“Lipstick on a Pig?”: Hybrid WAN, SD-WAN and the Death of MPLS

September 1, 2015

Networking is an enterprise IT discipline where being conservative is often the way to go. After all, without the network, today’s technology-powered businesses are dead in the water.

The network doesn’t have to be totally down, though, to disrupt the business. Slow or unpredictable application response time can cripple point of sale, customer service, manufacturing – essentially every part of the business.

Being conservative, however, can cost the business a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere. MPLS is a 20 years old enterprise networking technology. It had risen as a response to the business need for a reliable and predictable network performance across the wide area network (WAN). For example, remote office employees needed access to latency sensitive enterprise applications like ERP, CRM and Virtual Desktops that were hosted in the company’s data center. The alternative to MPLS, if you could think of it this way, was to jump into the Internet Abyss with Internet-based connections (IPVPN). Unmanaged Internet-based global routing, which I will refer to as the “middle mile”, is a convoluted mess of communication service providers, links and routers. It provides no guarantee that your packet will arrive on time, if at all.

Guaranteed service levels come at a price with MPLS spend representing a big part of the IT networking budget. But even before the cost of using carrier-provided MPLS, organizations have to procure and deploy it. To establish MPLS paths between sites and regions, multiple carriers may need to be selected, contracts and service level agreements negotiated to optimize cost and performance. Than, network equipment has to be installed and configured at every location. In some cases, physical cabling has to be deployed too.

As we discussed, Cloud apps and mobile access had disrupted the enterprise network and increased the pressure on MPLS links – now carrying a large volume of Internet traffic. In addition, distributed IoT environments will generate large volumes of data that needs to be centralized and analyzed. Internet applications, however, are less sensitive to latency. So, unmanaged Internet connection maybe sufficient with MPLS being an expensive overkill.

Using the Internet for the enterprise network is really tempting. Business Internet connectivity has improved dramatically over the past decade while cost had plummeted. Enterprises can access massive amounts of bandwidth for a fraction of the cost of MPLS. Yet, they still can’t get service level guarantees for “the middle mile”. Essentially, unmanaged Internet routing remained the convoluted mess it once was.

Enter the Hybrid WAN. The Hybrid WAN concept suggests that enterprises should split their network traffic in each location into Internet-bound and Enterprise-bound streams. Internet traffic should be sent to the Internet near the point of origination while Legacy, on-premise applications traffic should still be carried over MPLS links to ensure service levels. When done right, such architecture can reduce the load on MPLS links by using them for only “relevant” traffic.

The Internet/MPLS split became the target of companies that belong to a new category: Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN). SD-WAN players attempt to maximize the use of Internet-based connections (IPVPN) from the remote office to the datacenter. They do it by measuring link performance and deciding if IPVPN link works “fast enough” to support a given application or if the alternative MPLS link should be used. For some applications, IPVPN links will never be used.

The SD-WAN approach, in our view, is short sighted. It assumes a split is essential because the “middle mile” challenge is unresolved. We claim that there is little reason for most midmarket enterprises to use MPLS and that Internet-based connectivity is the way to go.

How can that be? The world of networking and security is transforming. Price commoditization, abundant global capacity availability, advances in computing platforms, Cloud software and network architectures – together open up amazing new opportunities. Using cheap last-mile capacity and intelligent Internet-based global network backbone it is now possible to crack the “middle mile” challenge and control the performance of the entire route.

If you want to learn more about SD-WAN vs. MPLS, and how we can help you achieve great connectivity experience at an affordable price, while keeping your network, remote office, mobile users and Cloud applications securely connected – drop us a note or join our Beta.

Yishay Yovel

Yishay Yovel

Yishay directs Cato Networks’ worldwide marketing. Yishay has over 25 years of experience in marketing, defining and deploying enterprise IT software solutions in the areas of security, storage, business continuity and mobile computing.