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SD-WAN vs MPLS – What’s The Difference?

Network connectivity is critical to most businesses in today’s cloud-based technology. The ability to extend that connection across multiple sites, data centres, remote branches, and cloud resources is equally important for many companies. This network of access points is known as a wide area network (WAN), a structure that connects users remotely.

When considering their WAN architecture, businesses must understand the importance of careful planning and evaluation in their decision-making process. As with any other investment decision, they must research the wide area network solutions on offer and fully appraise the options available in terms of how well they are suited to their own network requirements, this is often done as part of a wifi survey.

The Evolution of Hardware-Based Networking

MPLS, or Multi-Protocol Label Switching, was developed in 1997. It is a hardware-based system that uses labels to transfer data packets directly from one node to another without bouncing data around the Internet before it reaches its destination. For this reason, it is a fast, efficient and secure method of connecting users. The network is predefined and exclusive, allowing users to experience high resolution and reduced latency. For these reasons, it has been the standard choice for organisations needing a wide-area network.

However, the digital landscape has evolved significantly since the introduction of MPLS 26 years ago. We now operate in a cloud environment where the fast, flexible, and secure data exchange around an organisation is crucial. This network must extend to all users of companies’ data for it to remain competitive. The volume of internet data is unrecognisable now, and recent demands have prompted a new player to enter the market, using software-based technology to connect users.

SD-WAN: The Preferred Solution for Modern Networking

What is SD-WAN? Software-defined wide area network, or SD-WAN, connects users remotely from a central point. This allows a company to operate efficiently, as changes can be made, new features can be installed, and the network can be extended easily.

It offers an improved user experience, as data is directed using the fastest, shortest, most reliable and cost-effective path. SD-WAN offers a similar solution to MPLS, but it is software-defined, and existing hardware can be used. This drastically reduces the cost of implementation. It is a flexible solution; there is no need for on-site installation and security experts. The network is easy to scale remotely, increasing uniformity across an organisation.

Software-defined wide area network, or SD-WAN, is the preferred solution for many companies now for these reasons.

The Pros and Cons of SD-WAN and MPLS


COST MPLS requires a dedicated hardware infrastructure. Purchase and installation costs are high and the return on investment is lengthy compared to SD-WAN. The number of branches/connections required increases this investment cost exponentially. SD-WAN does not require specialised hardware to operate. Existing network hardware can often be utilised. SD-WAN is scalable without the need for huge investment in hardware. There are no expensive engineer visits as everything can be completed centrally.

This cloud-based installation and management is a major benefit of SD-WAN vs MPLS.

SECURITY MPLS provides a secure and managed connection between users and the central router. It is inherently secure as data does not travel via the public internet.

Data is not encrypted automatically but MPLS does support encryption.

SD-WAN requires a level of integrated security to protect data as it travels through the public internet. Designing security at the time of implementation will be much easier and provide better results.
FLEXIBILITY MPLS can be costly in terms of making changes and scaling up. Multiple site visits are necessary to roll changes out across branches and depots.  As a software-based solution, SD-WAN can benefit from all connectivity providers, including broadband, 5G, and private networks. It is managed centrally, and additions/alterations need only be made once. They are then rolled out to all users, creating a uniform environment. 
SPEED MPLS bandwidth uses T1 lines, with limited Mbps capability. These were not designed to support the boom in video traffic, and remote working experienced from 2020. SD-WAN directs internet traffic through the fastest and most efficient route, improving bandwidth and user experience.


Where Does SASE Fit In?

SASE (Secure Access Service Edge) is an alternative network solution to MLPS. Its purpose is to create a secure wide-area network. SASE is built around a Zero-Trust ethos and assumes that all network traffic is untrustworthy unless proven otherwise. SD-WAN and SASE are complementary products, offering a secure, powerful solution to network connectivity.

SASE technology continues to evolve and now incorporates artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve network performance.

Which WAN?

Both MPLS and SD-WAN can be used to connect a wide area network. Indeed, if specific attributes are required, the benefits of both can be exploited. So, the decision is not to use one or the other but to create a WAN architecture tailored to your company’s needs. Speak to me or our team of Wi-Fi specialists here at Performance Networks to discuss your WAN requirements now. We’ll help you make the right decision, ensuring your business Wi-Fi solution is optimal.

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