Assessing MPLS Survival in the Age of Emerging Technologies

    Assessing MPLS Survival in the Age of Emerging Technologies

    The continued existence of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is unexpected. The reason for this is the drawbacks of tools replacing MPLS.

    MPLS has powered enterprise networks for over 20 years. In contrast to other network protocols, MPLS routes traffic based on predetermined “labels” rather than source and destination addresses.

    Organizations use MPLS to connect branch offices that need access to information or applications. In MPLS, a packet is assigned to a particular forwarding class of service (CoS). It is also referred to as a forwarding equivalence class (FEC).

    This process involves adding a brief bit sequence to the packet. These classes frequently give away the kind of traffic that they carry. Real-time applications like voice and video would use the quickest, lowest-latency path, guaranteeing high quality.

    Other routing protocols make it impossible to divide traffic based on performance. The labels offer a way to attach additional information to each packet. The key architectural point is beyond what the routers previously had to work with.

    Reasons MPLS is dying           

    In the late 1990s, MPLS emerged at a different time when networks were not as complex as today. The company linked the workers in the headquarters office, the data center(s), and possibly a few branch offices.

    Traffic patterns were predictable, and workloads were well-known. Forward to 2023, the environment is remarkably different. Enterprise networks now connect thousands of remote workers, multiple clouds, corporate offices, edge networks, and data centers.

    Additionally, businesses are connecting to partner and customer networks more frequently. Further, traffic has increased dramatically since 1997 (50% CAGR). But the flow of traffic has also changed.

    Traffic becomes much more sporadic when video and unified communications workloads are present. These elements have put much strain on MPLS, leading to significant problems in three key areas:

    • Lack of Agility: MPLS is difficult to provision and modify quickly. There is no main hub of activity. Wherever it terminates inside the company, MPLS needs expensive on-site equipment. Additionally, MPLS lacks a system for automatically scaling to accommodate traffic demands.
    • Architectural blunders: Only places where it is available can use MPLS. Despite extensive coverage, it is still a challenge at remote edge locations. Oddly, this is where businesses are conducting some of their most cutting-edge networking. MPLS does not support advanced features like rate shaping and load balancing.
    • Cost: As much as 200 times as much for MPLS as for internet connectivity. MPLS is unaffordable because of the expensive point-to-point on-premises infrastructure and the high staff skill requirements.

    Given all of these problems, it is not shocking that MPLS is perishing. Its continued existence is unexpected.

    The reason for that is more related to the drawbacks of what was planned as a replacement of MPLS.

    Pros and cons of MPLS       

    Scalability, performance, better bandwidth utilization, lessened network congestion, and an improved end-user experience are all advantages of MPLS.

    MPLS does not in and of itself support encryption. However, it is a virtual private network and hence, isolated from the open Internet. Therefore, MPLS is a secure transport mode.

    Additionally, it is not susceptible to denial-of-service attacks, which could harm networks that only use IP. An MPLS connection costs significantly more than a regular internet connection, which is a drawback.

    MPLS aimed at businesses with remote offices nationwide or around the globe. these would be the areas form where most traffic is backhauled to enterprise data centers. Today, companies have switched much of their traffic to and from cloud providers, rendering MPLS ineffective.

    MPLS networks and cloud computing

    The MPLS-based hub-and-spoke model is ineffective once businesses switch to the cloud because. the reason is that it routes traffic through corporate headquarters (hubs), which are major bottlenecks.

    Directly sending traffic to the cloud is more effective. Furthermore, MPLS services are challenging to scale on demand. this is tough because bandwidth requirements have increased due to the increased use of videos, cloud services, and mobile apps.

    Although MPLS was a great invention, more recent technologies are better suited to handle current network architectures. Since SD-WAN works with cloud connectivity, many businesses have been using it to supplement or replace their MPLS networks.

    SD-WAN vs. MPLS

    The application of Software Defined Networking (SDN) principles to the WAN is known as SD-WAN. This application refers to installing SD-WAN edge devices that employ rules and policies to direct traffic most efficiently. Any type of traffic, including MPLS, can be routed using SD-WAN, a transport-independent overlay.

    The benefit of SD-WAN is that an enterprise WAN traffic architect can easily apply policies across all WAN devices from a single location.

    In contrast, MPLS requires painstaking provisioning of predetermined routes. Once fixed circuits are operational, changes are not as simple as clicking a button.

    However, once deployed, an MPLS network provides real-time traffic with guaranteed performance. Although SD-WAN can direct traffic most effectively, there are no performance guarantees once those IP packets reach the public Internet.

    Compared to MPLS, SD-WAN is significantly less expensive to deploy and maintain.

    Has MPLS died?

    Many network professionals view MPLS and SD-WAN as mutually exclusive options. SD-WANs are gaining ground quickly and at the expense of MPLS. In contrast, the number of businesses using some form of SD-WAN increased from 18% to 43% during the same period.

    The need to connect data centers to remote workers during the COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand. MPLS usage fell by 24% between 2019 and 2020.

    So, will MPLS inevitably be replaced by SD-WAN? The two technologies can coexist with MPLS playing a different role. Because many of them have switched to an all-cloud IT model, SMBs can probably sunset MPLS and switch exclusively to an all-broadband WAN.

    Larger companies may have invested money in MPLS networking and will likely adopt a hybrid strategy. This will keep MPLS for legacy apps that run on-net and offload Internet traffic, like the cloud, to the SD-WAN.

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    Businesses have already started adopting hybrid computing, storage, and application in their systems, hence it seems hybrid WAN networks won’t be unusual. MPLS can connect large regional offices, retail locations, and various data centers.

    Applications like Telepresence run on real-time and they greatly benefit from MPLS. Verizon, an MPLS provider stated that SD-WAN can be extremely useful for MPLS connections.

    SD-WAN, when deployed can dynamically route network traffic most effectively to meet the quality of requirements any service needs for a series of applications. An MPLS connection can efficiently be utilized to achieve this.

    Enterprise WAN architects need to analyse the risks and rewards while selecting MPLS based on how expensive and dependable they can be.

    Although networking technologies today have enhanced significantly, deploying an MPLS would be a better choice as they are highly reliable.

    MPLS was an appropriate technology to be deployed in the late 90s, however, enterprises are struggling to make MPLS work in 2023. A new network edge is built on three core principles:

    • a private network
    • a cloud-based portal for provisioning and designing the web
    • a cloud-based control plane that runs independently from the data plane

    This process will allow enterprises to finally retire MPLS for good.


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