SD-WAN continues to see adoption rates rise. While MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) still has a strong foothold in the WAN connectivity market, it does seem that the tide is turning and SD-WAN is the way of the future for the enterprise. Even industry experts like Gartner, who has declared SD-WAN is killing MPLS, agree with this sentiment.
In this piece, we’ll add some more detail to the MPLS vs SD-WAN debate by exploring 3 key benefits of one of the most compelling forms of SD-WAN, SDWaaS (SD-WAN as a Service).
What is SDWaaS?
Before we dive into the benefits of SDWaaS, let’s review some of the key characteristics of the service. It offers the standard SD-WAN benefits such as: the ability to leverage multiple transport methods (xDSL, cable, 4G LTE, etc.), software defined policy-based routing, and the ability to use economical public Internet bandwidth; just as you would expect.
What differentiates SDWaaS from other SD-WAN solutions are also what makes it such a compelling MPLS alternative: a robust SLA-backed global backbone that is supported by Tier-1 ISPs (Internet Service Providers), a baked-in full network security stack, and seamless support for mobile users. The global backbone includes points of presence (PoPs) across the globe that help improve performance and eliminate single points of failure. The network security stack allows enterprises to become less dependent on third party security appliances as it adds features like threat detection, anti-malware, and NGFW (Next Generation Firewall) directly to the infrastructure. Finally, the mobile clients make connecting mobile users easier than alternative WAN solutions.
The benefits of SDWaaS
With an understanding of the key characteristics of SDWaaS out of the way, let’s dive into how they come together to offer specific benefits to the modern enterprise.
- Increased bandwidth
MPLS bandwidth is expensive and on a dollar per bit basis, public Internet bandwidth is much more affordable. What this means is, by using SD-WAN, enterprises can replace MPLS connections with multiple local Internet connections. Further, these connections can be aggregated to increase bandwidth significantly. In some cases, enterprises can not only see their increase by 2x or more, their “burstable” (short-term, high-consumption) bandwidth also skyrockets. Additionally, since multiple connection methods can be used (e.g. fiber and radio), high-availability efforts can be supplemented by dual-homing links and using multiple mediums.
- Lower costs
What may be most impressive about the aforementioned bandwidth enhancements is that they can be achieved at a lower cost. Not only is Internet bandwidth significantly cheaper than MPLS bandwidth, reduced spend on appliances and opex add to the savings made possible by SDWaaS. Empirically, users have implemented SDWaaS at about a quarter of the cost of MPLS. While the use-case will certainly drive how drastic the cost savings are, the general idea that SDWaaS leads to a non-trivial positive impact on the bottom line holds true in most cases. When you consider the huge difference in bandwidth costs and couple that with the reduced time investment required for provisioning, you can understand why.
- Streamlined deployments
Provisioning a new site, for example a new branch location or onboarding a location as a result of a merger or acquisition, can often take months, or even years, with MPLS. Comparable rollouts with SDWaaS can be completed in days or weeks. Further, once the SDWaaS infrastructure is integrated with your WAN, self-deployment of new locations can be completed in minutes or hours.
While the most obvious benefit here is lower opex costs, there is another important benefit: agility and productivity. Enterprises that can rapidly provision new locations can become productive faster and gain a competitive edge. If a WAN is a bottleneck to productivity, not only does that reflect poorly on IT, it impacts the entire enterprise negatively. The cloud-native nature of SDWaaS inherently mitigates the complexities of WAN deployments using MPLS. There is no need to navigate the complexities of dealing with an MPLS provider to provision dedicated links to physical locations. Eliminating this time-consuming step, as well as the other complexities that come with an MPLS deployment, help enterprises focus more on core business functions and less on infrastructure maintenance.
Additionally, the cloud-native nature of SDWaaS enables easy access for mobile users. This is a huge value add in a world where more and more work is being done on the road and away from corporate offices. Connecting mobile clients to corporate networks has long been a bane to IT teams, and SDWaaS makes this significantly easier. This further enhances overall productivity and efficiency within the enterprise.
SDWaaS helps enterprises improve performance, cut costs, and streamline provisioning
As we have seen, SDWaaS offers a number of benefits for the modern enterprise. While proponents of MPLS have made arguments against SD-WAN solutions for their reliability and lack of SLAs, those arguments simply don’t hold up against SDWaaS. SDWaaS is flexible, secure, and robust. For this reason, enterprises that adopt SDWaaS are able to benefit from higher bandwidth, reduced costs, and streamlined operations.