Since enterprise WANs moved away from the traditional hub and spoke model in the mid-2000s and embraced cloud computing and BYOD (bring your own device), there has been a need for MPLS alternatives. The cost and lack of agility with MPLS simply made it impractical. In the past few years, SD-WAN has emerged as the clear winner in the race to replace MPLS. By offering enterprises a cheaper way to provide WAN connectivity, SD-WAN has proven itself as the MPLS alternative enterprises wanted.
However, viewing SD-WAN through the lens of “an inexpensive alternative to MPLS” misses some of the key aspects of the SD-WAN value proposition. Sure, SD-WAN is cheaper than MPLS, but there is much more to the story than that. Modern SD-WAN platforms like SDWaaS (SD-WAN as a Service) not only beat MPLS from a “dollar per bit”, but also offer performance, security, and management benefits.
Below, we’ll explore those benefits in detail and explain why bandwidth costs are only part of the SD-WAN advantage.
The problems with telco solutions
The initial response from proponents of MPLS may be to call out the myriad of solutions telco providers can bundle with MPLS (WAN optimizers, security appliances, etc.). The idea being that these bundles supplement MPLS to the point it is still the most viable option.
However, the problem is that these solutions are simply building on an inflexible MPLS paradigm that was designed for the old hub and spoke WAN architecture. Layering appliances and services on top of that doesn’t resolve the underlying problem. MPLS-based WANs can’t efficiently and economically service mobile-users and cloud apps. They’re also slow in a digital era where speed and agility are table stakes for doing business on a global scale. Deploying new sites with MPLS can take a month or more. Similarly, moves, adds, and changes (MACs) can take over a day to complete.
All SD-WAN isn’t created equal
So, it’s clear there are problems with MPLS. Most of us already new that. In fact, Gartner declared that SD-WAN is “killing” MPLS last year. However, not all SD-WAN solutions are the same.
Appliance-based “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) SD-WAN solutions enable Policy-based Routing (PbR) giving enterprises access to the flexibility and affordable bandwidth they lacked with MPLS. However, DIY SD-WAN is generally an incomplete solution, lacking many important security features, advanced monitoring, and an SLA-guarantee. This means enterprises need to add more appliances and complexity to their networks to fill these gaps.
Managed SD-WAN from a telco abstracts these problems away from the end user, but doesn’t solve them outright. This leads to higher costs for roughly the same solution as DIY SD-WAN. What enterprises need is a converged SD-WAN solution that offers a converged approach to WAN connectivity. This is where SDWaaS comes in.
The SDWaaS approach to WAN
SDWaaS provides all the benefits that make other SD-WAN solutions a cheaper alternative to MPLS, while delivering much more value as well. The reason for this is SDWaaS delivers a converged, secure, and global solution to enterprises.
SDWaaS is supported by an SLA-backed global backbone. This backbone includes Points of Presence (PoPs) across the globe. As a result, an SDWaaS provider can deliver the reliability and uptime agreements enterprises demand, while also optimizing performance with integrated monitoring and management software.
Further, the cloud-based nature of SDWaaS means that many of the functionalities that previously required discrete appliances are now baked-in. For example, SDWaaS delivers security features like Secure Web Gateway, Anti-malware, and NGFW (Next-generation Firewall) without the need for 3rd party solutions or integrations. It’s all inherently part of the network, enhancingsecurity while reducing complexity.
The idea of the enhanced performance with reduced complexity statement holds true when you consider monitoring and management with SDWaaS as well. HA (high-availability) features like active-active failover and dynamic route selection make optimizing WAN performance simple. Further, changes can be carried out in a matter of minutes or hours as opposed to days or weeks and new sites can be provisioned significantly faster than with legacy WAN solutions.
SDWaaS is not just a cheaper MPLS alternative, it’s a better solution
The takeaway here is clear: SD-WAN is generally a cheaper solution than MPLS for most modern use-cases, but SDWaaS can deliver significantly more value than just lower bandwidth costs. While keeping the cost of bandwidth low is important, particularly as high-definition video streaming, videoconferencing, and other bandwidth-hungry apps grow in popularity, there is more to managing a WAN than just that. SDWaaS offers enterprises a converged solution that delivers lower bandwidth costs while also improving performance and security.
The reason SDWaaS is uniquely positioned to deliver this sort of value is because it isn’t simply an overlay like so many other alternatives. SDWaaS includes all the underlying features to deliver a truly converged and secure WAN to an enterprise. This reduces complexity, improves performance, and enables enterprises to focus more on core business and less on WAN maintenance and management.