SD-WAN vs MPLS: Innovations & Best Practices

Peter Niebler
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Building stable, efficient, fast and secure networks that connect your organization across multiple locations is a “must” in today’s world. To accomplish this, many companies turn to either MPLS or SD-WAN technology. What are the differences between SD-WAN and MPLS, and which is the right option for your business?

MPLS and SD-WAN Defined

What is MPLS?

MPLS stands for multi-protocol labeling services. It’s a technical methodology that uses the shortest path to get between two points in a massive network. For that reason, it makes sense that MPLS have become the standard for multi-site businesses. However, it has some shortcomings.

Why MPLS Networks May Not Work for Your Business

First, MPLS is expensive. Ensuring consistent high-speed internet between multiple locations requires internet service providers (ISPs) to build highly customized, dedicated network structures. As you can guess, that requires a significant investment.

Second, there’s no recourse when your MPLS provider experiences an outage. If that happens, all of your sites are completely down. After dealing with an outage like that, companies often buy additional services through a second MPLS carrier. That means paying double the expense for two providers just to avoid costly downtime.

Read More: How to Create an IT Budget

What is SD-WAN?

SD-WAN stands for software-defined wide-area network. A WAN connects different local networks together so computers in one location can communicate with computers in other, remote locations. It also 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 map out all direct connections between business locations, the SD-WAN software does that in real time. If a user wants to access Office 365 in the cloud, SD-WAN can direct that application traffic to the shortest path across your available internet connections — giving your users a faster, better experience.

Second, SD-WAN ensures continuity of internet service. It 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. If one of them goes down, SD-WAN will direct traffic to one of your other connections. That means no outages, no down sites and 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’s out. SD-WAN uses software to do the work of MPLS. 

Overall, SD-WAN is a simpler, more streamlined solution that costs far less.

Is Managed SD-WAN Right for Your Business?

Before you choose SD-WAN, find out if it's appropriate for your business and the types of data you use.

Conduct a Survey of Available Internet Service Providers

Doing a survey of which ISPs are nearby will tell you if you can have diverse internet connections from companies at price points that work for your budget. 

If MPLS is the only option in your area, SD-WAN won’t work for you. But if you’re near a major metro area, chances are you can find multiple different internet connections that make SD-WAN a 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 Your Data

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 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.

Learn More: What Technology is Included in Managed IT Services?

Choosing your Ideal SD-WAN

If you determine SD-WAN is the way to go, then it’s time to think about whether or not you want to manage the system yourself.

There are many SD-WAN products available and plenty of firewalls that have SD-WAN-like features. 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. 

Since 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.

A Better Virtual Desktop Experience for Remote Work

Once your network is settled, what happens next? If you employ remote workers, they need a fast and secure way to access their work, and virtual desktop infrastructure was developed with that in mind.

But older versions of that technology tend to be a makeshift patchwork that lacks important security and functionality features. Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), on the other hand, was created specifically for our modern remote or hybrid work structures. Want to see how AVD has improved upon the old ways? Click the link below to access our eBook, Advancements in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) Technology.

Advancements in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

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