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Why Enterprises Are Transitioning from MPLS to SD-WAN


Why Enterprises Are Transitioning from MPLS to SD-WAN

What might’ve felt like a trend years ago has quickly become a reality: SD-WAN is rapidly taking share from MPLS.

While some Chief Information Officers (CIOs) are delighted with SD-WAN’s promise of scalability and potential cost savings, others are fraught with concerns over the security and quality of experience capabilities of SD-WAN compared to their tried and true MPLS solutions.

This post is here to explain the phenomenon: why are enterprises transitioning from MPLS to SD-WAN?

First Things First - what is MPLS and what is SD-WAN?


Multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) is a carrier managed networking solution that intelligently routes traffic in what’s considered a “layer 2.5 protocol”. MPLS offers guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS) and Service Level Agreements (SLA) as it rides over a fully private network backbone. In other words, your service quality guarantees are iron-clad with MPLS.


Software Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) is a virtual overlay networking solution that intelligently steers traffic across a WAN. By decoupling the overlay and physical underlay network, SD-WANs can provide many of the same benefits of MPLS while utilizing the public internet for some or all of its underlay transport - which is cheaper and more scalable than the physical, dedicated transport that MPLS relies on. 

So, why are enterprises making the switch from MPLS to SD-WAN?

Flexibility & Ability to Quickly Scale Your Network

SD-WAN offers a flexibility and ability to “scale up” that is unparalleled by traditional, wired WAN solutions such as MPLS.

If you want to add an additional location to an MPLS network, you are required to utilize fiber from the same exact provider that you use at all of your existing locations. This is costly and time consuming, especially if you want to expand your network outside of their existing footprint (new fiber builds take 60 days, at minimum!).

But with SD-WAN, it’s easy to add a new network location at any time. You can utilize the network underlay of any provider, dedicated or best effort. All you need is an additional appliance from your SD-WAN provider, and you can get your new location up and running in no time.

SD-WAN is Cloud-Ready

Regular way, wired WANs were not designed for the cloud as all traffic is router-centric and required to backhaul to a hub or headquarters. These additional traffic “hops” leads to network latency as your traffic makes its way to the cloud.

On the flip side, software-defined WANs are designed to fully support applications no matter where they are hosted: on-premises data centers, public or private clouds, and SaaS services. Utilizing SD-WAN guarantees better performance for cloud based applications and workflows.

Lower Cost (Sometimes)

SD-WAN is (typically) a cost-effective solution when compared to MPLS.

First and foremost, you can achieve cost savings on your underlay network when utilizing SD-WAN as it can ride over the public internet (versus strictly dedicated private lines as is the case with MPLS).

Additionally, SD-WAN does not come with the same provider limitations that MPLS does (as discussed in the “flexibility” section). This means that you can run a proper RFP across multiple providers to achieve the lowest cost possible on your underlay network - compared to MPLS where you are locked in with one provider. 

Administrative Capabilities

Whether you procure a self managed or provider managed solution, SD-WAN comes with pretty impressive administrative capabilities.

The SD-WAN graphic user interface (GUI) varies greatly from one provider to another, but in general they always provide a centralized management platform for configuration and management of your networking: WAN, cloud, and security.

Going a level deeper, SD-WAN offers advanced traffic management capabilities, where you can prioritize or de-prioritize traffic down to the user level.

Reporting and Network Insights

Going hand-in-hand with the administrative capabilities of SD-WAN, you also have impressive reporting and network insights when running an SD-WAN.

For example, SD-WAN offers reporting capabilities such as:

  • Monitor bandwidth utilization by each node in the network
  • Review network performance on an application level; assess top applications or links with the highest frequency of path degradation
  • Generate a report to verify if the bandwidth guaranteed by your ISP is being honored
  • Conduct network planning, auditing, troubleshooting and ROI analysis

Moving from MPLS to SD-WAN - easier said than done?

Despite the benefits outlined above, CIOs still have tons of questions regarding the power of SD-WAN and if it is perhaps “too good to be true”.

It’s smart to be skeptical of new technologies, especially when MPLS has been a staple in enterprise wide area networks for more than two decades. But as CIO, it’s your responsibility to vet and understand new networking technologies and the potential benefits they could afford your network and IT team.

Hopefully this post helped alleviate some of your concerns around SD-WAN and might even inspire you to investigate a transition from MPLS to SD-WAN.

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