SD-WAN vs. MPLS: Which Should You Use?

Need to upgrade your technology stack? Here, we'll introduce you to the advantages of SD-WAN and how it compares to traditional MPLS.

Richard Weddle


The world of business is changing. Globalisation means that crucial business data is continually being routed across borders, to centers around the world, leading to latency and packet loss that simply isn’t acceptable in the current marketplace.

If you want to succeed in the new, agile business space, then you need a network architecture that evolves to suit the needs of your company. This demand for transformation has left many companies asking whether SD-WAN or MPLS is best for their future.

Is SD-WAN Better Than MPLS?

Before we began to discover the advantages of WAN and SD-WAN software, there was Multiprotocol Label Switching or MPLS. This traditional data-carrying technique was designed to support high-performing networks, by speeding up and shaping the flow of information.

While there are many advantages to Software-defined WAN (as you’ll see in a moment), MPLS has one significant benefit for modern companies – the ability to provide an exceptional quality of service (QoS). MPLS is incredible at avoiding packet loss and ensuring that your crucial business traffic keeps flowing as, and where it should. If your data centers suffer an outage, your MPLS provider will resolve the issue within a specific period or agree to pay the penalty.

So, how does MPLS offer such fantastic reliability? The simple answer is that it uses the same technology as your switches and routers. MPLS uses packet-forwarding labels and tech to isolate your packages from other traffic in the network, improving predictability.

Aside from offering high-level dependability, MPLS also sets itself apart with the ability to provide QoS/CoS buckets. Companies can define their most important traffic and add it to these buckets to make sure that data is never dropped. Of course, there’s a price for this level of service.

Perhaps the biggest, and most persistent downside of MPLS is the cost of paying for your bandwidth. We’ve entered an age of digital transformation, where countless companies are churning out vast amounts of data at any given time. Today’s organisations require higher bandwidth levels to support their business, and with MPLS, this can be an expensive request.

Why SD-WAN? The Benefits of Software-Defined WAN

According to IDC, the SD-WAN marketplace will hit a value of $8.05 billion by 2021, thanks to its resiliency, flexibility and it’s affordability.

Before SD-WAN was introduced, the only way to achieve reliable connectivity between your globally-dispersed business locations was to pay through the nose for MPLS connections. Today, the SD-WAN benefits of cost efficiency and agility are transforming the WAN as we know it, creating networks that dynamically choose the best transport service from a range of internet connections and links.

Software-defined WAN works by aggregating multiple WAN connections into a single software-defined network, using application-aware routing processes, policies and dynamic link assessment to find the best connection for each application. The goal of SD-WAN is to maintain the best uptime characteristics and performance by taking advantage of the best connections available.

The most significant SD-WAN benefits include access to global reliability, scalability, performance, and control. Additionally, SD-WAN technology is straightforward to implement. Companies can scale their bandwidth requirements up or down according to their needs.

SD-WAN Security: Is Choosing SD-WAN Safe?

Perhaps the biggest benefit of SD-WAN technology is its cost. SD-WAN is much cheaper than using MPLS connections, particularly when you deal with a lot of data every day. However, as any company knows, the right network for you will depend on more than just budgetary restrictions.

SD-WAN security is another major selling point of the technology. Today’s modern businesses need network systems that can integrate high-level policies for data safety. By unifying secure connections, SD-WAN tech can provide peace of mind. You can also benefit from end-to-end encryption as your data travels throughout the entire network.

SD-WAN offers a more flexible approach to the connectivity framework. With Software-defined WAN, you don’t have to rely exclusively on private MPLS solutions to maintain your data services. Instead, you can connect branches through anything from LTE to cable, and xDSL.

The only real down-side is that some people argue that SD-WAN is not quite as reliable as MPLS. Despite the benefits of SD-WAN, MPLS continues to offer the most reliable packet delivery on the market.

Should You Choose SD-WAN or MPLS?

It’s hard to overlook the many SD-WAN benefits available, from agility to low-cost and scalability. If you’re a business that relies on the versatility of the cloud and uses a lot of bandwidth every day, then SD-WAN may well be the best solution for you.

On the other hand, if you can afford to pay extra, and you don’t need to worry about scalability and cloud connections, then MPLS may be the way to go. Deciding how to build your network is a very personal process. It all depends on the environment you’re working in, and the specific goals you have for your data.