What is MPLS?
Multi-protocol label switching, that venerable WAN workhorse launched at the turn of the century, addresses this problem by establishing pre-determined, highly efficient routes. With MPLS, the first time a packet enters the network, it’s assigned to a specific forwarding equivalence class (FEC), indicated by appending a short bit sequence (the label) to the packet.
The Challenges with MPLS
As more and more companies turn to enterprise SaaS for business productivity, there’s in turn an increased demand for reliable connectivity. Today, the internet is unpredictable – from outages to latency issues – there’s no way to guarantee service uptime 100% of the time. Therefore, these applications are not globally scalable over the web – despite what we might want to believe.
Historically, companies turned to MPLS to ensure SLAs, QoS, and stable connectivity. Multi-protocol label switching, however, is not designed for direct connectivity to SaaS-based applications and services. As such, MPLS causes more problems than it is worth for network engineers who seek to streamline their organization’s networking infrastructure.
With MPLS, data must be backhauled in order to connect to SaaS platforms, which inevitably means that end users can’t make use of infrastructure optimizations when the connection goes through that process. For all intents and purposes, MPLS has become the costly analog in contrast to the rise of the web’s digital, distributed self.
SD-WAN virtualizes network function running on network infrastructure so it can run as software on hardware. In contrast, MPLS technology runs on proprietary hardware. Thus, SD-WAN connections can be dedicated lines or public networks while the alternative is defined by its dedicated lines.
Unlike MPLS, however, SD-WAN comes with no bandwidth restrictions. Both internet broadband and cellular connections are less expensive than MPLS, so corporations can choose those links instead of an expensive MPLS network for certain types of traffic.
SD-WAN offers myriad benefits, from cost and flexibility to ease of deployment and improved security. As such, companies are turning to SD-WAN in droves. MPLS will always be in demand, particularly for organizations with specific connectivity and security requirements. When organizations are deciding between the two approaches, however, it’s imperative they lay out the pros and cons as they pertain to the users’ network needs.
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