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Is it the end for MPLS? 
Few can agree on the merits or otherwise of SD WAN. Since its inception, so much has been written or spoken - much of it wildly inaccurate. 
 
How does SD WAN compare to MPLS? 
Will the new kid replace the old-timer? 
Is SD WAN always the cheaper option? 
 
In this article, we’ll explore these questions and some of the associated myths. We’ll also give you our take on the controversial topic. But let’s begin with definitions - 
 
SD WAN - Software-Defined networking in a Wide Area Network 
SD-WAN simplifies the management and operation of a WAN by separating the networking hardware from its control mechanism. 
 
MPLS - Multiprotocol Label Switching is a protocol-agnostic routing process aimed at accelerating and shaping traffic flows across enterprise wide area and service provider networks. 
 

Questions & Answers 

1. Is SD WAN here to replace MPLS? 
 
Are the two technologies alternative incarnations of the same beast? Decidedly not. SD WAN is an overlay technology, whereas MPLS is simply an option for the underlay that provides the connectivity for an SD WAN. To compare the two just isn’t logical. SD WAN may be the latest, greatest system, but it can’t function without an underlay. 
 
If SD WAN won’t replace MPLS, will it impact it in any other way? We believe that a decline in MPLS will follow. However, there’s plenty of life left in the old MPLS dog yet. Let’s look more closely at the likely threat from SD WAN. 
 
(i) Cost and Performance 
SD WAN won’t itself kill off MPLS, but it might make it easier for businesses to use alternatives to MPLS for at least some traffic. Could we soon be moving our traffic from MPLS to the internet? Maybe. But the internet would have to be cheaper and better. This depends on your situation. 
 
If you run everything from the cloud, you might be less bothered about MPLS performance. However, if you run a latency-sensitive application over high-traffic circuits, you might feel the internet isn’t up to scratch. 
 
What if you’re an international company with multiple sites outside the UK, then you’re sure to find ways of saving money by moving traffic from MPLS to locally sourced internet. But, if most of your sites are UK-based, then this won’t apply. MPLS circuits are barely (if at all) any dearer than the UK internet. 
 
(ii) Hybrid networks 
There is a cheaper alternative to MPLS - through using a hybrid network - combining multiple technologies (MPLS, VPLS, Internet) from multiple carriers. 
 
So, Hybrid Networking may well be a driver that will contribute towards the decline of MPLS. 
 
(iii) SaaS applications are encouraging a move to more internet-focussed networks. 
With cloud applications and platforms being accessed via the internet, businesses are examining the best way of accessing these from remote sites. Conventionally,, SaaS application traffic from branch office users has traversed the MPLS to the HQ and then broken out to the internet. This adds further latency, thus restricting throughput and performance. 
 
Typically, SD WAN devices are designed to recognise this traffic and break out to the internet directly from the remote site. This reduces traffic over the MPLS, speeding up its decline. 
However, the MPLS providers have not been idly ‘fiddling while Rome burns’. They have been working to create private connections with the associated Class of Service into the Cloud Provider’s networks. This gives remote sites direct connectivity over the secure MPLS network. 
2. Will SD WAN allow me to immediately supply sites? 
 
Let’s look first at connectivity. Because SD WAN is a connectivity overlay, it’s clear that we can’t provision an SD WAN site any faster than we can access site connectivity. 
 
How long will it take to have a new site up and running with SD WAN? 
 
For new sites, Fibre Ethernet circuits can take months to deliver. EFM circuits, a matter of weeks. Fixed broadband maybe two or three weeks. Using 4G LTE circuits will get things up and running faster, maybe within just a few days. Clearly, how long it takes to connect is governed by the provision of connectivity. 
 
There can be a role for SD WAN in configuring the new site quickly. For speedy results, you could go for 4G rapid site deployment. 
 
Beware like-for-like comparisons. 
 
Some SD WAN CPE providers claim that with SD WAN, their customer could provision a new site almost instantly, as opposed to months with MPLS. Not a just comparison, true - as it compares an existing internet connection with a new MPLS connection. 
3. Are SD WAN and Hybrid Networks cheaper? 
 
They can be. It depends on the comparison. Originally, IP VPN was dearer than Internet connections. These days, in the UK, they tend to be priced similarly. Overseas, it’s different. International MPLS circuits can be much more costly than a locally acquired internet circuit. 
 
Some argue that, with SD WAN, you can opt for multiple consumer grade broadband. True - this is cheaper, but it could be that you need a more expensive router, which might partially offset any saving. Don’t forget too that everyday consumer broadband has lower availability and reliability and takes longer to fix. If one of your broadband connections suffers from a degradation, then the others will too, because they will share much of the underlying infrastructure. 
4. Will SD WAN allow me to instantly change my bandwidth and CoS settings? 
 
It’s certainly possible. But, only if this is a carrier Complete SD WAN system and not an SD WAN CPE system. Also, the provider needs to have linked their front end quoting engine, with their ordering process and then their billing processes. 
 
This is one of the great benefits of SD WAN - its agility. The questions is, when would you want to make this change? How much would you be happy to pay for the premium? Not everyone is happy to pay the required price. Customers, who rarely make changes on their network, sometimes ask for this. Some suppliers offer this, but only when they are on-net. The same doesn’t apply to ADSL or SuperFast services. With these, you enjoy the maximum available speed, by default. 
 
A further benefit of SD WAN is that the business can lower costs by providing their own local internet service. Here again there’s the question of how the central management platform will change a 3rd party circuit. The DIY Hybrid Networks and the complete SD WAN solution find themselves at odds. 
 
Businesses are rarely happy to wait 4 weeks to get a change of CoS or a bandwidth increase. Generally they find a wait of up to five days acceptable.dit it. 
5. Are SD WANs easier to manage? 
 
They certainly can be. However, how much easier depends on whether you’ve bought a managed network in the past or whether you’ve carried out the work yourself. 
 
If it’s the latter, then the SD WAN overlay and functionality will be beneficial. Greater savings will occur if your company has international sites. Also, with the DIY route, a much higher level of management overhead is carried by the organisation’s internal IT team - consultants, profession installation services, a 24/7 global support service and a single invoice. If there’s an issue with one of your sites, your Managed Service Provider (MSP) will spot it and deal with it 
6. Do SD WAN and Hybrid Networking allow my users to get to Cloud Apps (such as Office365) more quickly and so enjoy a better experience? 
 
This may well be the case. With applications increasingly being found in the public cloud rather than in a customer’s data centre, the emphasis has changed on how to connect most effectively. Ideally, you’d want to take the shortest possible path to that application. Traditional WANs tended to only have an internet breakout at the head office. Local internet breakout would seem to be the obvious choice (therefore Hybrid Networking) with SD WAN CPE providing the visibility, security and management. 
 
However, many carriers now provide the necessary Quality of Service and security by linking to the major IaaS/PaaS/SaaS providers from their MPLS networks. Some SD WAN providers develop Optimised IP networks over the internet to these applications and platforms, thus enabling a variety of choices to suit all customers. 
We hope to have clarified a number of the myths that surround the great SD WAN / MPLS debate. Do you need to know which technology would be best for your business? 
 
Call now on: 0371 321 01 01 
 
Or send us an email
 
We’d love to help. 
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