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For years MPLS networks have been the go-to technology for businesses looking to deploy wide-area networking (WAN) solutions. However, the landscape of multi-site networks is currently going through its biggest change in a generation through the introduction of SD-WAN. As we explore the MPLS vs SD-WAN debate, we will define each of the technologies and weigh up the benefits of each, with a focused analysis on how SD-WAN solves issues that have been associated with MPLS

What is MPLS?

MPLS stands for multi-protocol label switching – it is a type of network infrastructure that pre-determines the “route” internet traffic takes. The biggest driver behind it? To keep data private and secure. Instead of routing traffic over the public internet and bouncing from data centre to data centre and router to router, you employ a private network that pre-determines that the traffic must be sent via a specific route – between your offices and sites which keeps all the traffic private and in-house. 

Think about a car journey from London to Birmingham – when planning the route you would choose the most direct and quickest path, rather than having a random route given to you and going on a whistle-stop tour of England and arriving at your destination hours late.

Businesses with branch offices/multiple sites have employed MPLS as a wide area network to ensure their sites can communicate effectively and transfer data in both a secure and low latency manner.

MPLS has been the go-to technology for businesses looking for a traditional WAN network for several years.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN stands for software-defined wide area networks. It is a WAN technology that uses software to control connectivity, management and services between sites such as data centres, main and remote branches and cloud instances. 

Depending on the vendor and client configuration, an SD-WAN deployment might comprise conventional routers and switches or virtualised customer premises equipment (vCPE) that are all running some form of software that handles policy, security, networking operations, and other management tools.

What SD-WAN offers that MPLS can’t?

Some of the biggest business benefits of SD-WAN and SDN (Software Defined Networking) solve some of the drawbacks of MPLS. Here are a few advantages of SD-WAN vs MPLS: 

  • Carrier Independent – With MPLS connections, businesses have to use a private circuit from their MPLS provider, however, with an SD-WAN network, businesses have the freedom to use Internet Services and connectivity from any service provider. With SD-WAN you can even combine underlay technologies such as Ethernet, broadband Internet, Full Fibre and 4G LTE. As the UK is currently undergoing mass changes and development in its internet infrastructure, with privately funded full-fibre networks to boost broadband connectivity speeds, the ability to combine these onto one network is one of the main reasons SD-WAN is expected to become the new technology for Wide Area Networks. 
  • Next-Generation Security – Whilst not all SD-WAN systems are the same, many, including SD-WAN from Stream ensure your network is secure by automatically packaging in next-generation security features and functionality. These include advanced threat protection, application security, virtual & physical firewalls and data centre and edge protection technologies. The SD-WAN connects securely to your internal infrastructure by IPSEC VPN over GRE Tunnels, this ensures that your WAN connections are secure and that WAN security is not neglected for better overall performance.
  • Application Performance – Whilst MPLS circuits use QoS (quality of service) protocols to guarantee/save bandwidth to critical applications, SD-WAN goes one step further by using Application Quality of Experience (AppQoE) – a combination of Application Identification (AppID) to identify specific applications and Advanced policy-based (APBR) to specify a path for the traffic. The SD-WAN network will then automatically route traffic per Service level agreements (SLAs) based on metrics such as latency, packet loss, jitter, round trip time and link utilisation.  This ensures specific applications have their performance optimised which in turn boosts user experience, business efficiency and overall network performance whether you are connecting to a data centre, HQ, branch sites or remote users, SD-WAN provides a Quality of Experience for applications running across your network.
  • Cost-savings – With more internet-facing applications and services, the demand for bandwidth in today’s business networks is ever-increasing. SD-WAN takes advantage of low-cost generic internet access, which is available at a significantly lower cost per megabit than MPLS making SD-WAN a more cost-effective solution. 
  • Scalability and control with Network Orchestration and SASE- The biggest bug-bear of network managers across the world is the length of time it takes to implement changes on an MPLS network. Whether this is adding a new site to the network, updating security rules, or implementing routing changes, the process is lengthy and has to be led by the MPLS provider. With SD-WAN, network managers are empowered with web-based network automation and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) technology where they can control the network, monitor network traffic in real-time, conduct network maintenance, view security events, security logs and also add new sites to their WAN architecture using zero-touch provision (ZTP) protocols.
  • Ascent of Cloud Applications – Not only is the business world more dependent on the internet, but we are also increasingly reliant on cloud applications. Due to the popularity of SaaS applications such as Microsoft 365, Zoom, VoIP, Compared to MPLS, SD-WAN is a cloud-ready network meaning is the perfect fit for a business that use a variety of cloud technologies.

Stream networks have a wide variety of SD-WAN solutions, all of which are available for personalised demonstrations. Please contact us on 01635 884170 or email sales@Stream-networks.co.uk to book.

For more information, or to talk to one of our experts about making an MPLS vs SD-WAN decision for your business, please contact us by calling 01635 884170 or sales@stream-networks.co.uk

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