27 Apr 2017
SD-WAN: is it REALLY the end for MPLS?

SD-WAN: is it REALLY the end for MPLS?

Posted by Chris Thomas

For Opinion News Network Connectivity

For many years, MPLS has been considered the standard for corporate networks. The technology tides are changing though, with newcomers such as Software-defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) appearing.

So is SD-WAN set to radically change the future of business network infrastructure? We take a closer look…

Know your networks

In contrast to other technologies, MPLS private networking technologies have seen minimal innovation over the last 10-15 years. With the rapidly evolving needs of the modern network however, SD-WAN claims to advance the business technology industry in a similar way to cloud computing.

Can such claims be justified? Well before we go any further, it’s important to acknowledge that SD-WAN is not a technically comparable alternative to MPLS. They are different services designed for different purposes, despite the marketing messages you may hear!

So what is SD-WAN?

An SD-WAN simplifies the management and operation of a WAN by decoupling the networking hardware from its control mechanism, and utilises cost-effective Internet connections. In theory, this reduces the perceived high cost and complexity of MPLS, enhances resilience and bandwidth, and ultimately improves the efficiency of network delivery. SD-WAN is not a private network technology.

SD-WAN vs VPN

For a true analysis, we should compare SD-WAN to the traditional VPN network rather than MPLS. In terms of connectivity, there’s actually no real technical difference between an SD-WAN and a VPN.

The key distinction is that SD-WAN offers a user-friendly interface, thus enabling the roles of an IT department and third party network engineer to potentially merge. IT personnel are therefore more empowered to set up their networks with relative ease, without the need for engineers to program a more complex and user-unfriendly command line interface. Post-install, however, it is worth considering whether this truly adds value to your solution in the long-term.

Staying private

Of course, there still remains a strong business case for private networking. Traffic routed across the Internet (with both SD-WAN or VPN) is only controlled up to the customer's firewall. But beyond this, network traffic still crosses multiple carriers, making latency and Quality of Service (QoS) unpredictable.

On the other hand, MPLS networks were purposely designed to ensure that corporate traffic never traverses the Internet - giving businesses better control, enhanced security, improved network speeds and access to a dedicated bandwidth. This fundamental business case for private networking has not changed.

Future forecast

Looking ahead, Gartner is predicting a compound annual rise of 15% in SD-WAN sales. So why this gain in momentum?

Some network suppliers are pitching SD-WAN as a cost-effective alternative solution to a comparatively ‘expensive’ MPLS network. Despite not being like for like, for American or internationally based companies, this may be relevant. In the UK, however, MPLS connectivity costs have dropped significantly and SD-WAN is not only the inferior option but it is also more expensive.

From the comparisons we have seen at Bistech, the cost and maintenance of SD-WAN hardware plus an Internet connection can actually cost significantly more than a private MPLS connection. In the event of an upgrade, an MPLS provider would include all CPE costs in the overall charges, whereas an SD-WAN supplier would have to replace the box for a more powerful unit, creating additional expense.

So is SD-WAN set to see off MPLS? No. MPLS is a well-established, proven technology and will continue to form the basis of most corporate networks. However, it’s worth noting that SD-WAN does offer some business benefits. It’s flexible, resilient and easy to deploy, and for certain connections can offer ongoing savings.

At Bistech, we offer flexible voice and data network solutions for businesses across the UK. For a no obligation discussion on how Bistech can fulfil your network requirements, call our specialist team on 03330 11 22 55.