December 20, 2021

SD-WAN versus MPLS for business

As digital transformation continues to shake up the business world, the need for high performing digital networks becomes increasingly important. Organisations that have multiple locations often need to create network links so that data can easily and quickly be transferred from one place to another.

Both software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) offer large corporations a solution to their networking issues. SD-WAN is a relatively new type of networking solution that uses software to create a virtual data network. Similarly, MPLS is also a way for businesses to create a network. With MPLS, predetermined network routes are set up by IT engineers, linking two or more locations with specific routes for data traffic to travel along.

The key difference between the two is that MPLS relies on predetermined routes, while SD-WAN is a more flexible type of network that automatically chooses the best route for data traffic to flow. The software intelligently directs network users through the most optimal connections to ease congestion and optimise bandwidth.

The global SD-WAN market is expected to reach 5.25 billion dollars by 2023 and many believe that it will fully replace MPLS at some point. As a leading supplier of fibre and networking solutions to large companies across Africa, SEACOM supports this move towards SD-WAN. It is especially useful for businesses looking to have an agile, flexible and virtually managed network.

SD-WAN versus MPLS

MPLS is a networking technology that precedes SD-WAN. When IT engineers use MPLS to set up a business network, they select specific routes through which data traffic will flow. The idea behind this is that businesses can decide which data points need to have strongest connections, from a particular branch to the head office, or the head office to the data centre.

SD-WAN is similar in that it aims to optimise data traffic flow from one point to another. However, with SD-WAN, software is used to create a virtual network. This software selects the best route for data traffic, rather than the predefined links that are characteristic of MPLS.

SD-WAN uses overlay networking. This means that a virtual network links various locations using software. This software means that networks can be quickly and easily modified to meet changing needs. The IT team can automate this process to ensure that certain types of data transfer are prioritised.

For example, it might be more important to have high quality video conferencing rather than web browsing. The network can be programmed to give priority to data transfers in video conferencing, ensuring that call quality is always maintained.

MPLS does not have the same flexibility and agility because data traffic routes are set out by engineers when the network is designed. The data needs of a business are always evolving, so having a network that can adapt to these needs is extremely important.

Performance of SD-WAN versus MPLS

A well-designed network using MPLS can have excellent performance. However, this can be short-lived if certain routes stop working properly or if bandwidth requirements significantly increase. In these instances, IT engineers have to rework the network setup to ensure that maximum performance can be achieved. This can be time-consuming and costly.

MPLS generally requires all traffic to be sent through a central hub before going to its destination. This can cause significant network latency or delay. With more and more businesses opting for cloud infrastructure, MPLS is no longer a good networking option.

Unlike MPLS, SD-WAN can route traffic anywhere. SD-WAN supports multiple types of connections, including ADSL broadband connections, mobile networks and even MPLS networks. Traffic flow is optimised, which reduces latency and ensures a reliable and high performing network.

Deployment and management of SD-WAN versus MPLS

SD-WAN is managed using a software as a service (SaaS) application running on the cloud. This means that SD-WAN is controlled by a centralised system that is remotely managed. The software gives the IT team a clear picture of what is happening on the network, reducing the need for manual configuration and an on-site tech team.

SD-WAN can be deployed much faster than an MPLS circuit by using virtual architecture. Creating MPLS circuits is time-consuming and, when data requirements change, the network has to be manually configured so that the best routing paths can be selected. A simple management console is used with SD-WAN. No specific hardware is needed even though it has specialised network functions.

SD-WAN infrastructure is made using commercial off-the-shelf equipment. Businesses can build their own networks, maintain full responsibility for operation and fix problems as they arise. Alternatively, companies can opt for a managed service, with SEACOM taking responsibility for the network’s operation and maintenance. Whether a business chooses a break-fix or managed service, SD-WAN is easier to deploy and maintain than MPLS.

Cost of SD-WAN versus MPLS

SD-WAN offers excellent return on investment with improved IT performance, agility and efficiency. More bandwidth can be used at a lower cost. Automation can be used to select optimal speeds for certain applications because software is used to decide how network traffic is directed while throttling low-priority applications. In addition, maintenance costs are minimal with SD-WAN when compared to MPLS-based networks.

In addition, MPLS bandwidth is expensive. Although it is designed for high performance and network reliability, it isn’t possible to set up MPLS circuits in many locations. SD-WAN allows businesses to use any fibre cables, as well as all other types of internet connections, unlike MPLS.

Benefits of SD-WAN

SD-WAN offers new possibilities, especially for large organizations moving to cloud computing. It offers better performance, flexibility, and reduced complexity compared to MPLS. Cloud computing is driving changes across all industries, and organizations need to make sure that remote teams have fast, always-on internet access from every location.

By using SD-WAN, businesses enjoy the many benefits of a virtualised network. SD-WAN is a more efficient and dynamic networking option when compared to MPLS. It is best suited to growing businesses with multiple locations and heavy data traffic. For more information or to get a quote for our SD-WAN solutions, email us at or leave us a message.

SEACOM owns Africa’s most extensive network of information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, including subsea cables and secure internet connections. We offer a diverse range of flexible, scalable and high-quality solutions for businesses that meet world-class standards for connectivity.

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