MPLS vs. SD-WAN: Is one really better than the other?
March 22, 2022

John Beattie, PSC Telecoms & Southeast Australia Manager

For 25 years, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) was thought of as the preferred networking service. With the arrival and subsequent development of Software-Defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN), organizations are challenged to compare relative advantages and disadvantages as their networks evolve and needs change. The primary difference between SD-WAN and MPLS is how SD-WAN has a virtualized infrastructure and MPLS is hardware-based.

MPLS has been widely deployed across government / TNSP telecommunications networks for the better part of 30 years. But the time has arrived for many organizations to seriously consider evolving their networks from MPLS to SD-WAN for cost-savings, agility, and scalability, especially when considering Cloud deployments and increasing demand for heightened network security.

In simple terms, a software-defined WAN uses software-defined network technology, such as communicating over the Internet using encryption between an organization’s locations. SD-WAN simplifies the management and operation of a WAN by decoupling the networking hardware from its control mechanism.

From a routing perspective, MPLS applies a circuit-switched discipline to deliver packets and avoid packet loss over a distributed network. That means it is reliable and efficient at keeping traffic flowing. Because MPLS was originally designed for networks that depended on data centers, it is not particularly well-suited for situations where regional or field-based resources require direct access to the Cloud.

Organizations with MPLS networks that have adopted Cloud applications must “backhaul” all traffic from their branches through their data center and on to the Cloud; this backhauling causes slower Internet access due to the delay or latency associated with routing traffic over longer distances to the data center and then on to the Cloud service, this operational shortfall typically leads to poor user experiences; factor critical Cloud applications and productivity is compromised.

By comparison, SD-WAN is a virtualized WAN architecture that connects and extends networks. As a result, SD-WAN delivers much simpler accessibility, be that office or for field resources, performance can be readily optimized whilst not sacrificing security protocols; with the end result of networks with more capacity and inherent security than MPLS.

In summary, what are the differences between the two? As noted, traditional MPLS networks rely on static physical links that connect remote / branch type users to platforms and associated applications which are typically hosted in data centers often via a hub-and-spoke design. Data flow is typically determined by an administrator who determines accessibility for each respective router on the network.

The flexibility and scalability of SD-WAN enable organizations to move completely away from MPLS or to realize a hybrid approach. This is achieved by utilizing an appropriate mix of MPLS connections, for specific high priority applications and platforms, broadband for high-bandwidth and Internet-based requirements, and potentially 5G wireless connections to meet each location’s needs.

SD-WAN’s greatest strength might be its latent ability to influence multiple broadband transports to connect field / remote locations securely and at an effective cost resulting in users across the network having a consistent and high-performance experience. The result; SD-WAN routes application traffic over the best path in real-time. Organizations with SD-WAN win the battle of bandwidth eliminating backhauling and delivering improved user experiences.

If you are interested to learn more about PSC’s Telecommunications solutions for your organization please contact us at [email protected] and for more information on our capabilities visit our Telecoms page.

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