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SD WAN vs. MPLS:
myth versus reality

Author: John Loveland

With the SD WAN market projected to grow from $1.9 billion in 2020 to $8.4 billion by 2025, the future of managing enterprise infrastructure will have a firm foundation in SD WAN. In many ways, it’s no wonder. Digital transformation, IoT, mobile users, real-time web conferencing and cloud computing have all placed more demands on networks than traditional WAN technology can handle. As companies continue to scale their networks, they are looking at SD WAN vs. MPLS and how to best optimize traffic.

When comparing SD WAN vs. MPLS, 2020 in particular proved the importance of SD WAN. As pandemic-fueled lockdowns, quarantines, and travel restrictions made it impossible to get to the office, companies made a rapid shift to work from home operations. Employees were asked to collaborate, create and access the same corporate network resources from their homes as they would at the office, making it critical to deliver a high level of agility, connectivity and security.

Even with increased vaccine availability, many enterprises that enjoy the benefits of remote work may not be in a rush to bring their full workforce back to the office. SD WAN capabilities, such as multicloud connectivity, centralized policy management, and the ability to prioritize traffic across various transport options, will be critical as enterprises seek to manage the new normal of their dispersed workforce.

However, despite what many SD WAN vendors might say, that doesn’t necessarily mean that SD WAN is the end-all, be-all, magic bullet for making networks better. The myth is that enterprise IT managers can simply add SD WAN as a shortcut to dramatically improve network performance without effort. The reality, however, is quite different.

SD WAN vs. MPLS: A better map doesn’t make for better roads

When we previously looked at SD WAN vs. MPLS, we discussed that the choice isn’t as simple as either/or. The fact is you need both. While SD WAN can help improve performance by using software to dynamically route traffic, you still need an MPLS to provide dedicated, private routes for mission-critical data like video and voice.

When considering SD WAN vs. MPLS, think about it like this. SD WAN is like using a map app on your phone. All you have to do is tell it where you want to go, and the app will tell you the fastest route possible, suggesting alternate routes based on reported traffic.

However, the app won’t do a thing to improve the quality of the roads. A road that’s covered in potholes or has been chewed up from snow chains is going to make your trip longer and more miserable as you drive slower to keep from getting jostled or damaging your car.

It’s the same for SD WAN. The technology can tell your data what route to take, but if your network is equivalent to a rutted, unpaved road, you should expect to experience packet loss, latency issues and jitter. Just as your GPS can only get you there as fast as the road allows, SD WAN can only optimize the potential of your network, not improve it.

Using SD WAN the right way

That’s why it doesn’t make sense to think of it in the context of “SD WAN vs. MPLS” or ask, “Is SD WAN better than MPLS?” That’s like asking if Google Maps is better than 3rd Street. It’s apples and oranges. Instead, a connectivity model that includes a hybrid infrastructure (MPLS-based, public IP, broadband, 4G LTE, 5G, etc.) together with SD WAN is what it truly takes to get your data where it needs to go while avoiding traffic delays.

With employees working at home and customers interacting with your business more and more online, your connectivity has never been more critical. SD WAN can’t deliver the high-quality performance your employees need and your customers expect using a network built on connectivity that isn’t designed to support your demands.

While SD WAN can help make the best out of a bad network, you’ll quickly hit the limits of what you can accomplish, alienating customers and frustrating workers who need voice, video, mobile and the cloud to work. You might save a little OPEX in the short run, but at a long-term cost to your productivity, scalability and profitability.

So what does SD WAN really do? SD WAN technology infuses intelligence into a hybrid network made up of a variety of fully meshed connectivity technologies to enable your enterprise to make better use of different types of network connections. Through centralized administration and control, SD WAN selects the best path across the variety of available network connections for enterprise applications, based on the performance requirements of the specific applications.

For example, video and voice would be sent using your dedicated MPLS connection to help ensure that your communications come through crystal clear. However, something like a software update would be delivered and downloaded over the public internet, which is relatively slower but far more cost-effective.

Ensuring your SD WAN can access the appropriate network options (or “roads”) to meet your required application performance is critical to achieving the productivity and customer experience levels needed to drive the results your business requires.

Get the best of all worlds

It’s important to work with a service provider who can provide you with private, public, broadband and wireless “roads” that will deliver the application experience your business needs. Any vendor who tries to tell you that broadband and SD WAN are all that is needed to provide the application experience you require is selling you short. Instead, they should be telling you that a quality, hybrid core infrastructure and SD WAN are required to deliver both the application and user experience you require.

With Virtual Network Services - SD WAN (VNS - SD WAN), you can combine public and private networks using a virtualized WAN solution to automate your traffic flow and boost bandwidth as needed. Benefits include:

  • Greater security: With mobile workers using personal devices, not to mention the countless IoT devices now integrated into the enterprise, the attack surface of your network has never been more exposed. VNS - SD WAN can provide an extra layer of security by encrypting data in transit, segmenting individual data streams into unique slices, and making it easier to enforce enterprise-wide policies from a single screen.
  • Greater efficiency: With more and more data being sent to the cloud or SaaS applications, VNS - SD WAN, along with cloud security, makes it easier and more reliable for remote workers and offices to directly connect to the cloud, instead of backhauling data to your data center.
  • Greater simplicity: While many enterprises are drawn to SD WAN for the cost savings, they should focus more on the overall value the solution can provide. VNS - SD WAN is easier to deploy, manage and scale, with our managed and professional services making it simple to tailor the service to your exact business needs.

Get started by learning more about Verizon’s VNS - SD WAN because it’s no longer an SD WAN vs. MPLS world.

John Loveland is Global Head of Network and Cyber Security Marketing for Verizon where he leads go-to-market strategy and execution for the company’s multi-billion dollar networking and security businesses. He is seasoned technology industry executive and entrepreneur who’s held leadership positions with public, private and start-up companies.