Why it’s finally time to leave MPLS behind

The enterprise WAN has seen a significant shift in performance demands over the last decade. The rise in popularity of edge, mobile, and cloud computing require a level of flexibility that wasn’t needed only a few years earlier. Applications become more bandwidth intensive on what seems to be a daily basis. It has seemingly become clear that legacy WAN technologies, like MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) simply aren’t the right fit for the modern WAN.

However, while many have already jumped off the MPLS bandwagon and embraced, or at least acknowledged the benefits of SD-WAN as a more modern solution, the MPLS vs SD-WAN debate hasn’t died off completely.

In this piece, we’ll aim to put the arguments in favor of MPLS to rest and explain why premium cloud-based SDWaaS (SD-WAN as a Service) helps address many of the counterarguments MPLS proponents raise against SD-WAN.

Why MPLS doesn’t make sense for the modern WAN

MPLS saw its surge in popularity occur in the early 2000s. Providing a reliable and high-performance, albeit expensive, means of connectivity between a few fixed locations (e.g. branch offices and a corporate datacenter), MPLS solved the WAN problems of the time. The primary use case for MPLS at that time looked something like this:

  • Users are in fixed locations
  • Applications are hosted within the corporate network
  • Business needs are relatively static and slow to change

Up until the end of the 2000s, many WANs fit this general description and MPLS was far and away the go to WAN solution. However, as mobile usage and cloud computing exploded, MPLS began to look like a dated technology.

At a high-level there are three primary reasons MPLS doesn’t work optimally with the demands of the modern WAN:

  1. MPLS isn’t flexible enough for mobile and cloud users and often requires inefficient “backhauling” of Internet-bound traffic to specific corporate endpoints creating the “trombone routing” problem.
  2. MPLS bandwidth is significantly more expensive than Internet bandwidth, and paying for MPLS bandwidth to then send the traffic on to the Internet is wasteful.
  3. Using MPLS to meet flexible routing demands is difficult.

While MPLS providers have tried to put a Band-Aid on these problems using various appliances and WAN optimization techniques, they all fall short of resolving the underlying fundamental problems that exist with MPLS.

The benefits of SD-WAN

In short, SD-WAN inherently solves the aforementioned flexibility and cost problems. For example, SD-WAN allows enterprises to use the best transport method (e.g. cable, ASDL, 4G, etc.) for a given job, update routes based specific circumstances, and shape traffic (e.g. using QoS) as needed. This allows for better ROI on bandwidth investments and improves performance for cloud-based workloads and mobile users. Additionally, the software defined nature of SD-WAN enables enterprises to get greater flexibility and granularity in control than is possible with MPLS routing. This can be a huge value add for enterprises that must keep up with the rapidly changing and dynamic nature of cloud and mobile computing.

Debunking the counterarguments against SD-WAN with SDWaaS

Despite the obvious advantages of SD-WAN over MPLS for modern WAN workloads, many supporters of MPLS pointed to the reliability and “security” of MPLS as reasons to stick with the older WAN technology. However, premium, cloud-based SDWaaS directly addresses these points and makes the counterpoints moot.

Premium SDWaaS is an SLA-backed service with a global backbone that consists of multiple Points of Presence (PoPs) supported by Tier 1 ISPs (Internet Service Providers). This helps SDWaaS provide reliability and performance that is generally on-par with MPLS, and outperform MPLS when it comes to cloud and mobile.

The “security” argument in favor of MPLS is a bit of a misnomer to begin with as MPLS is really only viewed as secure because it’s dedicated. MPLS traffic is generally unencrypted so any security provided is via the inherent isolation (which goes away once the traffic heads to the cloud) or additional security appliances. On the other hand, premium SDWaaS has advanced security is built-in. Premium SDWaaS includes a full network security stack with features like intelligent next-gen firewall, secure web gateway, anti-malware services, and an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS). Since the security is integrated with the network services in the SDWaaS paradigm, scalability and manageability are significantly easier than the “additional appliance” MPLS approach to security

SDWaaS outperforms MPLS when it comes to the modern enterprise WAN

At this point, the benefits of SD-WAN, particularly premium SDWaaS should be clear. While MPLS solves a specific set of problems, those problems are no longer the ones that need solving on modern WANs. A more flexible, dynamic, WAN solution is required to meet the demands of mobile and cloud users while still supporting traditional WAN endpoints like corporate datacenters and branch offices. With SDWaaS, not only can enterprises meet the demands of the modern WAN, they can address the counterpoints raised by MPLS proponents and deploy reliable, SLA-backed, and secure SD-WAN solutions.

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