This year marks two decades since the first deployment of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), which has become a bedrock technology for creating, fast, reliable and secure network connections between multiple sites and workers whilst allowing service providers to efficiently scale.
MPLS can be used to deliver anything from IP VPNS to point-to-point metro Ethernet for multiple customers, using a common set of core network devices and protocols. The technique creates highly efficient routes by removing the need for routers to perform header analysis.
Put simply, MPLS labels packets of data so that they can reach their destinations much more efficiently.
Yet, as we all know of course, 20 years is a very long time in tech, and many people have been speculating whether MPLS may have had its day.
A key reason for this is the growing interest and excitement around SD-WAN.
Software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) technology can deliver multiple performance and cost benefits if low-cost broadband internet is included into the mix, it delivers end-to-end network visibility and feedback to improve transmission efficiencies on the go.
The technology also creates a painless pathway from proprietary hardware devices to SD-WANs that are agile and programmable, enabling organisations to keep pace with IT innovations.
Overlay vs. Underlay
While traditional WAN networks run solely on private MPLS circuits routed by a central core network, SD-WAN solutions allow organisations to take advantage of multiple networks (via the public internet), intelligently and dynamically matching specific applications with the optimal connectivity available to individual branches.
SD-WAN doesn’t remove the need for a central ‘hub’ or core to aide in point to point network routing particularly for networks beyond a handful of branch locations. Without a hub set of SD-WAN elements, every branch device will need to create a tunnel to every other branch creating a ‘full-mesh’ which results in tremendous load on each branch device. This load often would translate into the device crashing, reducing its throughput or the need to deploy a high capacity, costly device at every site. Most practical SD-WANs still require a central set of hub SD-WAN sites.
It’s, therefore, a key tool for organisations trying to figure out how to quickly support greater demand for performance, flexibility and mobility from the data centre to the edge, as well of course as helping them reap the scale and cost benefits of SaaS applications.
But rather than pushing MPLS out of the way, SD-WAN is emerging as a complementary ‘overlay’ technology, adding to the growing number of so-called hybrid technology models now taking hold.
MPLS is an ‘underlay’ technology – or the network that sits beneath the network infrastructure and provides connectivity.
It’s important then that organisations not lose sight of the fact MPLS remains a key part of their network architectures, now and well into the future, and that while SD-WAN has many powerful benefits, there are many key things it can’t do, which MPLS can.
Easy isn’t always best
Companies wanting a hassle-free solution for central network control, traffic management and network automation would benefit from adopting SD-WAN. This is because the tech organises intelligence into a virtual overlay, allowing to organisations to design, deploy and modify their network quickly and easily from a central location.
On the other hand, companies that run a lot of mission-critical, real-time apps over WAN (including VoIP calls, video conferencing and remote desktop), may find pure internet-based SD-WAN lacking.
Ultimately, SD-WAN still uses the public internet to connect different sites, which is prone to packet loss, latency and jitter: characteristics not becoming of an enterprise network – it also increases your network’s surface area dramatically, leaving it open to increased attack.
The control and predictability of MPLS combined with the low-cost scale of broadband Internet is the Hybrid SD-WAN that is now emerging as the clear and natural network topology for enterprise.
Brennan IT has an unrivalled pedigree helping Australian organisations access the best network technologies and resources for their needs. Connect with one of our specialist engineers today and start building the best hybrid MPLS/SD-WAN network for your future.