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SD-WAN vs. MPLS: What's the Difference?

StrongDM Team
Written by
Zero Trust Privileged Access Management (PAM)
Fazila Malik
Reviewed by
Product Marketing Manager
Last updated on: June 28, 2023

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Many businesses have traditionally relied on Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks to connect their remote sites and branch offices. However, Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) has emerged as a viable alternative to MPLS, offering greater flexibility, lower costs, and advanced security features. In this article, we will compare the benefits and drawbacks of SD-WAN and MPLS and help you determine which solution is best for your network needs.

Understanding SD-WAN and MPLS

To begin, it's important to understand what SD-WAN and MPLS are and how they operate. Both of these technologies are used to connect multiple locations within an organization, but they do so in different ways.

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN is a software-defined networking technology that uses intelligent routing to optimize traffic over multiple transport links, such as broadband and 4G LTE. By leveraging a central controller, SD-WAN simplifies network management and provides granular visibility into application performance.

One of the key benefits of SD-WAN is its ability to dynamically route traffic based on the performance of the underlying transport links. This means that if one link becomes congested or experiences high packet loss, SD-WAN can automatically route traffic over a different, less congested link. This helps ensure that critical applications and services are always available, even in the face of network congestion or outages.

SD-WAN also provides organizations with greater flexibility when it comes to choosing their network providers. Because SD-WAN can work with multiple transport links, organizations can choose to use a mix of providers to ensure they have the best possible coverage and redundancy.

What is MPLS?

MPLS is a networking protocol that uses labels to direct data packets along predefined routes between network nodes. MPLS offers quality of service (QoS) guarantees, ensuring that certain applications and data types receive priority treatment over the network.

MPLS is typically used by organizations that require a high degree of reliability and performance for their network traffic. This includes applications such as voice and video, which require low latency and minimal packet loss to function properly.

One of the key benefits of MPLS is its ability to provide end-to-end QoS guarantees. This means that organizations can ensure that critical applications receive the bandwidth and priority they need to function properly, even during times of high network congestion.

However, MPLS can be expensive compared to other networking technologies, and it can also be less flexible. Because MPLS requires dedicated circuits between each location, it can be difficult and time-consuming to add or remove locations from the network.

In summary, both SD-WAN and MPLS offer benefits and drawbacks depending on an organization's specific needs. SD-WAN provides greater flexibility and can be more cost-effective, while MPLS offers end-to-end QoS guarantees and is ideal for organizations that require high reliability and performance for their network traffic.

Key Differences Between SD-WAN and MPLS

While both SD-WAN and MPLS serve the same purpose of connecting geographically dispersed locations, the two technologies differ in several key areas. In this article, we will explore these differences in more detail to help you determine which technology is best suited for your organization's needs.

Cost and Pricing

MPLS is often more expensive than SD-WAN, particularly for larger networks with multiple sites. MPLS pricing is typically based on bandwidth usage, whereas SD-WAN offers a more predictable cost model with flat-rate pricing. With SD-WAN, you can easily scale your network up or down as needed without incurring additional costs. This can be particularly beneficial for organizations with fluctuating bandwidth requirements.

Performance and Reliability

MPLS networks typically offer better reliability and performance than SD-WAN, particularly for latency-sensitive applications such as VoIP and video conferencing. However, SD-WAN can provide comparable performance by leveraging multiple transport links and intelligent traffic management. SD-WAN can also offer better performance for cloud-based applications, which are becoming increasingly important for many organizations.

Scalability and Flexibility

SD-WAN offers greater flexibility and scalability than MPLS, as it can be deployed quickly and easily to new sites without requiring physical infrastructure changes. Additionally, SD-WAN can be easily integrated with cloud-based applications and services. This can be particularly beneficial for organizations that are rapidly expanding or have a distributed workforce.

Security Features

SD-WAN offers advanced security features, including encryption and microsegmentation, which can enhance network security and protect against cyber threats. MPLS, by contrast, typically relies on physical security measures, such as private circuits and dedicated lines, to protect network traffic. With SD-WAN, you can ensure that your network is secure and protected against the latest cyber threats.

In conclusion, both SD-WAN and MPLS have their strengths and weaknesses. While MPLS offers better performance and reliability, SD-WAN offers greater flexibility, scalability, and advanced security features. Ultimately, the choice between these two technologies will depend on your organization's specific needs and requirements.

Pros and Cons of SD-WAN

Advantages of SD-WAN

SD-WAN, or Software-Defined Wide Area Networking, is a technology that is rapidly gaining popularity among businesses of all sizes. There are several advantages to using SD-WAN, including:

  • Low costs and predictable pricing: SD-WAN solutions are often less expensive than traditional WAN solutions, and they typically offer predictable pricing models that make budgeting easier.
  • Greater flexibility and scalability: SD-WAN solutions are highly adaptable and can be easily scaled up or down to meet changing business needs. This is particularly useful for businesses that are growing rapidly or have fluctuating bandwidth requirements.
  • Advanced security features: SD-WAN solutions often include advanced security features that help protect against cyber threats, such as malware and phishing attacks. This is especially important for businesses that handle sensitive data or operate in regulated industries.
  • Reliable performance through intelligent traffic management: SD-WAN solutions use intelligent traffic management to ensure that critical applications receive the necessary bandwidth and priority to operate smoothly. This helps prevent network congestion and ensures reliable performance for users.

Disadvantages of SD-WAN

While there are many advantages to using SD-WAN, there are also some potential disadvantages to consider, including:

  • Potentially lower reliability than MPLS, particularly for latency-sensitive applications: While SD-WAN solutions are generally reliable, they may not be as reliable as MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) for latency-sensitive applications. MPLS is a more established technology that has been around for longer, and it may be a better choice for businesses that require the highest levels of reliability.

