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The pros and cons of SD-WAN vs. MPLS

The rise of software-defined WAN has caused many organizations to debate SD-WAN vs. MPLS architecture. While each technology has its pros and cons, perhaps the two can work well together. This video explores the differences and similarities between SD-WAN and MPLS.

SD-WAN doesn't have to be an internet-based technology. SD-WAN vendors and providers support SD-WAN functionality across any connectivity type, including MPLS and virtual private LAN service. A lot of provider and vendor marketing describes how MPLS is finished or doomed, but the reality is private-based networking should form a component of good WAN architecture.

The video also covers the drivers behind SD-WAN deployment and explains why the adoption rate is increasing. A major factor in the SD-WAN vs. MPLS debate is the tangible benefits SD-WAN offers to enterprises. These benefits include cost savings, cloud application access, granular security, extensive reporting and ease of management.

SD-WAN benefits can reduce the need for MPLS, but IT teams still need to consider the privacy and end-to-end quality of service offered by private networking products. In general, MPLS is positioned to offer the most comprehensive service-level agreement (SLA) compared with internet-based SD-WAN. Your organization needs to determine if a thorough SLA outweighs the overall benefits of using public IP connectivity.

SD-WAN represents the future of networking, but the technology does not have to represent an internet-only technology. Organizations should align their business considerations across strategy, budget and technical requirements. Often, the result is a hybrid architecture that can encompass everything SD-WAN offers across all connectivity types.

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Transcript - The pros and cons of SD-WAN vs. MPLS

I'm Robert Sturt from The Network Union. In this video, I'm going to talk about the high-level differences of MPLS vs. SD-WAN.

The first point to make is that SD-WAN doesn't have to be an internet technology. Providers and vendors support software-defined WAN functionality with any connectivity type, which, of course, includes MPLS. That said, it is fair to say certain vendors, such as Meraki, are much more aligned to internet-based services.

You'll no doubt have read that MPLS is doomed, finished, dead and all kinds of depressing stuff. But the reality is private-based WAN services should -- and do -- form a component of good network architecture.

The SD-WAN internet-based VPN positives are clear. Using the internet or public IP backbone means cloud-based applications are much more accessible. Secure internet means users can connect securely from wherever they are located on a global basis. And, of course, there's the cost-saving element -- using the internet often results in a significant price reduction versus MPLS.

If you start comparing MPLS versus the flexibility and agility of internet-based SD-WAN, you'll start to really get the idea why it's easy for SD-WAN providers to talk about MPLS as the older, more expensive technology. You read a significant amount of content on various blogs saying how MPLS is in decline because it is so expensive and restrictive.

Companies are adopting SD-WAN primarily for cost saving but also internet-based resilience. So, think of 4G and 5G -- when it's available -- as well as broadband and, of course, public-based cloud applications. But there are other major benefits, such as granular reporting, the ability to self-manage services, granular security and application performance monitoring, which vendors and providers are saying is so good you just simply do not require the end-to-end QoS of MPLS.

Your IT team needs to understand the fundamental differences here. An MPLS circuit typically offers an end-to-end SLA that includes latency and jitter performance as a proper business SLA, with the ability to protect your application traffic using quality of service. And you just don't get those kinds of guarantees using the internet. The fact is, though, internet is much more robust and scalable versus even a few years ago. So, it's now very much a viable platform for sending mission-critical and delay-sensitive application traffic from site to site. So, that MPLS QoS argument is starting to lose its appeal.

Perhaps an overlooked area is support. Remember those cost savings using the internet? We've got to think about the difference between internet-based support fix times and support times you're used to with MPLS. When the service is in an outage situation, would you rather deal with a network operations center supporting MPLS? Or are you willing to put the business at risk by dealing with that cheap and cheerful ISP [internet service provider], even if it is fronted by an SD-WAN provider? Now, of course, it isn't fair to say that all ISP services do not offer good support. But, remember, the lower end of the market in respect to cost may be somewhat different to the MPLS support that you're used to.

The global enterprise also needs to consider the performance of internet as a backbone between continents. So, where possible, a single, global public IP backbone will offer good end-to-end performance. But using multiple ISPs to save money could put you in a whole world of pain as your traffic traverses those multiple ISPs and suffers poor latency and jitter performance, not to mention support.

So, SD-WAN represents the here and now and the future of networking, all at once. But, remember, a good hybrid architecture can encompass all that SD-WAN offers, and MPLS can be another component of your WAN. It is, as ever, about aligning your business requirements with the right service -- across technical, across strategy and support and budget. So, check with your prospective SD-WAN provider and vendor on how they can integrate MPLS into your overall architecture.

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