What's the Difference Between SD-WAN and MPLS?

What's the Difference Between SD-WAN and MPLS?
What's the Difference Between SD-WAN and MPLS?

In this new digital era where businesses are growing, having a reliable network infrastructure solution that can connect their regional offices or branches in different geographical locations is necessary.

Further, with the adoption of cloud networks and software as a service, businesses look for solutions that can connect multiple users and locations to businesses without compromising security and performance.

Earlier, there used to be only limited options for this, such as multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). But with the advancement, business starts considering software-defined WAN (SD-WAN).

While MPLS is a protocol that can improve wide area network (WAN) performance, SD-WAN simplifies WAN management. However, there is still a doubt regarding MPLS and SD-WAN. In this blog post, we will learn about SD-WAN and MPLS.

Understanding of MPLS

Multiprotocol label switching, or MPLS, is a networking or transport protocol used to deliver data packets to destinations within a network quickly and efficiently. However, to avail of this service, businesses must install or put physical MPLS circuits at work sites for the data exchange.

Basically, In MPLS, instead of an IP address, the network traffic is routed using a label to determine the shortest path. The primary goal is to minimise jitter, reduce packet loss and move traffic quickly.

How Does MPLS Work?

To understand the MPLS working, you need to understand the standard IP routing, which only contains the information where the data is being delivered or sent.

That means the router has to make individual decisions about the data forward and transfer based on the packet's network-layer header. Due to independent decision-making, the router's performance gets degraded as it makes the route overbearing.

However, on the other hand, MPLS leverages the predetermined "labels" concept instead of relying on destination addresses. In MPLS, traffic is routed using a pre-decided label-switched path, and the router's work is just to interpret the MPLS label traffic.

This phenomenon helps in reducing the latency issues. Not just this, MPLS can also divide networks into various logical private networks by overlapping IP addresses. This will help manage the WAN traffic for various users within the same network.

Understanding of SD-WAN

SD-WAN is an approach to managing the WAN. While MPLS offers network connectivity to different geographical locations, data centres, etc, SD-WAN is a step ahead of traditional MPLS technology.

The general goal of SD-WAN technology is to simplify the operations of WAN by decoupling the network hardware by intelligently steering application traffic flow across multiple WAN transports.

It allows businesses to prioritise critical network traffic using various transport methods such as direct internet broadband, MPLS circuits and more. This makes the management of WAN simple. Further, with a remote and cloud-familiar workforce, SD-WAN offers secure and reliable network connectivity.

How Does SD-WAN Work?

The working of SD-WAN involves using application-aware routing protocols to enhance the network performance of a network. In the traditional router-centric model, the traffic is routed based on TCP/IP addresses and ACLs (Access Control Lists).

This makes the entire network more complex, rigid and inefficient. However, SD-WAN, on the other hand, provides intelligent application-aware routing across the wide area network.

Usually, virtualised overlays are created, which are end-to-end encrypted tunnels in SD-WAN solutions through which network traffic is routed based on business policy to offer an optimal quality of service (QoS).

The purpose of tunnels is to connect users and entities to cloud-based software such as SAAS, IAAS, etc. This whole procedure lowers the infrastructure cost and also enhances the user experience.

SD-WAN vs MPLS - Quick Overview

Let's have a quick overview of SD-WAN vs MPLS.





Highly Scalable

Limited Scalability

Network Architecture

Overlay network using a combination of connections

Dedicated Infrastructure

Traffic Optimisation

Intelligent steering

Route through the central security gateway


Built-in security capabilities

Requires Security Solutions


Cost Effective


Difference Between SD-WAN and MPLS

Both SD-WAN and MPLS are network protocols for wide-area networks. But there are some key differences.

While MPLS technology uses a dedicated infrastructure to route data in a predictable manner, SD-WAN works with network function by moving it from physical to virtual; all the network infrastructure is managed via cloud and software.

In short, MPLS connections are dedicated to users with infrastructure in place, while SD-WAN can be built on existing paths such as public Internet. Let's understand SD-WAN vs MPLS based on various factors:

  • Ease of Management - When it comes to management, the SD-WAN requires active participation from the user. Some vendors take the management load from users by offering easy-to-use cloud-based applications. Using this solution, businesses can manage the networks, such as gain deep visible insight, optimise traffic and more using a central dashboard. On the other hand, MPLS is carrier-managed, and the user has little to less responsibility related to network management.
  • Quality of Service (QoS) - When it comes to quality of service, MPLS is a true winner since the data packets in MPLS technology are isolated and assigned based on categories of traffic over dedicated or private lines. Because of this, the data packet loss is zero. Further, the carriers that offer MPLS management backed with 99.9% SLA ( service level agreements) ensure that the business will have performance, speed and reliability. However, SD-WAN uses public internet but still offers the same quality of service and reliability as MPLS offers. However, the data routed over the public Internet in Sd-WAN has no SLA.
  • Security - Based on security, MPLS uses a dedicated server for data transport; since it is away from the public Internet, it is not vulnerable to cyber-attacks. However, it does need a security solution to protect the network from unauthorised access. That can be done by stealing any user's credentials. MPLS technology doesn't come with security features; users need to maintain the security aspect on their own. While in SD-WAN, businesses will get various security options from vendors. Businesses can apply their hand on multi-layer security such as end-to-end encryption, URL filtering and more.
  • Cost - The cost of an MPLS solution is relatively high since it requires dedicated infrastructure. Further, based on the types of data travelling within the network, bandwidth requirements in MPLS can also be very high. Also, if the business wants to expand its network in different geographical areas, it brings additional infrastructure costs. So scaling with MPLS technology can be very expensive. However, with SD-WAN, physical distance between endpoints is not concerning since it can be used on public networks such as regular broadband, cellular service, etc. SD-WAN's ability to use different networks makes it cost-efficient. There is no additional cost when it comes to scaling in SD-WAN.

Between MPLS and SD-WAN

When it comes to choosing between SD-WAN and MPLS, it depends on business needs. But the business that rely on cloud networks and supports different workforces, SD-WAN seems to be a reliable option because of its lower cost, scalability and flexibility.

However, there are specific challenges associated with SD-WAN since it depends on internet circuits, which can enhance the chances of attack surface for business.

Compromising with security is not an option for business in this digital era. However, businesses can avoid the problem by combining the SD-WAN with zero trust security. Using zero trust approach can help businesses in many ways, such as:

  • Zero-trust methods offer greater visibility to organisations, and based on that, they can make better rules for controlling access.
  • Zero trust limits access to designated entities. All entities must undergo identification, context, and policy checks before access to prevent lateral threat movement.


Many businesses in the healthcare sector, defence, etc, still rely on MPLS technology for network connectivity for compliance and security reasons.

However, managing MPLS technology requires a hefty investment. While the businesses that work on hybrid state and use cloud networks are transitioning from MPLS to SD-WAN.

By employing InstaSafe zero trust solution with SD-WAN, businesses can provide comprehensive protection of branch and cloud infrastructure. InstaSafe Zero Trust security promotes network segmentation, dividing the network into micro-segments to reduce the lateral movement of threats.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is MPLS outdated?

MPLS is designed to support site-to-site network traffic obsolete in today's cloud and hybrid environment.

  • Which is best, SD-WAN vs MPLS?

Choosing between MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) and SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) depends on the business networking needs and goals. However, setting up and maintaining MPLS can cost a lot of money. SD-WAN, on the other hand, is a cost-effective solution.

  • Can SD-WAN replace MPLS?

Companies have successfully switched from MPLS to SD-WAN because of lower costs and flexibility. However, it's essential to consider the networking goals and priorities of the organisation carefully before making any decision.

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