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For nearly 20 years, MPLS has been the undisputed solution for enterprise WANs. It provided then an affordable way to collapse multiple networks, such as a company’s voice and data network, onto one physical network. MPLS services can provide high-speed and reliable connections backed with an SLA by the carrier. Businesses that have critical applications that require consistent performance have relied on MPLS to meet those demands.


However, since MPLS’ introduction, business requirements have changed substantially. No longer are companies tolerant of the long time need for an MPLS provider to setup a connection. An MPLS installation should not be confused with the typical Internet circuit install. Your average Internet circuit can take as little as one day to be up and running. Depending on the location, an MPLS circuit can take from several weeks to months in many cases.


One of the main causes of delay is the installation of the local loop. In the U.S., a 45-60 day time frame is typical to install pull the fiber in the local loop,  whereas in many international locations, you can expect to wait 90-120 days after contracts are accepted.


More time is needed to plan and configure MPLS connections. MPLS design considerations for deployment can include the geographical scope of the organization, business and user needs, and technical considerations such as network security, routing, and CoS.

The Direct and Indirect Costs of MPLS

In addition to the time it takes to deploy an MPLS circuit, there is also a relatively hefty price tag associated with the technology. In reality, MPLS prices are very similar to dedicated Internet access (DIA) circuits. What is true, though, is that Internet access can also be delivered through inexpensive broadband services, such as xDSL and cable, which are far less expensive than  MPLS.


MPLS circuit costs essentially consist of the port (the MPLS backbone) and the local loop. The port cost is generally a small portion of the local loop. Broadband local loops are less expensive and costs are further reduced by sharing the Internet connection among many customers.


Other, less impactful reasons for the high cost of MPLS partly goes back to the complexity of deployment. The planning and configuration take time and requires skilled engineers to guide the process. The expense can also be attributed to the limited number of credible carriers that can provide national or global networks. When choices are few, prices are higher. With no viable alternative to compete with MPLS, carriers have no motivation to reduce the cost of MPLS services.


There are also indirect costs of MPLS that can affect business agility. When choosing an MPLS carrier, that carrier must be the provider for all locations in the network. If an organization feels a service provider is not performing to satisfaction or doesn’t offer service in an area of possible expansion, switching to another provider is a heavy lift and can force limitations on business decisions.

Problems With Addressing the New Normal

Businesses are moving applications to the cloud and find the flexibility and scalability of the cloud environment helps their business keep pace with changing needs and requirements. However, as Futuriom Founder and Chief Analyst, Scott Raynovich points out, “MPLS is designed to support point-to-point data centers, not cloud.”


When users are accessing cloud applications via MPLS networks, the user experience is generally worse than reaching cloud applications directly from the Internet. This is because, in order to reach the cloud, users on the MPLS network must first be directed through the datacenter and only then through the Internet to the cloud. This scenario creates additional routing which introduces latency and wastes precious MPLS bandwidth. Internet bandwidth can now be commonly in the range of 100Mb to 10Gb speeds, whereas higher MPLS bandwidth is difficult to find and becomes cost prohibitive. Because of these bandwidth limitations, WAN optimization appliances are commonly installed at each location to maximize the bandwidth usage. These appliances add cost in terms of purchasing hardware —   but also regarding maintaining the devices and having qualified network engineers to keep everything running smoothly.


Negatively impacting user access to the cloud can affect the productivity of employees, particularly mobile users. To securely connect to resources, mobile users must first connect via VPN then traverse the MPLS network to access resources in the datacenter or the cloud. These users generally have a less than ideal experience and may try to bypass corporate security in order to connect to cloud resources.


Before the cloud and the increase of a mobile workforce, MPLS provided a reliable conduit to access business resources. But with today’s environment dominated by cloud applications and users connecting from many different locations, a WAN solution is needed that can effectively address the new normal.

The SD-WAN Alternative

SD-WAN addresses these new requirements with the ability to deploy quickly, change bandwidth-on-demand, and intelligently control traffic to optimize application performance. With SD-WAN, traffic isn’t required to funnel through the datacenter, and it is carrier agnostic, so businesses aren’t tied to one provider.

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