In the mid-1990s, MPLS VPN was a disruptive service to Frame Relay, asynchronous transfer mode and X.25 services offered by telcos.
Gopal Govinder, Executive Head: Business Solutions VPN
Today, I’m often asked if the sun is setting on MPLS VPN and rising for SD-WAN. This might seem to be the case at first glance. But on closer inspection, we see that there are different use cases for different networks.
When cloud computing was launched about 10 years ago, it was designed to co-exist in three functional areas: private cloud (build my own), public cloud (share with others) and hybrid (best of both). We can use a similar construct to position MPLS VPN and SD-WAN: there’s the private network (MPLS VPN), public network (SD-WAN) and hybrid (a combination of MPLS VPN and SD-WAN).
Here are the five primary use cases relating to the MPLS VPN versus SD-WAN debate:
Use case 1: The virtual local area network (VLAN)
A VLAN is a subcategory of VPN. It’s basically a way to segregate network services logically, not physically (there are no physical cables or switches). Its primary purpose is to manage distinct application streams, like voice or video traffic.
Use case 2: The virtual private network (VPN)
Typically, a layer 2 VPN uses shared public telecom infrastructure like the Internet to provide secure access to remote offices and users. This makes it cheaper than an owned or leased line. A VPN typically protects data from "eavesdropping" while it’s in transit, so that no one on the Internet can capture the packets and read the data. It’s typically used by businesses to protect sensitive data.
Use case 3: Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)
MPLS is a type of data distribution technique for high-performance telecommunication networks. MPLS directs data from one network node to the next based on short path labels instead of long network addresses, avoiding complex lookups in a routing table. For global organisations, MPLS is an ideal way to support delay-sensitive, mission-critical applications across locations.
Use case 4: MPLS VPN
MPLS VPN uses MPLS to create layer 4 BGP VPNs. At Internet Solutions, an MPLS VPN is a VPN that’s built in an MPLS network to deliver connectivity between multiple locations. It uses an MPLS backbone to link branches, data centres and head office sites, offering a flexible way to transport and route several types of network traffic. In addition, MPLS VPN uses encrypted tunnelling protocols to provide high levels of security. (Note: The terms MPLS IP VPN, MPLS VPN and MPLS-based VPN can be used synonymously these days.)
Use case 5: SD-WAN
CloudWAN from Internet Solutions is a feature-rich SD-WAN that uses Internet backbones and broadband connections for VPN-like connectivity. SD-WAN use cases connects remote users to branch locations using public Internet connectivity from wherever they are based.
The case for MPLS VPN
While SD-WAN is being promoted through the fast-paced cloud boom, MPLS VPN is still fit for a private network and pulls cloud service providers closer to business customers by mediating the cross-connecting and inter-networking between upstream providers and downstream customers. The reason MPLS VPN is perceived to be on the decline is that the Internet is a much better-scaled network today than it was 10 years ago. It’s much better engineered and is growing in bandwidth and traffic performance, which makes SD-WAN seem to be the more logical choice.
However, there will always be a place for private-based networking, including MPLS VPN, VPLS and ethernet point-to-point or multipoint services. Some organisations, including finance, retail, global enterprises and government institutions are not yet ready to trust the Internet for their greater connectivity requirements – which means there’s still a strong case for MPLS VPN.
Benefits of MPLS VPN
- Any-to-any connections: Highly reliable connections between any points on the network
- Quality of service: Levels of service can be managed for different data types
- Class of service: Mission-critical traffic can be given priority
- High speed: Rapidly increasing bandwidth with high-speed fibre networks
- Low latency: Committed round-trip throughput
- Highly scalable: Allows for seamless and economical addition of new locations and users
- Security: Encryption safeguards against vulnerable threats of the public Internet
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