A quick scan of the headlines these days reveals a lot of chatter over the benefits of replacing legacy MPLS services with more flexible MPLS alternatives like SD-WAN. While it is true that SD-WAN is an appealing technology that delivers branch-office connectivity in a simplified and cost-effective manner compared with traditional routers, it is not likely to replace MPLS entirely.
Why Deploy MPLS Alternatives Like SD-WAN
You may find this odd given the rapid rise that SD-WAN has seen in just the past few years. Gartner says SD-WAN will grow to become a $1.3 billion market by 2021, growing at a 59% CAGR. At the same time, the overall branch office router market will take a steep drop.
The key driver, of course, is the emerging dominance of cloud-based applications, data storage, and compute. As branch traffic flows shift from the headquarters data center to the cloud, it’s inefficient to backhaul all traffic through the HQ.
At the same time, many organizations are embarking on digital transformation initiatives. In many cases, this comes with the need for intelligent management platforms and advanced analytics to ensure optimal support for both back-office and customer-facing workloads.
On top of this is the spread of IoT, which requires dynamic, high-speed networking between devices, the edge, the cloud and the data center.
MPLS Doesn’t Fit The New WAN Realities
So given all that, how does a dusty old networking solution like MPLS fit in?
The key thing to remember is that this is not a stark choice. There are pros and cons for both MPLS and SD-WAN. A common enterprise network configuration will be one in which each solution supports key workloads based on their service requirements. In fact, the most common scenario has SD-WAN augmenting MPLS to provide a healthy mix of flexibility and reliability.
MPLS was designed for and is deployed in hub-and-spoke topologies that backhaul branch data to a centralized data center. With so many services now firmly entrenched in the cloud, this has become expensive and cumbersome. For all its reliability and performance, MPLS is a costly option. That’s why many organizations are transitioning to hybrid WAN solutions that de-emphasize MPLS in favor of SD-WAN.
MPLS Isn’t Going Anywhere Soon
This doesn’t mean that all use cases will shift to MPLS alternatives like SD-WAN. Even within companies that are heavily dependent on SaaS and cloud computing workloads, there are strong reasons for them to keep at least some of their legacy MPLS network in service. For one thing, MPLS typically provides better performance for workloads that are sensitive to latency in packet delivery and demand high reliability. These include critical real-time applications like voice, video, and collaboration. Many organizations will continue to maintain MPLS in the local data center to support basic network domain and server services. Authentication, DHCP, and DNS services are prime examples.
Complicating the issue is that the line between critical or non-critical and higher priority or lower priority is not always clear. Video conferencing may be mission-critical and demand assured quality of service for one organization, while for the next it may be considered entirely dispensable. In general, organizations can expect to support critical workloads, and some non-critical ones, in the data center. Headquarters and large branch sites may connect over MPLS, while smaller branches will use MPLS alternatives like SD WAN offers riding on a mix of business and consumer broadband Internet connections.
Geography can potentially come into play as well. When dealing with remote users, the best broadband just isn’t always available. Exurban and rural regions are still lagging in broadband connectivity and probably will continue to do so for some time. As a matter of course, networking executives should rank each remote site not just by the type of services needed but also by what flavor of broadband is available.
Evaluating SD WAN vs MPLS
Organizations should take the following steps in order to properly differentiate SD-WAN and MPLS workloads:
- Conduct a thorough survey of all data flows and applications on current WAN infrastructure and then set appropriate policies to allocate traffic to the proper solution
- Consider non-broadband Direct Internet Access (DIA) circuit for SD-WAN deployments that support high ratios, critical cloud-facing workloads and real-time applications
- Explore “over the top” MPLS alternatives, like Teridion for Enterprise, that offer enhanced performance and reliability over broadband
- Employ priority-based path selection and other SD-WAN tools to improve throughput for time-sensitive applications
- Potentially maintain MPLS networks at the data center, critical off-site locations and in areas with poor or emerging infrastructure
Teridion: A Compelling MPLS Alternative
Teridion for Enterprise is a compelling MPLS alternative. It’s a WAN service built on the public cloud that provides lightning-fast setup, global coverage, unbounded bandwidth and horizontal scale. The Teridion network is powered by Teridion Curated Routing, which fuses proven WAN acceleration techniques with metrics-driven route optimization. This gives enterprises:
- Secure, accelerated site-to-site performance
- Fast, consistent access to enterprise SaaS applications including superior low-loss, low-latency routing for voice and video
- SLA backed, cost-effective replacement for MPLS
- Full support for multi-cloud strategies with high performance access to cloud workloads running in any cloud provider
- Simple and intuitive but powerful monitoring and analytics
- All this at a fraction of the price of carrier-grade and direct access circuits
You can learn more about Teridion for Enterprise in our in-depth technical whitepaper.