MPLS is Not Dead–Just Misunderstood When Draped in the SD-WAN Hype

MPLS is Not Dead–Just Misunderstood When Draped in the SD-WAN Hype

The presumed “demise of MPLS” is much overstated. MPLS and SD-WAN are simply misconstrued amidst the propaganda and hype around the cost savings of public Internet access. Some claim SD-WAN is an “MPLS killer” or “MPLS alternative,” but at Masergy we believe the two are complementary, not opponents.

Today’s rhetoric is creating the need for clarity when it comes to the future of private MPLS access, the relationship between MPLS and SD-WAN, and how secure hybrid networking works. Let’s untangle the truth from fiction to explain why MPLS is not dead.

With SD-WAN it’s easier than ever for CIOs to diversify connectivity types in their network environment, introducing public Internet access so they can steer private MPLS traffic to the public internet “cheap lane” and gain performance visibility. SD-WAN has become all the rage because it’s a means for creating a hybrid network that blends both private and public access. But beware! Myths surround SD-WAN and the cost savings of broadband access which have paved the way for this false impression and misstatement:

MPLS will soon be dead--replaced by SD-WAN.

First, a slight correction is needed to clarify the misstatement above. What people mean to say is:

Private (MPLS) connectivity will soon be dead--replaced by public Internet connectivity (broadband access)

To straighten out the semantics, let’s review what SD-WAN is and is not.

Understanding SD-WAN and Why It’s Not Replacing MPLS

SD-WAN is a routing capability that infuses flexibility and visibility into each WAN environment. SD-WAN is NOT a connectivity/access type. It’s NOT a method for transferring data (like private MPLS access, dedicated internet access, and public Internet connectivity/broadband access). Therefore it cannot replace MPLS--we’re not comparing apples to apples.

The claim that “SD-WAN will replace MPLS” is likely written that way because people have come to (misguidedly) use the terms “SD-WAN” and “public broadband access” interchangeably. SD-WAN is known as the tool for tapping into broadband access, so it’s easy to see the point of confusion. Many use the name of the tool in place of the connectivity type. To explain the roles and relationships a bit more: If broadband access were to “kill” MPLS, SD-WAN would be the gun.

Now we’re ready to have a proper debate around the more accurate question: Will public access and the cost advantages of broadband have everyone abandoning their private MPLS access?

In a quick Masergy social media poll, the respondents agreed/disagreed..

Masergy says MPLS will not be replaced in many scenarios.

Why MPLS is Here to Stay

We believe tried-and-true, private MPLS access will not become the murderous victim of broadband access. In fact, private MPLS connectivity will likely live on for quite a while, because it’s still the most reliable and stable data transfer method available today, making it the best medium for critical corporate applications. As long as enterprises have data centers, headquarters, mission-critical application, and contact centers they will have private connections (at least one)!

Sure, MPLS will continue to be the most expensive connectivity type, but that expense brings with it much peace of mind in the way of reliability and business continuity. With private performance guarantees and SLAs, packet loss and latency metrics are significantly lower than with public broadband. (Many buyers come to the SD-WAN buying table under the impression that broadband access is far more stable and reliable than it actually is.) For manufacturing companies and other companies whose network performance directly impacts revenue streams, the unrivaled business continuity of MPLS makes an IT mainstay.

This graph below helps CIOs plot the risk versus cost of each connectivity type.

Network Risk Tolerance Line | MPLS

An interesting side note adds even more color around the long-term relevance and significance of SD-WAN: In the future, SD-WAN’s routing capabilities will be absorbed as an integrated feature in broader networking solutions. While some claim SD-WAN will replace MPLS, it will actually fade into the background as advancements in networking solutions and services progress.

At Masergy, we believe that enhanced MPLS has true sticking power. CIOs looking to protect the continuity of their business-critical applications while creating dynamic networks with deep visibility and interoperability will most often turn to solutions that unite the capabilities of MPLS, dedicated Internet, broadband access, and SD-WAN.

After all, our solution engineers see it happen every day.

While MPLS and SD-WAN are a great pair, there are still limitations that should not be overlooked. In my next blog, I explore the shortcomings of some SD-WAN edge devices. Read “Understanding SD-WAN Solutions: The Limitations of Some Edge Devices”.

About Paul Ruelas

Director, Product Management, Masergy
Paul Ruelas is Director of Network Products at Masergy. He brings over 26 years of expertise in telecommunications, IP Networks, complex solution design, and product development. Paul has developed many Ethernet and optical products that enabled numerous global enterprises to transform their data communication infrastructures to improve business outcomes. Paul is an industry thought leader in communication transformation and on topics such as hybrid networking, SDN, NFV, and cloud connectivity.

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