MPLS Replacement solutions
MPLS vs. SD-WAN
SD-WAN is the application of Software Defined Networking (SDN) concepts to the WAN. This means the deployment of SD-WAN edge devices that apply rules and policies to send traffic along the best path.
SD-WAN is a transport-agnostic overlay that can route any type of traffic, including MPLS. The advantage of SD-WAN is that an enterprise WAN-traffic architect can sit at a central point and easily apply policies across all WAN devices.
By contrast, with MPLS, predetermined routes need to be painstakingly provisioned but once in place are rarely changed. So once the fixed circuits are up, making changes is not point-and-click.
SD-WAN is less expensive to deploy and operate than MPLS so if you are installng a greenfield network it could present a better option. Lightyear’s WAN connectivity pricing guide pegs the average monthly recurring cost of 100 Mbps MPLS connection at $1,277, where as SD-WAN at similar speeds only costs $300-$500 per month on average.
Many network professionals look at MPLS and SD-WAN as an either-or proposition. There’s strong marketing momentum behind SD-WANs, and it’s coming at MPLS’s expense. MPLS usage dropped 24% from 2019 to 2020; in that same time period, the number of enterprises using some form of SD-WAN spiked from 18% to 43%, and interest was further driven by the need to connect datacenters to home workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
So is SD-WAN inevitably going to kill MPLS? We believe the two can coexist, with MPLS’s role changing. Small and mid-size businesses can likely sunset MPLS and shift solely to an all-broadband WAN as many consider an all-cloud IT model.
Larger enterprises and carriers, who have invested into MPLS networking, will likely take a hybrid approach, where they will keep MPLS for legacy apps that run on-net and then offload Internet traffic, like cloud, to the SD-WAN. Businesses already have hybrid compute, storage, and applications, so hybrid WAN networks won’t be anything too strange.
MPLS will continue to have a role connecting specific point-to-point locations, like large regional offices, retail facilities with point-of-sale systems, regional manufacturing facilities, and multiple data centers. MPLS is well suited for real-time applications like telepresence. And as Verizon (an MPLS provider, and ibm/SEIMless partner admittedly) points out, SD-WAN can actually help you get the most out of your MPLS connection. After all, SD-WAN’s promise is that it dynamically routes network traffic in the most efficient way possible to meet your quality of service requirements for various applications, and it can certainly use your MPLS connection to do so. ibm/SEIMless and Exodus have advanced the SD-WAN story to QRSD-WAN as part of its QRN Suite of services. This next generation of Software Defined transport is delivering on promise and exceeding expectations in ways never imagined before.