How businesses are finding a new way to future-proof their networks
Over recent years, many businesses have come to rely on the highly effective infrastructure that multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) delivers, and as a trusted solution, it has become the foundation on which the demands of today’s digital customers can be fulfilled. MPLS provides a highly reliable platform on which businesses can build their networks to offer increased agility and more robust security. As enterprises continue to expand and diversify by adopting cloud services, this can be enhanced by implementing a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) alongside existing MPLS architecture in a hybridised configuration, writes David Palmer, the head of product and network design at Claranet.
Large organisations with multiple locations have avoided high latency by building MPLS networks between sites, but this alone may be insufficient to handle the growing pressures on bandwidth and speed. Cloud hosted applications powered by data centres in external locations must pass through public networks, thereby negating the benefits of an MPLS network. With the SD-WAN market expected to grow to more than US$12.11 billion by 2023, IT departments should consider a digital infrastructure that includes an SD-WAN optimised by MPLS, as this will be vital for multi-location connectivity.
The new network
That’s why new technologies and techniques to utilise existing network infrastructures have recently come into play. One avenue that has been gaining a great deal of press recently is SD-WAN -often misconceived as a replacement to MPLS. SD-WAN has its own merits, but it should not be seen as an alternative because this technology has the potential to expand a business’s services and MPLS network capability without wholesale disruption.
Reducing costs is often seen as the core reason to adopt SD-WAN, either in a hybrid configuration or as a misconceived replacement for MPLS, but this is not the case. It is vital to understand the way data flows across MPLS networks and the wider internet. Businesses may already use SaaS services that are hosted, such as Salesforce on the public cloud and a trombone effect – the long circuitous journey data has to travel between far-away servers increasing latency for the end-user – can quickly come into play here, also introducing potential security issues. Here, SD-WAN needs to be carefully integrated to ensure it carries the right traffic and benefits the workflow across each business.
MPLS and SD-WAN
Businesses strive to continually improve their network infrastructure. However, it is a misnomer to think of SD-WAN as a direct replacement for existing MPLS networks. To implement SD-WAN, an underlying network – which could be an MPLS network – must exist. SD-WAN complements and expands the capabilities of the MPLS network and also helps businesses unlock the additional potential of their MPLS network.
Creating hybrid networks is not new, as businesses may have been mixing MPLS, internet and VPLS for several years to gain the services and performance they need. SD-WAN does not change this approach, but merely offers a more natural method of harnessing the internet for some business processes, or customer-facing sites. Businesses should look carefully at each of their processes and how data moves across their MPLS network and the internet to have an informed view of whether SD-WAN will deliver performance advantages, and cost savings.
The advantages that hosted services have bought to businesses are undeniable. The flexibility and platforms available illustrate how powerful the internet can be. It is a balancing act to ensure the right traffic flows over MPLS or the internet, which is where SD-WAN can help businesses better manage their particular blend of access and traffic. Existing MPLS networks have delivered efficient traffic management for several years, but today, businesses need a mix of integrated and flexible network communication options to ensure they can continue to operate efficiently and meet the increasingly complicated demands of customers and commercial partners.
Smart businesses take a holistic approach to how they manage and expand their existing network infrastructures and as no two businesses are the same, it is vital to carefully consider the unique requirements and projected future networking needs. Remember, SD-WAN is not a replacement for an MPLS network, but offers a new layer of flexibility, that will be important as business needs expand and diversify.
What does the future look like?
SD-WAN has suffered to a degree of hyperbole. With 5G on the horizon promising decentralised network performance, SD-WAN may be an interim step towards the goal of a single high-performance network.
Ultimately, SD-WAN offers an option to improve some aspects of a business’s network infrastructure, but the technology is not a panacea for poor performance and high latency.
Approaching SD-WAN as an upgrade to MPLS networks ensures SD-WAN is implemented correctly and delivers real business value. Organisations should ask which areas of their business’s networking need improvement, and then whether deploying SD-WAN can deliver those requirements.