Overall, SD-WAN is a powerful technology that can offer many benefits to businesses of all sizes. Whether you are looking to reduce costs, improve security, or increase flexibility, SD-WAN may be the right choice for your organization.

Pros and Cons of MPLS

MPLS or Multiprotocol Label Switching is a popular networking technology that is widely used by businesses and organizations to connect their different locations and provide secure and reliable connectivity. While MPLS offers many advantages, it also has some drawbacks. Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of MPLS.

Advantages of MPLS

  • Superior reliability and performance: MPLS is known for its superior reliability and performance, particularly for latency-sensitive applications. With MPLS, traffic is routed along pre-determined paths, which helps to reduce packet loss and latency. This ensures that applications such as video conferencing and VoIP work seamlessly, without any delays or disruptions.
  • Advanced QoS guarantees: MPLS allows for advanced Quality of Service (QoS) guarantees, which means that you can prioritize traffic based on its importance. This is particularly useful for businesses that have critical applications that need to be given priority over other less important traffic. With MPLS, you can ensure that your critical applications always get the bandwidth they need.

Disadvantages of MPLS

  • Higher costs: MPLS can be more expensive than other networking technologies, particularly for larger networks. This is because MPLS requires specialized hardware and software, as well as dedicated lines, which can add to the overall cost of the network.
  • Less flexible and scalable than SD-WAN: MPLS is less flexible and scalable than SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Networking), which is a newer networking technology that is gaining popularity. With SD-WAN, you can use any type of connection, including broadband, LTE, and satellite, to connect your different locations. This makes it more flexible and scalable than MPLS.
  • Limited security features: MPLS has limited security features, which means that you may need to add additional security measures to protect your network from cyber threats. This can add to the overall cost and complexity of the network.

In conclusion, MPLS offers many advantages, including superior reliability and performance, and advanced QoS guarantees. However, it also has some drawbacks, such as higher costs, less flexibility and scalability than SD-WAN, and limited security features. When deciding whether to use MPLS or another networking technology, it's important to weigh the pros and cons carefully and choose the option that best meets your business needs.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the choice between SD-WAN and MPLS will depend on your network needs, budget, and desired level of performance and flexibility. By carefully assessing these factors, you can determine which solution is right for your network and ensure that your business remains connected and productive.


About the Author

, Zero Trust Privileged Access Management (PAM), the StrongDM team is building and delivering a Zero Trust Privileged Access Management (PAM), which delivers unparalleled precision in dynamic privileged action control for any type of infrastructure. The frustration-free access stops unsanctioned actions while ensuring continuous compliance.

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Continuous Authorization is a security concept ensuring ongoing validation of users' access rights within a system. Employing real-time session monitoring...

What is Continuous Monitoring?

What is Continuous Monitoring? Continuous monitoring is a systematic and ongoing process that uses automated tools and technologies to monitor the...

What is Customer Identity Access Management (CIAM)?

Customer Identity Access Management (CIAM) is a specialized branch of identity and access management designed to facilitate secure and seamless customer...

What is Cyber Threat Hunting?

Threat hunting is the cyber defense practice of proactively searching for threats within a network. Threat hunters look for threats that may have evaded...

What Is Disaster Recovery Policy (DRP)?

Disaster Recovery Policy is a strategic framework outlining procedures and resources to swiftly restore essential business functions after a disruptive...

What Is eXtensible Access Control Markup Language (XACML)?

eXtensible Access Control Markup Language (XACML) is a standard for specifying and exchanging access control policies in computer systems. It provides a...

What Is Fine-Grain Access Controls?

Fine-grain access controls are a type of access control that enables granular access to systems, applications, and data. Access is based on specific...

What Is Group-Based Access Control (GBAC)?

Group-Based Access Control (GBAC) is a security model that regulates access to resources by assigning permissions based on user group membership. It...

What Is Identity Fabric?

Identity Fabric refers to an integrated set of identity and access management services that provide seamless and secure user access across a diverse range...

What Is NoSQL Injection? Examples, Prevention, and More

What is NoSQL Injection? NoSQL Injection is a type of injection attack that exploits vulnerabilities in NoSQL databases by injecting malicious code into...

What Is Policy-as-Code? Tools, Examples, Implementation

Policy-as-Code refers to the practice of managing and implementing policy decisions through code, making them enforceable and verifiable within IT...

What Is Privileged Identity Management (PIM)?

Privileged identity management is the process companies use to manage which privileged users—including human users and machine users—have access to which...

What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)?

What is Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)? Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is a proprietary protocol developed by Microsoft that allows users to remotely...

What Is Segregation of Duties (SoD)?

Segregation of Duties (SoD) is a risk management principle that ensures critical tasks are divided among different individuals to prevent conflicts of...

What is Vendor Privileged Access Management (VPAM)?

Vendor Privileged Access Management (VPAM) is a cybersecurity strategy that focuses on controlling and securing third-party access to an organization's...

What Is Zero Trust Data Protection?

Zero Trust Data Protection is a security framework that assumes no inherent trust, requiring verification from anyone trying to access data, regardless of...

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X11 Forwarding: What Is It, Why Use It, How to Set It Up

X11 Forwarding is a feature of the X Window System that allows a user to run graphical applications on a remote server while displaying them locally. This...

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Zero Trust

Zero Trust is a modern security model founded on the design principle “Never trust, always verify.” It requires all devices and users, regardless of...

Zero Trust vs. the Principle of Least Privilege: What's the Differences?

As cyber attacks become more advanced and frequent, organizations are realizing the importance of enhancing their cybersecurity strategies. Two approaches...

Zombie Accounts

Zombie accounts: forgotten accounts that open the door to bad actors looking to insert malware, steal data, and damage your internal systems.

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