MPLS vs SD-WAN: Which Is Better for Your Organization?

two side-by-side images showing how an SD-WAN network works and an MPLS.
Which option is best for your company?

If you’re a decision maker for your organization, then you might have a tough time deciding on a good switching solution. Would it be the tried and true multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), a hardware-based solution? In contrast, would you go for a  software-defined wide area network  (SD-WAN), a software-based solution?

The MPLS is a dedicated line with high bandwidth and low data loss. That said, it also has a high implementation cost. The SD-WAN, on the other hand, allows all types of security, remote networks, and centralized control.  That said, it can have latency issues due to software acting as an abstraction layer. 

In this article, we’ll compare the two and see their pros and cons. Let’s get started and answer what MPLS is. 

What Is MPLS

MPLS is a hardware-based networking technology that uses labels instead of addresses to find the shortest path for data routing. The labels identify an established path between nodes to the final endpoint. Think of it as a well-lit path to your destination. In this case, you can see the road ahead of you and know where it goes. To that end, if you have only an address, you might not take the best route between points. Providers constantly update the network to ensure you get the best performance for a price. Finally, you can use many transport types such as cable and T1. 

MPLS isn’t modern technology, but it’s still very efficient. Your company will have a dedicated line and minimal packet loss. This is due to the data labeling technique it uses to provide an established path between nodes

MPLS providers can assign a high priority to packets, making the network faster. In addition, MPLS also provides better reliability and predictability in network traffic.  

To that end, MPLS sounds like the clear winner, but it still has some challenges that you need to address. Below, we’ll look at the key benefits, limitations, and drawbacks of this technology. 

BenefitsLimitationsDrawbacks
Consistent connectivity, negligible data lossHigh costs for additional bandwidth from providersHigh cost per megabit
Proactive network managementNo built-in security
High bandwidthISP built-in security
Multiple transport types
Despite the limitations, MPLS is still good!
Photo of a router switch with many connected cables.
With SD-WANs, the tangled cables could be a thing of the past!

What Is SD-WAN

SD-WAN stands for Software-Defined Wide Area Network. As the name states, this is a software-based solution. In the case of SD-WANs, geographic boundaries are erased. This solution is designed to address your long-distance networking needs. Since it’s software-based, you can manage it centrally. In addition, they’re out of the box, with zero-touch provisioning.  On top of that, the network is fully encrypted, and all devices that touch the network are authenticated to provide maximum security. Another benefit that comes with SD-WANs is their low implementation cost. 

BenefitsLimitationsDrawbacks
Centralized management systemNetwork congestion from routing using a virtual system.Data packet loss
Included securityGreater chance of packet loss due to the routing process.
Network congestion 
Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP)Loss of hardware-based security.Packet delay variation 
Low-cost solution
Nonexistent physical router or switch that can be shut off by hand in an emergency.
No hardware security
Missing the physical aspects of traditional networking.
High bandwidth consuming products 
Although it has many downsides, SD-WAN may still be a good option.
Image of a typical Dashboard on a SD-WAN centralized command center.
SD-WAN gives you more control over your connections and data with live dashboards.

What Is the Difference Between MPLS & SD-WAN

Below is a comparison table to help you pick the right technology.

MLPSSD-WAN
Medium HardwareSoftware
Type of NetworkDedicated hardlineVirtual network
DataHigh speed at a price but lower data loss. Cost-effective but can suffer from network congestion and packet loss.
ISP Transport typesLimitedLimitless, including MPLS
SD-WAN and MPLS feature comparison.

MPLS vs. SD-WAN: When Do You Need Each?

Many factors help you determine which solution is best for your organization’s needs. Security will play a major role in the decision-making process because MPLS lines need you to add security. Conversely, SD-WANs can be fully encrypted, and devices using the network need to be fully authenticated to connect to the SD-WAN network. However, private, dedicated networks like MPLS will always be in demand, so you’ll just need a good security team to ensure your network is secure. 

Which Option Is Best for Your Organization?

Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to consider when deciding on the best solution for your organization. 

  • Think about how important security is for you
  • Consider if you have a strong security team or if you’ll need third-party assistance
  • Question what level of data integrity you need
  • Decide if you want to set and forget your configurations or if you want a team to manage them
  • Establish the organizational requirement (or lack thereof) for physical devices

These are some of the questions that you’ll want to ask yourself before making a choice. 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, both MPLS and SD-WAN are viable networking solutions. Each one also has pros and cons you need to consider. In essence, you should choose based on your company’s needs.

Overall, an SD-WAN solution will be the better option for most businesses. That said, if you want dedicated data at high speeds without data loss then MPLS is better, as long as you don’t need encryption. 

Looking for more information? Then look no further! Check out the FAQ and resources sections below. 

FAQ

What is a great SD-WAN provider?

GFI Software’s Exinda SD-WAN is a great example of an SD-WAN that has all the features you’re looking for. You can combine and manage up to 12 various transports. Furthermore, it can automatically detect and correct traffic anomalies, without you having to lift a finger. Just watch on the monitor! 

What is encryption?

Encryption is a security practice that takes incoming data and ciphers it so only the designated receiver can decipher it and read it. The sender has the same key as the receiver, so whatever message he encrypts, the receiver will be able to decrypt. If a third party intercepts the message, they won’t be able to understand it without a key. 

What is a WAN?

A Wide Area Network (WAN) isn’t tied to a central location or site unlike a local area network (LAN).  WANs allow you to  create a private network over multiple sites. In essence, the world wide web is a WAN with many decentralized nodes. 

What are internet transports?

Internet transports refer to the technology used to establish an internet connection between the internet service provider and your local device. This means several common  internet transports exist in the wild including LTE, T1, T3, Fiber-optic, Cable, DSL, and  Dial-up

What is a network data packet?

In order to send massive amounts of data over a network, it must be broken down into smaller pieces. After that, it can be sent over the network. A network data packet consists of 3 sections: 

  • Header. It contains the information, such as where the data is coming from, where it’s going to, protocol, and number
  • Payload. It contains the data being transferred
  • Trailer. It lets the recipient know it has received the data. Then, it also checks to ensure all the packets have been received 

Resources

TechGenix: Is SD-WAN Replacing  MPLS Article

Find out more about SD-WAN compared to MPLS.

TechGenix: MPLS Networking Technologies Article

Learn more about MPLS and its advantages and disadvantages.

TechGenix: SD-WAN: What Is It, and Why It’s So Important to the Industry Article

See the benefits of adopting SD-WAN and more.

TechGenix: 4 Most Popular IoT Linux Distros Article

Learn about the 4 most popular Linux distros for IoT. 

TechGenix: 5G Network Slicing Article 

Discover 5G network slicing and industrial use cases

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