MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching) has been one of the primary methods for carriers and Internet service providers to provide premium point to point connectivity for businesses. The primary use case of MPLS links is connecting various branch offices to each other, i.e. connecting private networks over layer-2, i.e. the delivery of packets are done according to the layer-2 labels that are attached to the packets as opposed to using the layer-3 IP addressing based scheme for delivering the packets to their destination. Since only this private network understands the layer-2 labels and since the public Internet doesn’t understand those layer-2 labels, MPLS networks do not naturally connect to public Internet. However, usually, one termination point of the MPLS network is designed to be in the data-center (or head-quarter office) where there exists a backhaul connectivity to the public Internet that speaks layer-3. So it becomes possible for the branch offices to connect to the public Internet via getting to the data-center backhaul via the MPLS transport.
This is all and well, however, you can imagine the limitations on performance for the branch offices for Internet access, as the in most cases the premium cost MPLS pipe will be the bottleneck. For all practical purposes, the MPLS speeds will be significantly lower compared to the backhaul speed at the data-center. Of course, one can upgrade the MPLS network to increase the speed, however, MPLS services are notoriously expensive and bumping up to the next tier is usually out of the question because of cost limitations.
MPLS cost is one of the primary reasons why the MPLS growth has flattened in recent years, even in the enormous growth in data usage and cloud connectivity needs of businesses, both small, medium and large. Projections suggest that MPLS revenue will start to decline (if it hasn’t started yet). The reason of this decline is the technology that can intelligently merge the best of both worlds from the quality of MPLS networks and the cost effectiveness of layer3 bandwidth. By combining these connectivity transports via a technology called SD-WAN (other terms used for describing are broadband bonding or WAN virtualization), businesses can combine 2 or more Internet connectivity resources. MPLS cost can be significantly reduced by this approach as the same or better performance can be achieved, but rather than upgrading to a very expensive MPLS service, the business can add-in cost effective broadband such as DSL, Cable, or even 4G LTE into their WAN resources to increase performance and reliability without the outrages cost of MPLS.
With SD-WAN devices in the offices, businesses can either add cost effective bandwidth, or in some cases, fully replace their MPLS networks with SD-WAN. Because of the agility built into some of the SD-WAN solutions, the application flows are intelligently managed and routed around network problems, therefore raising the quality of the WAN links beyond their standalone SLAs. As an example a single WAN link may have 3 nines reliability, however, combining 3 such WAN links will raise the reliability to 6 nines well beyond a single MPLS reliability.
IT managers interested in dealing with their MPLS cost that is getting out of control, should consider adding SD-WAN capability to their networks to gain the ability to inject cost effective bandwidth resources without reducing their SLAs and connectivity quality.
Cahit Akin, CEO, Mushroom Networks, Inc.
Mushroom Networks is the provider of Broadband Bonding appliances that put your networks on auto-pilot. Application flows are intelligently routed around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss. Network problems are solved even before you can notice.