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Everything You Need to Know About Moving from MPLS to SD-WAN

Paul Hager
02/18/2021
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By 2024, Gartner predicts 60% of enterprises will be using SD-WAN. This key technology is helping businesses build more agile networks between locations while saving money. Let’s explore what SD-WAN does and how to determine if it’s the right solution for your business.

MPLS vs. SD-WAN

MPLS stands for multi-protocol labeling services. It’s a technical methodology that describes using the shortest path to get between two points in a very large network. So it makes sense that MPLS became the standard for multi-site businesses. However, it has some shortcomings.

First, it’s pricey. Ensuring consistent high-speed internet between multiple locations requires ISPs to build very customized, very dedicated network structures. As you can guess, that comes with a hefty price tag.

Second, there’s no recourse if your MPLS provider goes down. If your provider has an issue – and let’s face it, all technology eventually as an issue – then all of your sites are completely down. After experiencing an outage like that, companies will buy additional service through a second MPLS carrier. Remember what we said about MPLS being pricey? Now the company is paying double the expense for two providers just to avoid a down situation.

SD-WAN stands for software-defined wide-area network. A WAN connects different local networks together so that computers in one location can communicate with computers in other, far away locations. It connects an organization’s local network to the internet.

The first big advantage of SD-WAN is it helps your data move faster and more efficiently. SD-WAN is software intelligence baked into hardware devices (like firewalls) that plug into the edge of a company’s network. The software stitches together the shortest path between two points using the best available connection. Instead of a human having to literally map out all the direct connections between all the locations in the business, the SD-WAN software is doing that work in real time. If a user wants to get to Office 365 in the cloud, say, SD-WAN can direct that traffic to the shortest path across your available internet connections, giving your user a faster, better experience.

Second, it ensures continuity of internet service. SD-WAN securely joins together your company’s multiple sites across a variety of commodity internet products. You can use multiple products like coax, DSL, or fiber and if one of them goes down, SD-WAN will direct your traffic to one of your other connections. That means no outages, no down sites, no lost productivity.

Third – and perhaps most importantly for many businesses – it’s far more economical than MPLS. Remember, MPLS structures are expensive. And many businesses have two of them so they’re covered in case one goes down. SD-WAN uses software to do the work of MPLS. It’s a simpler, more streamlined solution that costs considerably less.

Is SD-WAN Right for You?

Before you make the switch to SD-WAN, you need to find out if it's appropriate for your business, appropriate for the types of data you use, and if it's an option at your various business locations.

Do a survey of the internet providers available at each of your locations. This will tell you if you can have diverse internet connections from different companies at good price points. If MPLS is the only option in your area, SD-WAN won’t work out for you. But if you’re near a major metro area, chances are you can find multiple different internet connections that will make SD-WAN a very viable option. It’s important to be thorough during this stage. Run the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Return on Investment (ROI) numbers so you get a clear picture of the financial impact of an SD-WAN solution.

Consider the data you have and the desired outcome of moving that data around. Will SD-WAN be appropriate for the types of data you use? Do you need to protect voice traffic? Will users at a branch office need to open really large files at a moment's notice? Looking at the kind of data your business uses and how that data needs to move between locations can tell you if SD-WAN is a smart solution.

If, after looking at the numbers and the data, SD-WAN is the way to go, then you need to think about what solution to choose and whether or not you want to manage the system yourself.

There are a lot of SD-WAN products out there and plenty of firewalls that have SD-WAN-like features. So how do you choose? Look at the applications you run. Are you heavy in the cloud, voice, large files, or file shares? Different factors make different SD-WAN products a better fit for you. Because there’s so much to consider, we typically recommend that companies work with an experienced service provider like Elevity to design their SD-WAN game plan.

Finally, you need to decide who will manage your solution. Do you partner with a company to deploy SD-WAN devices, then manage it yourself from there? Or do you go with SD-WAN as a managed service, where you pay a service provider to handle it for you?

Help Your Bottom Line

SD-WAN almost always saves a business money. If you're in IT, it's not often that you can say to your boss, “I'm going to give you more performance, reliability, and uptime for our business. And if we invest in SD-WAN hardware, we’ll be able to pay it back in a month or two.”

With fewer people working onsite nowadays, having high-priced site-to-site connections don’t make sense anymore. For many organizations, it’s better to use SD-WAN because you gain performance and flexibility while saving money – and that money can go towards other IT projects.

If you’d like to learn more about SD-WAN and discover if it makes sense to implement in your business, talk to the experts at Elevity.

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