1.877.297.7816
Contact Us

SD WAN versus
MPLS: How do
you choose
the best solution
for your business

As your business grows in a marketplace that’s increasingly digital, your ability to compete may hinge on the speed and reliability of your networking and internet connections. Bandwidth and the right technical tools are today’s must-haves for connecting with customers when, how and where they want.

But the bandwidth you need—the capacity and speed—for advanced digital communications becomes pricey as you add employees, locations and digital services. Before long, you may be looking for networking options that can help you more securely control and streamline your connections to sites, customers and the cloud.

Two options are particularly appropriate for businesses with a mix of technologies and connection types to branch offices and remote users. These are software defined wide area networking (SD WAN) and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). A better understanding of SD WAN vs MPLS and their benefits can help you choose which solution—or combination of solutions—is best for your business and your budget.

What is SD WAN?

SD WAN is a type of software defined networking (SDN) that helps you manage and control a wide-area network (WAN) from a single dashboard in near real time. It also helps you use your bandwidth efficiently by routing important traffic, such as e-commerce, through channels that you designate. Less important traffic, such as web surfing and social media updates, can be sent inexpensively over the internet.

What are the benefits of SD WAN?

Because SD WAN is a cloud-based solution that businesses typically obtain through a service provider, it can dramatically simplify WAN operations that use a variety of protocols for internet and other types of connections. When you need to provision a new site, SD WAN allows you to do so relatively quickly and economically. Because you can securely access many network operations through a dashboard on a laptop or tablet, it’s easier to scale your capacity to accommodate changing traffic demands. SD WAN can also improve performance and simplify operations with the ability to set pre-programmed policies to automate routing decisions based on prevailing real-time network conditions.

You can take any number of different connection types and put an SD WAN service overtop of those to dynamically manage traffic flow. That combination of connection types depends on your application environment and business objectives. Because it is based on software instead of hardware, you can easily implement, scale and manage SD WAN regardless of the underlying transport technology.

Benefits of SD WAN include:

  • Increased bandwidth and scalability at lower cost
  • Easily managed from one central location
  • Automatically provides end-to-end encryption across the network
  • Real-time dynamic traffic management

However, if your company’s networking is limited to only a few branches, and if you don’t conduct a lot of business using cloud-based applications, you may not need SD WAN. Instead, MPLS may make more sense. As you’ll see, these dedicated circuits are separate from the public internet.

What is MPLS?

MPLS is essentially a virtual private network (VPN) that, like SD WAN, readily accommodates a wide range of networking technologies to connect disparate WANs. Also like SD WAN, MPLS is typically delivered and provisioned by a service provider and provides the ability to prioritize traffic. Unlike SD WAN, MPLS doesn’t include a breakout to the public internet. Connections act as a direct, point-to-point or any-to-any link.

What are the benefits of MPLS?

MPLS has been a critical foundation of many WAN networks for years because of its any-to-any connectivity, ability to prioritize data traffic, and capabilities around VoIP and Video over IP convergence. It has served enterprises reliably for more than a quarter of a century and is still valued as a highly stable means of routing traffic without using the public internet.

As SDN technologies have emerged, such as SD WAN, newer hybrid networking models sometimes featuring lower cost broadband circuits have emerged causing some customers to move away from models featuring redundant private connections such as MPLS, Ethernet, Wave, etc. However, there are still reasons to continue using MPLS connections including enhanced application performance and optimized costs.

Benefits of MPLS include:

  • Reliable packet delivery helps maintain data quality for real-time protocols like voice and video
  • Labels virtually isolate packets and assign higher priority to help provide traffic predictability
  • Suitable for high-performance, distributed networks
  • Private nature may reduce the need and costs for other network security services, such as firewalls

Which one—SD WAN or MPLS — is right for your business?

So when you’re trying to decide between SD WAN vs. MPLS, if you’re concerned about quickly and easily building on your network while carefully allocating bandwidth over the internet to potentially control costs, then SD WAN could be a good choice for your business. On the other hand, if you’re more concerned with the reliability you get by establishing direct network connections, your business may be a good candidate for MPLS.

To illustrate how the options may or may not suit your situation, here are two scenarios. Let’s say your retail business has five storefronts and no Wi-Fi for customers or staff. You network with one or two suppliers and distributors. The stores and businesses on your network mostly handle point-of-sale transactions, fulfill orders by mail, and track inventory and shipments. You’ve grown as big as you intend to, and any more overhead is out of the question. MPLS may be a great choice for your business.

The happy customer for SD WAN is more likely to be a business that depends on cloud connectivity that’s virtually always on. For instance, a company with a voracious appetite for speed and capacity may appreciate SD WAN’s flexibility for allocating bandwidth to run video, webinars and sharing of large media files. This company may also want to provide Wi-Fi service to guests and use that bandwidth for business data if there’s a network outage or heavy congestion on the normal link.

