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What is SD-WAN and is it better than MPLS?

8 March 2024
Melanie Gomersall

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Telecom Egypt
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SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) is a technology that manages wide area networks by using software to control the connectivity, management, and services between data centers and remote branches or cloud instances. Unlike MPLS, SD-WAN uses the internet or cloud-native private networks to connect users to applications, offering more flexibility and often at a lower cost.

SD-WAN and MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) are two different technologies used for connecting various parts of a network, especially in enterprise environments. While they serve similar purposes, they operate in distinct ways and have different strengths and weaknesses.

MPLS: Strengths and Limitations

MPLS is known for its reliability, predictable performance, and quality of service (QoS) capabilities. It provides efficient, secure, and direct routes for data packets across the network, which is particularly beneficial for applications that require consistent bandwidth and low latency, such as voice and video conferencing.

However, MPLS has some limitations. It is generally more expensive than other solutions due to the cost of leasing dedicated lines from service providers. Additionally, MPLS is less flexible when it comes to rapidly changing network topologies and demands, as it requires manual configuration and typically involves long provisioning times.

SD-WAN: Strengths and Limitations

SD-WAN offers a more flexible and cost-effective approach to managing wide area networks. It allows businesses to control and optimize traffic across multiple connection types, from broadband to LTE, based on current network conditions and business policies. This flexibility can lead to cost savings, improved application performance, and better overall network management.

However, SD-WAN might not match MPLS in terms of raw performance and predictability, especially over long distances or in environments where network quality is inconsistent. While SD-WAN provides tools to mitigate poor quality connections, such as path selection and traffic shaping, it relies on the underlying internet connections, which can be less reliable than MPLS circuits.

Is SD-WAN more secure than MPLS?

Both MPLS and SD-WAN can provide high levels of security. MPLS inherently isolates each customer’s data, while SD-WAN offers advanced encryption and security protocols. The choice between them should be based on the specific security needs and architecture of your network.

How do I choose between MPLS and SD-WAN for my business?

The choice between MPLS and SD-WAN depends on your business’s specific needs, such as budget constraints, performance requirements, security needs, and the geographical distribution of your network. Assessing these factors can help determine which technology, or combination of technologies, is best suited for your network infrastructure.

Can SD-WAN Replace MPLS?

The answer depends on the specific requirements and context of the network:

Cost and Flexibility: If cost reduction and flexibility are primary concerns, SD-WAN might be a suitable replacement for MPLS. It can reduce reliance on expensive leased lines and adapt more quickly to changing network needs.
Performance Needs: For applications that require guaranteed performance and low latency, MPLS might still be the better choice. However, some businesses use SD-WAN in conjunction with cheaper internet connections to create a hybrid model that balances cost and performance.
Security and QoS: While MPLS is considered secure and provides excellent QoS, SD-WAN also offers robust security features and the ability to prioritize traffic. The decision here would depend on the specific security and QoS needs of the enterprise.
Geographical Considerations: For global enterprises, MPLS may provide better performance internationally, while SD-WAN could be more efficient for connecting sites that are in regions with reliable internet services.

In conclusion, SD-WAN could replace MPLS in scenarios where the benefits of SD-WAN align with the organization’s priorities, such as cost savings, flexibility, and improved management of multiple connection types. However, for networks that require the high performance, reliability, and QoS guarantees of MPLS, a hybrid approach might be the most effective solution. Ultimately, the decision should be based on a thorough assessment of the network’s needs, costs, and performance requirements.

VC4 – We understand SD-WAN and how to maximize it for your needs

Choosing between MPLS and SD-WAN can be a complex decision. However, adopting a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approach for Network Inventory Management can offer valuable advantages regardless of your choice.

SaaS solutions typically offer scalability, high availability, and cost-effectiveness. This can help address potential limitations or cost concerns associated with either MPLS or SD-WAN.

For organizations prioritizing reliability and Quality of Service (QoS), MPLS might be preferable. However, incorporating a SaaS-based Network Inventory Management system can still significantly improve operational efficiency and financial prudence.

By implementing a suitable inventory management system, organizations can:

  • Gain better visibility and control over their network assets.
  • Simplify network management and automate tasks.
  • Reduce operational costs and improve resource allocation.

Remember, the best approach for your network depends on your specific needs and priorities. Consider consulting with network experts to explore your options and determine the most suitable solution for your organization.

VC4 specializes in delivering Inventory Management Solutions tailored for telecom networks, utilities, smart cities, NRENs, greenfield projects, and more. The IMS is modular and crafted with a deep understanding of how technologies like SD-WAN integrate into intricate network architectures. VC4’s IMS (Inventory Management Solution) is adept at tracking and managing not only physical components but also the logical layers within which MPLS operates.