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Is SD-Wan the MPLS killer?

Is SD-Wan the MPLS killer?

With so many entrants into the SD-WAN market, there are equally many big claims. One that often comes up is whether or not MPLS will go the way of ATM, Frame Relay, and SMDS as a result of SD-WAN?

Only time will tell for certain, but here’s how I see it.

SD-WAN has come a long way over the last couple of years. But, there is still no single definition or standard. So speaking in terms suggesting that all SD-WAN is somehow equal is like referring to a single vendor SDN solution as anything other than an Element Management System which is nothing new at all. Nonetheless, there are a few common threads among SDN and SD-WAN solutions. Most notably is the idea of separating the control plane and data plane with the intent of centralizing operation of the network by applying consistent policies.

The old saying, “what goes around, comes around” is nowhere more true than in the historical evolution of networks.

I’d like to think I’m not alone in remembering good old Cobol programming on IBM mainframes running MVS/JES2 with SNA LU 6.2 networking. Which was eventually front ended by DEC Vax Clusters running VMS and DECNET as minicomputers evolved. Only to see Microsoft harvest the internals of OpenVMS and the Xerox UI to develop a PC based windows OS backed by TCP/IP that became a huge catalyst in the proliferation of the Internet.

Even while Bitcoin fanatics seek to harvest the plethora of underutilized distributed processing capability of billions of PC’s, we see a huge movement towards the cloud which translates to massive datacenters run by the likes of AWS, Azure, Google, and IBM. The latter in some sense perhaps symbolic of the revenge of the mainframes as we come full circle with Big Data and IOT feeding each other from both directions.

So with all of that movement to the cloud via SAAS, PAAS, IAAS, and whatever the next “?”AAS happens to be, there comes a new requirement for manageable and intelligent routing that’s able to securely steer applications over optimal paths. With or without SD-WAN, one of those paths is destined to be the Internet.

Kudos to SD-WAN solutions that improve the quality of multiple disparate underperforming broadband providers, but companies may also elect to pay for quality guarantees for MPLS where it makes sense to do so. Which is the key point of today’s blog… SD-WAN doesn’t make MPLS irrelevant. Robust SD-WAN solutions offer security and traffic steering capabilities that perhaps lessen reliance on MPLS, but still allow companies the option to leverage MPLS guarantees.

In conclusion, it’s unlikely that SD-WAN will have much to do with killing MPLS. And when your SD-WAN provider suggests it’s time to do away with MPLS, ask yourself if it’s the right decision because you truly no longer need MPLS? Or, is it because their solution isn’t robust enough to manage the required distributed security, gateways, and application steering to help you optimize the cost/performance of your network? 

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