SD-WAN vs MPLS

In the past, MPLS was the only option for implementing a high-performance, reliable wide area network (WAN).  However, this is no longer the case.  Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) provide an alternative designed for the modern network. Choosing the best connectivity fit comes down to many variables, including operating budget, flexibility needs, and geographic distance between remote branches and HQ.

 

Let’s take a look at how the two compare:

SD-WAN vs MPLS

The Case for Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is designed to direct traffic through a network via short path labels rather than network addresses. This enables traffic to be quickly and efficiently directed to its destination without costly inspection.

 

For an organization to take advantage of MPLS, it needs to have physical MPLS circuits installed at each of the connected sites. These circuits implement an MPLS virtual private network (VPN) between these sites, isolating their traffic from the rest of the Internet.

MPLS Pros and Cons

MPLS is a common choice for network connectivity because it provides certain benefits to an organization:

 

  • Performance: Dedicated MPLS circuits are designed to provide high-performance network connectivity, making them a good choice for latency-sensitive applications.
  • Reliability: MPLS circuits provide network connectivity with high reliability. Mission-critical applications may require this level of reliability.

 

MPLS also has a number of disadvantages, mainly due to the fact that it requires physical links to be installed at an organization’s locations:

 

  • Cost: MPLS bandwidth is very expensive, which can make it infeasible to deploy enough to meet an organization’s networking requirements.
  • Expansion: MPLS circuits are physical links. If an organization opens a new physical site, then new links must be installed.
  • Scalability: MPLS circuits are physical links installed on-site at an organization. If an organization’s bandwidth needs exceed the capacity of existing links, additional circuits must be installed, meaning that MPLS scales poorly.

The Case for Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN)

Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is a networking technology designed to enable an organization to implement a high-performance, reliable WAN. It accomplishes this by aggregating multiple transport media and optimally routing traffic over the available transport links, such as broadband Internet, mobile networks, and even MPLS circuits.

 

To an application sending traffic over an SD-WAN network, only a single network pipe is visible. Once traffic is sent to this pipe, SD-WAN will identify the application creating the traffic and apply application-specific routing policies. Based upon these policies and the current status of the available links, the traffic will be sent over the best choice of link to its destination. This approach enables an organization to ensure that high-priority and latency-sensitive applications receive the network performance that they require without wasting expensive, high-performance network bandwidth on less important traffic.

SD-WAN Pros and Cons

SD-WAN solutions have a number of advantages, making them a good choice for implementing a corporate WAN:

 

  • Application-Specific Policies: SD-WAN solutions can detect the application that created network traffic and apply application-specific routing and security policies to optimize performance.
  • Decentralization: SD-WAN appliances can be deployed at each of an organization’s physical locations, moving networking and – potentially – security functionality to the network edge.
  • Performance: SD-WAN aggregates multiple transport media, enabling it to optimize routing of critical and latency-sensitive applications.
  • Reliability: The use of multiple transport media enables SD-WAN to adapt if a particular link is unavailable or offers poor performance.
  • Scalability: SD-WAN is designed to aggregate a number of transport media into a single solution, making it easy to add additional bandwidth as needed.
  • Transport Independence: SD-WAN does not require any particular physical transport media to function, making it easy to deploy at new locations.

 

SD-WAN solutions have their disadvantages as well:

 

  • Appliance Dependence: SD-WAN is implemented as a network of appliances, making it necessary to deploy an SD-WAN solution at each of an organization’s sites and cloud deployments to achieve maximum impact.
  • Security Integration: Not all SD-WAN solutions have integrated security; however, it is possible to find secure SD-WAN solutions that do.

 

SD-WAN vs MPLS – Differences in Detail

 

SD-WAN and MPLS are both solutions designed to enable an organization to achieve high-performance, reliable network connectivity. However, they take very different approaches to doing so. Some key differences between MPLS and SD-WAN include:

  • Confidentiality: MPLS is partitioned from the rest of the Internet but does not provide data encryption. Traffic flowing over an SD-WAN link can be encrypted in a VPN tunnel.
  • Security: MPLS provides no built-in security functionality. Some SD-WAN solutions include integrated security.
  • Transport Media: MPLS offers reliable, high-performance connectivity through dedicated network circuits. SD-WAN aggregates multiple transport media to achieve the same goal.

Making the Choice Between MPLS and SD-WAN

SD-WAN and MPLS are both designed to provide reliable, high-performance, and confidential network connectivity. While both can be effective, SD-WAN is clearly superior in terms of cost, scalability, and security.

 

Check Point has partnered with a number of SD-WAN vendors to offer secure SD-WAN, combining the networking benefits of SD-WAN with Check Point’s security solutions. These offerings integrate with Check Point’s cloud security solutions to provide comprehensive protection of branch and cloud infrastructure.

 

To learn more about Check Point’s secure SD-WAN offerings, please download this solution brief. Furthermore, you’re welcome to contact us directly for more information, sign up for an assessment of our endpoint security portfolio or request a demo to see how your organization can transform branch connectivity with cloud-delivered security services.

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