Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) has been the backbone of business network infrastructure for the last two decades—and it’s still integral in servicing high-value companies. But with the continued growth of SD-WAN over recent years, surely its days are numbered? Not so fast. The truth is that MPLS still has a good few years in it yet, and it is almost certain to be around in 10 years from now—and probably longer.
MPLS is still used by many companies, especially larger companies, and this is because it has various benefits that make it a useful option. For a start, MPLS provides high availability. It is very reliable, and this is something that companies appreciate. It is also secure. With MPLS, traffic passes across the private network before hitting the internet via a controlled firewall. This level of security is welcomed by businesses. In addition, it assists in bandwidth management between users and data centers, and it can prioritize traffic (like voice and video) over internet traffic.
Despite these benefits, things are changing fast and businesses now work very differently to how they did when MPLS became the standard. The workforce is more flexible and more mobile—and when you consider MPLS to a single user, the cost becomes too great. Then there is the growth of the cloud. In the past, applications were run from servers in private data centers, but now they are more commonly delivered “as a service,” like Salesforce and Microsoft Office 365. The heavy lifting that used to be done by private data centers is now done as part of a hybrid. Finally, consumer grade internet has improved. It is now more reliable and has greater bandwidth, and it has also dropped in price. All of these changes mean that the landscape is shifting and MPLS is becoming less essential for businesses.
The future is in the cloud. In the short-term, smaller businesses especially will move their infrastructure and applications to the cloud. To do this, they will use either straight internet or SD-WAN, or a combination of both. This gives them the flexibility to use the best connectivity providers and a lot of flexibility and quick deployments for CRM, hosting, and other business critical SaaS applications. It also helps them to cut the costs involved in buying and maintaining hardware, which makes the decision simple. Despite this, the situation won’t be the same for all companies—and especially not larger companies.
Medium and large businesses are more likely to keep on using MPLS in the near future. Many of these organizations are dependent to a large degree on applications they have developed themselves, or on databases stored in data centers. As a result, they will need the reliability of the services they already have in place. So what will they do? It’s likely that companies like these will use a hybrid WAN comprised of MPLS and SD-WAN. That way, the core high-availability services will be left on MPLS, while users can be placed into an SD-WAN environment. Looking slightly further in the future, when companies build critical infrastructure, or when the bandwidth requirements become too great, it’s highly likely that they will move to solely SD-WAN environments.
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