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MPLS Networks and the Rise of SD-WAN

Monday, June 29, 2020 - 10:00

For decades, Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) networking has offered a flexible, stable and high-performing way for companies to connect offices. And the steady increase in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) implementations has encouraged the push toward Software-Defined Wide Area Networking or SD-WAN.

Initially, the provisioning of SD-WAN network services in enterprises was slow, due to concerns about network security and performance. But over time, these concerns have been mitigated with the emergence of solid network security solution options and steady performance. Fully managed cloud-based unified threat management (UTM) network security solutions ensure a secure solution whether the WAN is comprised of MPLS, SD-WAN, or a combination of the two. With concerns like downtime and bandwidth interruptions set aside, SD-WAN has started to gain momentum in the SaaS WAN marketplace. So how do MPLS and SD-WAN compare against one another?

SD-WAN uses a software-based approach to deploying enterprise WAN. It shifts traffic monitoring and management from physical devices to an application-based approach. SD-WAN pulls the network setup into a virtual environment where there is a secure pool of both private and public connections, centralized network control and real-time traffic management across multiple links.

4 Main Characteristics of SD-WAN

  1. Supports multiple connection types – MPLS, Internet, Long Term Evolution (LTE), etc.
  2. Allows for dynamic path selection to share loads across WAN connections
  3. Provides a simple interface for WAN management and is easy as a home Wi-Fi to set up
  4. Must support Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), and other 3rd-party services like firewalls, gateways, etc.

MPLS is a protocol for shaping and increasing the speed of network traffic. It uses ingress routers at a service provider’s location to forward network packets at the switching level (layer 2) instead of having to pass them up to the routing level (layer 3). Then the egress router removes the label and forwards the original IP packet to its final destination. Time is saved, thus improving performance as the switches don’t have to look at the IP header to transmit data.

MPLS is Defined by These Characteristics

  1. Supports multiple connection types – Internet Protocol (IP), Asynchronous Transport Mode (ATM) and frame relay
  2. Created to eliminate the need for lookups in routing tables and increase network traffic speeds
  3. Used to improve Quality of Service (QoS) by defining label-switched paths (LSPs) that can meet specific service level agreements on traffic latency, jitter, packet loss and downtime
  4. Supports traffic separation, the creation of VPNs, virtual private LAN services (VPLS) and virtual leased lines (VLLs)

SD-WAN enables enterprises to use software across the internet in place of their current MPLS or other existing connections. As with all software-based installs, SD-WAN is very scalable and quick to provision. Also, it provides the ability for many WAN paths to be used simultaneously. SD-WAN allows companies to consolidate control of all WAN traffic and ensures users have improved application visibility and consistent performance. Software-Defined WAN can even decrease the costs of network administration, connectivity and equipment. 

With all the benefits of SD-WAN, it might seem to be a threat to the MPLS market. However, SD-WAN gives cloud service providers the opportunity to offer a hybrid approach for businesses, with several different types of managed or virtualized network functionality. Using the MPLS protocol with the SD-WAN methodology, a good partnership can be formed. For instance, an SD-WAN setup can use MPLS to move high-priority packets and can then choose to send lower-priority packets across the general internet. Working together, networking costs are reduced while retaining the continued ability to define network paths where necessary. And an MPLS network can provide the network security required in an SD-WAN solution.

With a managed IP network solution from Intrado, enterprises can go beyond the traditional MPLS network. Maxxis from Intrado is an application-aware enterprise network that provides a high-speed, high-quality MPLS network infrastructure accessible through T1, DS3, OCx and Metro Ethernet. It guarantees high QoS by prioritizing traffic using packet analysis and other appropriate methods. With Maxxis, traffic can be adjusted when needed to maximize performance and prevent network bottlenecks. It can be used with SD-WAN to transform today’s typical corporate networks into high performing, fully visible and highly flexible networks. Topped off with real-time monitoring, easy-to-use web-based management tools and in-depth reporting, your company can have the best of both worlds with Maxxis – MPLS and SD-WAN. Ready to make SD-WAN part of your UCaaS strategy?

Contact an Intrado Enterprise Collaboration expert today!