What’s the Future of MPLS?

You may have noticed that a good portion of the networking world is talking about SDN and SD-WAN solutions.

So what does this mean for the future of MPLS?

In a recent poll taken by Networking World of 305 enterprise business decision makers, 52% were supplementing their MPLS with internet, 21% were favoring the internet to MPLS but not removing it completely, and 15% were cutting the cord to MPLS altogether in favor of the internet.

So, keeping in mind that enterprise business has much different requirements than that of SMB or mid-markets, what does this mean for the literally hundreds of thousands of other businesses that have a need for WAN services?

First, let’s look at some of the challenges of moving to SD-WAN from MPLS, as identified by enterprises.

One such challenge is the security requirements and the perception of MPLS being a more secure technology to that of SD-WAN. MPLS also involves a single provider vs. a potential multitude of ISPs, which a network manager would have to manage. Another issue cited was the need for network SLAs and visibility throughout the WAN.

The drivers of moving from MPLS are equally compelling:

  • Reduced cost for bandwidth
  • Scalability
  • Time to market improvements
  • Less complexity
  • Flexibility to implement changes to the entire network very quickly

Whichever camp you fall into (MPLS or SD-WAN), what’s interesting is 97% of the enterprises are actively engaged in SD-WAN discussions and 28% of those have already implemented SD-WAN into their network. 

So, back to the question:

What does all this mean for mid-markets and SMB businesses? 

It’s our opinion that the flexibility, security, ability to rapidly scale and lower cost of bandwidth far outweigh the cons of limited visibility and SLAs for the mid-markets and SMB. We have customers that have implemented an internet-only strategy very successfully in conjunction with SD-WAN technology.  This includes both a bank and medical services that are heavily regulated and audited by the federal government for security.

Why, then, hasn’t enterprise business replaced MPLS with internet-only connectivity? 

Because the vast majority of enterprise businesses have a heavy investment in Cisco, Juniper and other major hardware providers that requires a level of expertise that most SMB and mid-markets businesses can’t afford to keep on staff.  This equipment requires highly trained individuals with certifications that take years to achieve.

Consequently, these enterprise networks are complex in nature — some by design and others by necessity. All of this complexity makes it far more difficult to “forklift” away from MPLS altogether. For this reason (and this reason alone), we see MPLS having a place in the world for the foreseeable future.

With the right SD-WAN partner, an enterprise, mid-markets and SMB business has much more to gain than to lose by choosing SD-WAN over MPLS. Yet, MPLS will persist for several more years because it still represents perceived value to those who use it.

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