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SD-WAN vs MPLS: How Do They Compare For Security

December 23, 2022

SD-WAN vs MPLS is one of the most common debates among network security architects when talking about WAN architecture.

SD-WAN vs MPLS: How Do They Compare For Security

Until recently, MPLS was the sole option for building a fast, dependable wide area network (WAN). This is no longer the case, though. Many businesses are now transitioning from MPLS to SD-WAN to safeguard their network and reduce bandwidth costs.

By having a better understanding of SD-WAN and MPLS along with their advantages, you can choose the solution—or set of solutions—that is/are ideal for your business and your budget.

What is SD-WAN?

To understand what SD-WAN is, learning about WAN is crucial. A wide-area network (WAN) is essentially a collection of interconnected local area networks (LANs) or other networks that communicate with one another. 

The best example of a WAN Network is the internet, which is the largest WAN in the world and is effectively a network of networks.

Today, there are various WAN types available that are designed for a wide range of use cases that affect almost every part of contemporary life. One of them is SD-WAN.

Software-defined WAN, or SD-WAN, was developed to make WAN architectures simpler to implement, run, and manage. It makes use of onsite SD-WAN hardware and software platforms, application-level policies, overlay networks, and virtualization. Through the use of virtualization technology, this ground-breaking solution enables WAN to be configured and operated programmatically.

By removing the need for traffic to pass through the data centre hub, SD-WAN enables security functions to be implemented at the network edge, lowering latency and boosting network performance.

Advantages of SD-WAN

SD-WAN comes with its set of advantages which can be listed as:

  • SD-WAN can be set up to give real-time services and business-critical traffic priority.

  • It provides increased scalability and bandwidth at a cheaper cost by offering flexibility in bandwidth usage as per requirements.

  • It offers better security throughout the whole network by employing strong encryption and deploying virtual firewalls.

  • It can be easily controlled from a single location, and therefore, operating out of multiple locations becomes much more convenient.

  • It enables low-cost local internet access by mitigating from traditional lease lines to cloud based networking.

  • SD-WAN offers network-wide end-to-end encryption, thereby increasing safety and security.  

  • It allows dynamic real-time traffic management, resulting in consistent speed. 

 

What is MPLS?

MPLS, short for Multiprotocol Label Switching, is a routing technique that makes data transfer more efficient, facilitating greater speeds, reducing resource wastage, and other such benefits. 

This affordable system can be smoothly integrated across any existing infrastructure, including IP, Frame Relay, ATM, or Ethernet. Due to MPLS's independence from access technologies, subscribers with various access links can be combined on an MPLS edge without affecting their current environments.

MPLS routes traffic based on specified ‘labels’, in contrast to conventional network protocols that route traffic based on source and destination addresses.

How Does MPLS Work?

Every packet in a network using Multiprotocol Label Switching is named on entry into the network of the service provider by the entrance router, also known as the LER or Label Edge Router. Additionally, this router is the one that decides which Label Edge Router the packet will use to go to its destination.

This segregation of the packets by the LER allows the MPLS routers to forward this traffic based on the criteria set by the forwarding equivalence class (FEC) or class of service (CoS). 

Finally, the departure router gets rid of the labels and sends the first Internet Protocol packet on its way to the final destination.

This way, businesses use MPLS to connect distant branch offices that need access to information or applications that are housed in the data centre or corporate headquarters of the corporation.

Advantages of MPLS

  • Improved connections that are free of jitter and packet loss by allowing different Class of Sections(CoS) to be applied to the packets.

  • MPLS reduces downtime by eliminating the scope of human error by setting up paths across networks.

  • Wider bandwidth is provided by fixing amounts of bandwidth required as per the need.

  • Easy to scale them up or down. By adding or removing IP VPNs without setting up complex tunnels.

  • Offers a variety of Classes of Service(CoS), allowing to adjust different settings for certain sorts of traffic.

 

SD-WAN vs MPLS

Before comparing the security of the two solutions, let's take a look at the basic difference between these

SD-WAN

MPLS

SD-Wan is a virtual circuit that has no physical links.

MPLS works as a dedicated circuit.

SD-WAN was introduced to lower the rising bandwidth costs, making it a cost-effective solution.

Introduced in 1997, MPLS is more hardware dependent. Thus, increasing overall cost in comparison.

SD-WAN can adjust bandwidth allocation for various SaaS applications by smartly identifying them through predefined software.

A reliable, fixed amount of bandwidth is offered via MPLS, which often results in the wastage of bandwidth in the network.

SD-WANs can manage a variety of network connections, including MPLS lines.

MPLS functions essentially like a dedicated leased line connection offering lower packet loss but greater bandwidth costs.

Any networking hardware can be used to run SD-WANs.

MPLS connections must be set up in actual routers in the neighbouring network because businesses must use the same carrier at all WAN-connected sites.

Any ISP can handle an SD-WAN connection since it uses the standard internet.

MPLS needs to configure specialized routers to correctly forward packets. 

SD-WAN vs MPLS: Security

An apparent security benefit of MPLS is that it offers a managed and secured connection between branch offices and the data centre via the internal backbone of the service provider. That same level of security is not naturally offered by public internet connections.

However, this comparison is misleading. The data that MPLS delivers is not subjected to any form of examination. The MPLS client is still in charge of that. Traffic must still be screened for malware and other exploits even when it is traveling through an MPLS connection, which calls for installing a network firewall and additional security features at least on one end of the connection.

The addition of IPS (Intrusion Protection), FWaaS (Firewall as a Service), SWG (Secure Web Gateway), and ZTNA to SD-WAN with SASE security (Zero Trust Network Access). Regardless of whether MPLS or SD-WAN over the Internet is implemented, all of the aforementioned functionalities are required to secure users.

The risks that businesses face today make SD-WAN with SASE and next-generation security safer internet solutions, even though MPLS circuits are private and technically do not need additional protection.

SASE can make network security more consumable and scalable with SD-WAN while cutting costs and administrative burdens. SD-WAN can be provided as a service via SASE platforms, which reduces the need for outmoded network security hardware.

Conclusion

SD-WAN has various advantages, including reduced costs, enhanced agility and flexibility, simplicity of usage and implementation, and higher security. However, private-based networking, like MPLS, will always be in demand, especially from businesses with unique connection and security needs.

When choosing between the two, companies must consider the advantages and disadvantages and choose which needs are most important in their context.

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