and orchestration are preferred by today's businesses. By combining secure connectivity options, SD-WAN security covers those bases. End-to-end encryption throughout the whole network, including the internet, is an advantage of the SD-WAN design. Thanks to scalable key-exchange functionality and software-defined security, all devices and endpoints are fully authorized.


SD-WAN Delivers Greater Performance Than MPLS

MPLS delivers a consistent, constant level of bandwidth in terms of performance. While this may appear to be a benefit, today's traffic has very variable performance needs. Because of this, organizations must lease their MPLS connection for their worst-case traffic load situations, which means that pricey bandwidth is often unused, and the MPLS connection may be constraining network connectivity at other times—due to the constantly expanding volume of data generated by modern networks and devices.


In fact, some MPLS connections offer a sliding scale of connectivity, but even this is restricted owing to its inability to comprehend the nature of the traffic it is carrying and make dynamic modifications as needed.


When MPLS May Be Better Than SD-WAN Alone

There are a few instances where MPLS may be preferable over SD-WAN alone. MPLS, for example, provides a clean and secure connection that is particularly useful for specific types of data, applications, and transactions, particularly where high levels of integrity and privacy are required.


This is not an either-or situation, though, because MPLS is an option offered to every SD-WAN system. SD-WAN may be deployed over an MPLS connection to give greater protection and capability than an MPLS solution alone, even when MPLS is substantially less expensive or when concerns about security or dependability are more relevant than cost differences.


Secure SD-WAN Wins Over MPLS In Almost Any Scenario

While MPLS may seem better than SD-WAN alone, secure SD-WAN wins over MPLS in almost every possible use case in terms of performance.


Many factors influence the optimal connection fit, including the geographic distance between corporate headquarters and regional offices, the operational budget, compliance requirements, flexibility requirements, and so on. However, there is always one constant: security. The best choice emphasizes not just network connectivity and WAN optimization, but also puts data security at the top of everyone's priorities.


As the vector connecting organizations to the enablement and benefits of cloud, multicloud usage and operational efficiency through the reduction of costs, centralized observability, and subsequent increased security, SD-WAN remains the best option when considering which WAN architecture to choose for an organization.


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