SD-WAN or MPLS – Which is better?
The proliferation and maturation of network technology enthused multiple opinions among the vendors about the benefit and worth of SD-WAN and MPLS in the present era. Since most opinions revolve around the inception of the latest technology overpowering the preceding ones, it is anticipated that SD-WAN would take over the MPLS in the near future. However, keeping in mind the composition, purpose, and usage of both networks, it doesn’t seem likely that SD-WAN may completely overshadow MPLS because of its contemporary nature. Both SD-WAN and MPLS are the solutions designed to achieve high performance and reliable network connectivity, yet they adopt a varied approach in achieving that. Thus, to understand more about the SD-WAN and MPLS network, this article would discuss how SD-WAN operates compared to MPLS.
SD-WAN software-defined vast area network is a virtual overlay technology composed of tunnels carrying the traffic over multiple underlays, usually a hybrid of extant carrier service and unmanaged connection via the public internet. SD-WAN is a conjunction of four technological trends involving software-defined networks in wide area networks (WANs), commodity hardware for customer premise equipment, Internet connectivity for business application, and IT hybrid multi-cloud migration.
While on the contrary, MPLS Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) acts as an underlay that sits beneath to provide connectivity for an SD-WAN network. It is a protocol that controls the flow of traffic over a network through short path labels instead of the network address, enabling the quick and smooth flow to its destination with reliability.
The functioning of the networks:
SD-WAN can function through any number of connection types and manage the traffic flow. However, the combination of the connection types is highly dependent on the application environment and business purposes. Since SD-WAN is the software instead of hardware, it can easily be implemented, scaled, and managed at minimal cost and time.
On the other hand, MPLS needs physical circuits to be installed at the site of connections, which initiates MPLS virtual private network (VPN) between the sites by segregating the traffic from the rest of the public internet. Precisely, the working of MPLS is similar to network routers, which shifts and deliver the traffic based on its priority and destination. Since MPLS uses the fixed and efficient routes through a private network, giving users the advantage of avoiding real-time traffic directed to the destination using the low latency route, this isn’t easy to achieve using traditional routing.
Privacy and security:
SD-WAN protects the network from vulnerabilities; however, the security level is not at par with the MPLS. As there is a need to incorporate integrated security, and security and network functions need to be managed through a single integrated platform.
In contrast, MPLS provides complete control to the user over which application gets the bandwidth priority, therefore, ensuring the critical service platform as desired. However, without this feature, the applications tend to compete for the same bandwidth.
SD-WAN is flexible and has a fast implementation. It provides quick connectivity to the network at any location where it might be challenging to reach via MPLS circuits for either financial or technical reasons. Thus, to complement the existing MPLS network, SD-WAN can add the services quickly.
MPLS connections are rigid and fixed that can’t adapt to the change in connectivity between the branch offices, which technically is the need of current dynamic networks. Moreover, it provides a protected and robust VPN for inter-site connectivity. This technology avoids purchasing and managing multiple firewalls, as the traffic is routed within the secure virtual private network. Consequently, the use of a router minimizes the need for firewall installation.
SD-WAN is a flexible and reliable solution. It adopts multiplexing to use multiple devices with the same connection without hindering access to other devices. Thus, applying SD-WAN incrementally to ensure the network failure only affects a single connection and not the entire network. Furthermore, integration of path conditioning provides a private connection over the public internet; it defends the network from negative effects of dropped packets that commonly occur in broadband connections.
Reliability is the most critical aspect of MPLS as it can steadfastly transfer the packets to their destination. MPLS offers high-quality services to avoid losing packets and keeping the traffic flowing. Thus, reliability is quintessential to maintain the quality of real-time protocols. This use of labels is an underlying factor in making MPLS reliable as these labels isolated the packets for delivery. Also, the MPLS assigns priority to specific network traffic, which brings the sense of predictability within the network; hence the packets travel only along the predetermined path to which they are directed.
SD-WAN is less expensive than MPLS as customers can upgrade it conveniently by adding new links without any necessary change of infrastructure or network required. Moreover, it does not charge any bandwidth penalties. Possibly the central selling point for SD-WAN is the ability to match the network links according to content priority in a cost-effective manner. Both internet broadband and cellular connections are less costly than MPLS, increasing the likelihood of customers choosing SD-WAN over MPLS. In comparison, MPLS is expensive with respect to the consumer’s increased interest in bandwidth-hogging multimedia content. Thus, a high per-megabit cost that MPLS demands can be out of reach. Also, MPLS doesn’t offer built-in data protection, which, if incorrectly implemented, can increase network vulnerability.
Any user, either in the manufacturing company or media firm, providing high quality and secured service is the focal point. Therefore, choosing between SD-WAN or MPLS would not defy the need for another. The key is to have the right mix of MPLS for the bandwidth priority application and SD-WAN for low priority application and wireless connections. The smart way to direct the traffic would provide long term advantage to the user.