Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a critical technology for business Internet connectivity. It offers enterprises dedicated links between sites with high-quality of service (QoS) and is also backed by service level agreement (SLA) from the vendor.
Although MPLS has been a valuable technology for long and helped organisations with multiple offices keep their work sites connected across large areas, critics have started pointing towards its shortcomings. They state that it is costly and MPLS setups need significant investments in terms of equipment. The contract price for circuits can also be high. Vendors provide dedicated traffic pathways, which brings large monthly or yearly invoices. Another criticism of MPLS concerns unfulfilled SLAs. Businesses fear that if the SLA is not met suitably, they will have to face additional issues. These come from the time spent in troubleshooting for circuits that are down and arranging for technical support to fix other problems.
In the past few years, MPLS has been increasingly replaced by an alternative technology – Software Defined WAN (SD-WAN). It comes with many benefits for business networks. SD-WAN devices are easy to install, help in connecting to the cloud and assist in network application identification. The most important advantage is its ability to add multiple circuits to a device that can then choose the most optimum way to use the links for traffic.
By switching over to SD-WAN, businesses feel that they can use their Internet and network connectivity more profitably than with MPLS. Rather than taking a primary MPLS connection and backup broadband that sits idle most of the time, they can have the advantages of both MPLS and broadband with each receiving a fraction of the traffic. Further, they also get a 4G/LTE backup connection that is available for business continuity if one of the links goes down. SD-WAN also allows users to evaluate how responsive the links are for daily use. This feature is useful to ensure that the SLAs are being met on those links.
Does that mean that MPLS is redundant now?
If SD-WAN is more useful, will MPLS fade away from the scene? The simple answer is – no. Even though enterprises prefer to dissociate from pricey dedicated circuits and use broadband with 4G/LTE instead, MPLS will remain active as an Internet connectivity option.
Although SD-WAN can help to leverage multiple circuits and extract more value from them, MPLS is no less important. One of its benefits relates to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems. VoIP calls need pathways that have low latency and low jitter. There should be no variable delays in call sessions. Besides, even though broadband connections provide good connectivity, the chances of jitter and delay cannot be ruled out. This is why MPLS is a better option for organisations that frequently use VoIP for calls.
MPLS also helps where broadband gets affected by large-scale outages. This may be explained with the help of an example. If you use SD-WAN devices in your remote offices, there are channels between devices for the secure transfer of data. Such channels use IPSec encryption. At present, most countries do not block IPSec channels at their border firewall where all Internet traffic coming in and out of the country is inspected. However, if their policy changes sometime in the future, your office may get disconnected from your network merely because there cannot be a connection through the firewall that is beyond your control.
That is where MPLS comes to your rescue.
MPLS circuits can sustain connections through private networks and ensure that your workplace is online and linked to your other offices. Since MPLS is not consumer grade, it is usually handled differently by the regulatory agencies. MPLS circuits can let remote offices in other countries to stay online even if those countries impose regulations that affect traffic on broadband.
Without a doubt, MPLS continues to offer advantages to enterprises that know how to use it. Even if you have already ‘upgraded’ to SD-WAN, you can leverage all three angles of connectivity – broadband, 4G/LTE and MPLS. All have their distinct capabilities that you can utilise for business continuity.