Elephant in the room
4 MIN READ | SD-WAN

SD-WAN vs. MPLS: Make Your Network Smarter

Zabrina Doerck
Mar. 14 2019

Everyone is always talking about digital transformation these days. But what does that really mean? What does it mean for how your network handles applications? And more importantly, how does that factor into your SD-WAN vs. MPLS question?

From a business standpoint, digital transformation means that IT organizations are investing heavily in new technologies and cloud-based applications to enhance productivity and ensure rich customer experiences. But the customer’s expectation of what their experience should be is really at the core of it all. In today’s digital-first climate, people expect instant access, any time, any place. For your customers and employees, the new normal is a 100% seamless quality of experience and applications that work for every user, every time.

How do we deliver those seamless experiences? Move everything to the cloud. Businesses are rapidly migrating systems to a cloud-based model to deliver universal accessibility for their users. But with all that traffic to the cloud, the burden on the WAN is huge. And in many cases, we’re talking about WAN technologies that are 20 years old – built for a world before the mainstream internet as we know it today. These technologies can’t keep up.

The result: bandwidth has become a precious commodity.

SD-WAN vs. MPLS

So now what? SD-WAN has been positioned as the solution to the problem. Replace your MPLS with a software defined WAN! Trade in those expensive MPLS links for cheaper Internet links, and all your dreams will come true. Happily ever after, the end. 

But is that really true? Is it really necessary to rip and replace your MPLS? And if you do, is that guaranteed to solve your problems?

The truth is, your MPLS isn’t the whole problem. Yes it’s expensive, but it’s also reliable, and your business has probably invested a lot of dollars and resources into MPLS infrastructure.

Charging forward with a simple “rip and replace” approach is not guaranteed to solve your application performance problems. Basic SD-WAN solutions may simplify network and bandwidth management, but they can’t guarantee quality of experience at the application level. And definitely not at the session level.

So if a business can’t achieve the end goal of delivering seamless app performance, then why go through with a costly network revolution? With these factors in mind, I think we can all agree that MPLS isn’t going away any time soon. But really, if you had a smarter network, it wouldn’t have to be an issue.

Let’s hold that thought for a minute and acknowledge another reality: a lot of organizations have struck a balance between cost and performance via hybrid WAN solutions. These networks consist of a mix of MPLS, public Internet, secure encrypted Internet and wireless backup. The array of network options helps enterprises drive economies of scale while maintaining a “good enough” level of performance (meanwhile everyone crosses their fingers and hopes nothing unexpected goes wrong).
 
Does that mean SD-WAN is unnecessary? No, of course not. Enterprises still need an SD-WAN solution to effectively manage their hybrid networks. However, a smart SD-WAN solution can ease the burden on the existing infrastructure and make the question of MPLS replacement irrelevant. 

Make Your Network Smarter

Ultimately, the goal of implementing SD-WAN should not be to replace MPLS (unless you simply want to), but rather, to augment it. The key is to implement an SD-WAN solution that gives you enough application visibility and control to thoughtfully control and prioritize application traffic to suit your business needs, in a dynamic, automated fashion. This is how you ensure quality of experience for your business-critical applications.

There are tons of advantages to everyday SD-WAN. It lets a business turn up new sites lightning fast, and quickly deploy policy changes from a central orchestrator, reducing or eliminating the need for manual interventions. It lets you optimize and control bandwidth consumption. It provides reporting functionality that lets you quickly and proactively respond to network issues. And it provides intrinsic security all the way to the WAN edge.

But without deep application intelligence and control, a basic SD-WAN solution can’t guarantee that your applications are performing seamlessly, providing true quality of experience in alignment with your business goals. Only a smart SD-WAN can deliver that.

I’m coming up against my word count here, but I’d like to leave you with a challenge. If you’re considering an SD-WAN solution, or if you have one in place today, ask yourself this. Does your solution let you take a magnifying glass and examine what’s really happening in your WAN at the session level? Does it let you answer these questions:

  • How are real-time applications performing? Is Slack crashing 10 times an hour?
  • Are collaboration tools actually supporting collaboration, or interfering with it? After your Teams deployment, are employees still storing everything on Box?
  • What is the adoption/usage rate of different business applications? Did you launch O365 and hear nothing but crickets?  
  • What websites and applications are people using the most? Including on-prem, external and shadow IT?

Lastly, and most importantly, does your SD-WAN let you set performance objectives for each application and automatically direct traffic to the appropriate link based on how important they are to the business?

If not, you should talk to Infovista.

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