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MPLS is hanging on in this SD-WAN world

News Analysis
Jul 17, 20193 mins

The legacy networking protocol is still viable and there is no need to replace it in certain use cases, argues one cloud provider.

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The SD-WAN networking market is booming and is expected to grow to $17 billion by 2025, and no wonder. Software-defined wide-area networking eliminates the need for expensive routers and does all the network connectivity in the cloud.

Among its advantages is the support for secure cloud connectivity, one area where multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) falls short. MPLS is a data protocol from before the internet took off and while ideal for communications within the corporate firewall, it doesn’t lend itself to cloud and outside communications well.

You would think that would seal MPLS’s fate, but just like IPv6 is ever so slowly replacing IPv4, MPLS is hanging on and some IT pros are even increasing their investment.

Avant Communications, a cloud services provider that specializes in SD-WAN, recently issued a report entitled State of Disruption that found that 83% of enterprises that use or are familiar with MPLS plan to increase their MPLS network infrastructure this year, and 40% say they will “significantly increase” their use of it.

The report did not find one protocol winning that the expense of another. Just as 83% plan to use MPLS, 78% acknowledged plans to use SD-WAN in their corporate networks by the end of the year. Although SD-WAN is on the rise, MPLS is clearly not going away anytime soon. Both SD-WAN and MPLS can live together in harmony, adding value to each other.

“SD-WAN is the most disruptive technology in our study. It’s not surprising that adoption of new technologies is slowest among the largest companies. The wave of SD-WAN disruption has not fully hit larger companies yet, but our belief is that it is moving quickly upmarket,” the report stated.

While SD-WAN is much better suited for the job of cloud connectivity, 50% of network traffic is still staying within the corporate firewall. So while SD-WAN can solve the connection issues, so can MPLS. And if you have it deployed, rip and replace makes no sense.

“MPLS continues to have a strong role in modern networks, and we expect that to continue,” the report stated. “This is especially true among larger enterprises that have larger networks depending on MPLS. While you’ll find MPLS at the core for a long time to come, we expect to see a shared environment with SD-WAN at the edge, enabled by broadband Internet and other lower cost networks. “

And MPLS isn’t without its advantages, most notably it can guarantee performance while SD-WAN, at the mercy of the public internet, cannot.

As broadband networks continue to improve in performance, SD-WAN will allow companies to reduce their reliance on MPLS, especially as equipment ages and is replaced. Avant expects that, for the foreseeable future, there will continue to be a very viable role for both.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.