Home Field Advantage: SD-WAN and MPLS

Home Field Advantage: SD-WAN and MPLS

I’ve been mulling over things I learned at the recent CenturyLink analyst day. I keep coming back to their pledge to not lose focus on the fact that they own a transport network, and to make sure that fact can provide differentiation when considering new products. I keep coming back to this mostly in the context of SD-WAN and MPLS.

End of the Road for MPLS? Not yet in sight.

There’s a huge popular perception out there that SD-WAN has killed MPLS. The folks raking in buckets of money selling MPLS services beg to differ. A slightly more realistic take is that SD-WAN will kill MPLS any day now.

Our research consistently shows this to be untrue.

A large majority of folks with MPLS plan to keep it even after they deploy SD-WAN. Almost all of them have no goal of eliminating it. Most do plan on changing their relationship to MPLS, though. They may be capping spending on it, though. Or they may be going from a strategy of putting MPLS everywhere to only putting it in larger or more critical sites.

(Nemertes’ clients can see more details on the future of MPLS, as well as MPLS rates and provider reliability, in our 2018-2019 WAN Economics and SD-WAN Research Study.)

To us, this makes sense (and always has). The fact is, MPLS networks have been engineered for high reliability and low latency. Coupled with their ability to provide differentiated levels of service to traffic with different needs, this means MPLS networks can serve as a strong backbone to an SD-WAN. A good SD-WAN platform will only enhance such a solid and reliable network. It will use Internet capacity to keep less-critical, less-sensitive traffic off MPLS, reducing costs as capacity needs rise. It will use Internet to cover for problems on the MPLS network when they crop up.

The more an organization focuses on transformative technology deployments as a part of its digital transformation, the more important the WAN is likely to become. The agility, capacity, and reliability SD-WAN can bring make it critical to long term transformation. (I wrote about this at greater length here.)

Make MPLS and SD-WAN Best Friends

Like most other telcos (and cablecos), CenturyLink has an SD-WAN offering. (It is based on Versa’s platform, designed from the ground up to serve the needs of managed service providers.) I trust they will optimize it to take best advantage of their MPLS services wherever available–but NOT disadvantage those not using their MPLS services!–and that they will use their ownership of so much of the backbone of the Internet to optimize delivery to Internet destinations for both MPLS and Internet-connected sites.  Given the long life ahead for MPLS, and the still-unfolding benefits of SD-WAN, anything less would be very short sighted.