Both are typically managed services offered by a service provider, so your teams are spared much of the heavy lifting relative to maintenance and security. Your service is also usually backed by a service level agreement (SLA).

Combining SD WAN and MPLS

As your network evolves, complexity often escalates. Business owners know the risks of change when it comes to essential connectivity. When you team with a provider you can trust, you’re better positioned to adopt a solution that extends your operational capabilities as it eases your path to tomorrow’s technical advancements. The right partner can provide a stable solution that addresses your networking challenges and does so on your terms. Verizon can be that partner. We’ll help you take the next step into your digital future with confidence.

Whether you operate a small business with several remote workers or a multi-location enterprise, we have networking solutions that can help you maximize the amount you’ve budgeted for bandwidth. With our hybrid, dedicated and SDN solutions, we can work with you to implement SD WAN or MPLS—or a solution where SD WAN and MPLS complement each other—on the same network.

Your business needs to deliver high-quality service along with top-notch security. Doing all that over broadband isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need a robust and resilient network. So which is better: MPLS or SD WAN? The answer is both. 

You need to have the right mix of MPLS connections (for high-bandwidth priority applications) and broadband (for lower-priority applications) and even 4G LTE or 5G wireless connections along with a smart way to direct your traffic. 

Benefits of mixing SD WAN with MPLS

That’s what SD WAN does, and why it’s not a replacement for MPLS. A hybrid WAN made up of a variety of connectivity types based on location needs and SD WAN to intelligently manage the flow of traffic is the way to go. That means you shouldn’t compare the cost or security of SD WAN vs. MPLS. You need to compare the mix of access types of SD WAN against the needs of your business and determine the network infrastructure combination that can help you achieve your goals. 

When you’re connecting large data centers together, you’re not going to use broadband, which only offers best effort. You’ll need to use a big, powerful connection with reliable service levels — MPLS. Chances are, that’s something you already have. 

By using SD WAN as an overlay solution, you can take your existing infrastructure and help it run more efficiently. SD WAN is application and user aware, which allows it to route traffic over the most effective path for high performance and low latency in near real-time.

Mission-critical applications and data will still be sent through MPLS, while lower-priority apps like email can be sent over the public internet. Should there be an issue with your MPLS, SD WAN can reroute your data through alternative channels, giving you the redundancy you need without the cost of maintaining redundant connections. 

When considering SD WAN vs. MPLS costs, keep in mind that SD WAN will help you reduce some of your MPLS costs, but not all of them. It certainly won’t help you eliminate MPLS; you still need that reliability. What SD WAN can do is help you mitigate the need to scale your expensive MPLS to meet your connectivity needs by instead letting software help maximize your current investment.

In addition, the question of SD WAN vs. MPLS security isn’t a matter of either/or. MPLS is a private network, which means that it isn’t exposed to outside hackers via the internet. Meanwhile, SD WAN encrypts data to provide a secure overlay that’s independent of transport. Together with traditional network security capabilities like secure web gateway services and next-gen firewalls, MPLS and SD WAN work together to help keep data safe and sound. 

When it comes to your network, MPLS is part of the connectivity component. SD WAN manages the traffic. Ultimately, it’s not especially useful to compare SD WAN vs. MPLS one-to-one—they’re complementary technologies: that is, one is not a replacement for the other. And more importantly, one is not going to cannibalize or replace the other.

Choose SD WAN or MPLS for the best business solution

Whether you operate a small business with several remote workers or a multi-location enterprise, we have networking solutions that can help you maximize the amount you’ve budgeted for bandwidth. With our hybrid, dedicated and SDN solutions, we can work with you to implement SD WAN or MPLS—or a solution where SD WAN and MPLS complement each other— on the same network.

Our Software Defined Secure Branch is a flexible, secure SD WAN solution that can help unify your networks to improve accessibility, scalability, speed and reliability. Our webinar explains how this service can provide a single-package solution for secure and rapid turn-up of sites in a simpler way. For enterprises seeking MPLS with advanced IP capability, our Private IP solution can securely connect locations or cloud service providers.

As your network evolves, complexity often escalates. Business owners know the risks of change when it comes to essential connectivity. When you team with a provider you can trust, you’re better positioned to adopt a solution that extends your operational capabilities as it eases your path to tomorrow’s technical advancements. The right partner can provide a stable solution that addresses your networking challenges, and does so on your terms. Verizon can be that partner. We’ll help you take the next step into your digital future with confidence.

Learn more about Verizon’s Virtual Network Services – SD WAN.