Key Differences between SD-WAN vs. MPLS

Key Differences between SD-WAN vs. MPLS

For better or worse, businesses are becoming more globalized by the day. Business-critical traffic is increasingly routed between offices across borders, incurring packet loss and latency that are completely unacceptable. Network architectures that served us well for years no longer fit a global business today.

To meet the needs of a global enterprise, our network architectures need to evolve as well. Which architectural approach will best serve your needs — MPLS or cloud networks? Our answer is, well, it depends.

This article is a part of our guide series on SD-WAN.

The Pros and Cons of MPLS

The major reason for using expensive MPLS services is dependability. Service level agreements (SLAs) guarantee latency, packet delivery, and availability.  Should there be an outage, the MPLS provider resolves the issue within a stated period of time or pays the requisite penalties.

But there’s a cost for that kind of service. Despite price erosion, MPLS services remain significantly more expensive than Internet services. According to Telegeography, in Q4, 2016, median 10 Mbps DIA prices averaged 29 percent less than port prices for MPLS IP VPNs.

Every company must assess the importance of guaranteed network performance and quality to a given application and location. When critical, there is a strong case for MPLS.

However,  backhauling internet traffic through MPLS lines can result in degraded cloud performance for remote branches due to the “trombone effect” — when Internet traffic is pulled back to a centralized, Internet access point only to be sent back across the Internet to a destination near the sending user. When a portal is out-of-path or far away from the destination, latency increases and cloud performance is significantly degraded.

Pros of MPLS networksCons of MPLS networks
Low LatencyExpensive
Low Packet LossLong Setup Times: Weeks or Even Months
Guaranteed Availability and PerformanceDegraded Cloud Performance

SD-WAN: Getting the Best of Both Worlds

Until recently, the only way to get predictable performance and reliable connectivity between distant corporate locations was by using expensive MPLS connections, even though inexpensive Internet services are widely available.

SD-WAN is redefining the WAN by creating a network that dynamically selects the most efficient transport service from an array of public Internet connections and MPLS links. It has two main benefits: cost efficiency and agility.

The SD-WAN aggregates several WAN connections into one software-defined network (SDN), using policies, application-aware routing, and dynamic link assessment, to select the optimum connection per application. Ultimately, the goal is to deliver just the right performance and uptime characteristics by taking advantage of the inexpensive public Internet.

Cloud-based SD-WAN: A Step Forward

Cloud-based SD-WAN offers advanced features, such as enhanced security, seamless cloud and support for mobile users, that result naturally from the use of cloud infrastructure. And by running over an SLA-based backbone, cloud-based SD-WAN delivers far more predictable latency and packet loss than the public Internet.

As a result, cloud-based SD-WAN can replace MPLS, enabling organizations to release resources once tied to WAN investments and create new capabilities.Typical use case for new cloud-based SD-WAN deployment is a global enterprise with business processes tightly integrated into the cloud.

Business Needs vs Regulation

Compliance and regulatory issues, as well as business needs, take center stage when making a decision. Regulation can limit your options, but at the same time your network is a strategic business asset, critical for optimizing the overall business performance.

With the rise of SaaS, the cloud, and continuous migration of business-critical applications to mobile and globalized business environment, secure and reasonably priced connections become vital for maintaining international business operations. For a global company operating in distinct markets, a stable and optimized network becomes a mission-critical asset.


Every company is different, and there is no silver bullet when it comes to enterprise networking. However, for global enterprises looking for efficiency and flexibility, cloud-based SD-WAN solves many issues presented by traditional approaches to enterprise networking. To learn more about SD-WAN, subscribe to our blog.

Read more about:


  • What is SD-WAN?

    Software-defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) devices sit in company locations and form an encrypted overlay between themselves across any underlying transport service including MPLS, LTE, and broadband Internet services.

  • What are the benefits of SD-WAN?

    Reduced Bandwidth Costs: MPLS bandwidth is expensive. On a “dollar per bit” basis, MPLS is significantly higher than public Internet bandwidth. Exactly how much more expensive will depend on a number of variables, not the least of which is location. However, the costs of MPLS aren’t just a result of significantly higher bandwidth charges. Provisioning an MPLS link often takes weeks or months, while a comparable SD-WAN deployment can often be completed in days. In business, time is money, and removing the WAN as a bottleneck can be a huge competitive advantage.
    Reliable Network Across the Unreliable Internet: The ability to connect locations with multiple data services running in active/active configurations. Sub-second network failover allows sessions to move to new transports in the event of downtime without disrupting the application.
    Secure Communications: Encrypted connectivity secures traffic in transit across any transport.
    Bandwidth on Demand: The capability to immediately scale bandwidth up or down, so you can ensure that critical applications receive the bandwidth they need when they need it.
    Immediate Site Activation: Bring up a new office in minutes, instead of weeks and months that it takes with MPLS. SD-WAN nodes configure themselves and can use 4G/LTE for instant deployment.

  • What are the key trends driving SD-WAN adoption?

    Enterprises built their networks using legacy carrier services, such a managed MPLS service. These services are expensive, require weeks to months to activate sits, and require waiting for the service provider to make even the simplest of changes.
    SD-WAN offers an escape from that bringing agility and cost efficiencies to IT networking. The SD-WAN connects locations with several Internet connections, aggregating them together with an encrypted overlay. Policies, application-aware routing, and dynamic link assessment in the overlay allow for the optimum use of the underlying Internet connections.
    Ultimately, SD-WAN delivers the right performance and uptime characteristics by taking advantage of the inexpensive public Internet with the security and availability needed by the enterprise.

  • What are the limitations of SD-WAN?

    Lack of a global backbone: SD-WAN appliances sit atop the underlying network infrastructure. This means the need for a performant and reliable network backbone is left unaddressed by SD-WAN appliances alone.
    Lack of advanced security features: SD-WAN appliances help address many modern networking use cases, but don’t help with security requirements. As a result, enterprises often need to manage a patchwork of security and networking appliances from different vendors (Like CASBs) to meet their needs. This in turn leads to increased network cost and complexity as each appliance must be sourced, provisioned, and managed by in-house IT or an MSP.
    No support for the mobile workforce: By design, SD-WAN appliances are built for site-to-site connectivity. Securely connecting mobile users is left unaddressed by SD-WAN appliances.