The Main Differences Between SD-WAN & MPLS

MPLS traffic follows a fixed defined path based on set routing tables. Internet and Cloud bound traffic is backhauled to a central location where the traffic is passed to a separate public internet access connection. MPLS is provided by a single network provider, with different provider networks connected via NNI – network to network interconnect. Typically installed with an active main and a passive back-up circuit – the back-up circuit is only used when the main circuit fails.

SD-WAN can use MPLS as a means of connectivity, along with many other access technologies. In a properly designed SD-WAN solution, traffic can access the Internet and Cloud environments directly from each site, without backhauling traffic thereby reducing latency and reducing the amount of bandwidth required at each site. SD-WAN uses connections from many different providers and uses all available bandwidth – which means, no circuits are sitting idle!


“You don’t have to choose between SD-WAN and MPLS, use both initially in a hybrid solution design with the choice to migrate to a full Internet SD-WAN once you have seen the performance and benefits that a true SD-WAN delivers “

SD-WAN Quality of Service & Service Level Agreements

QUALITY OF SERVICE: MPLS networks guarantee performance of certain types of traffic by separating traffic into different classes according to traffic type. Typically 6 classes are identified although this could drop to 4 depending on the number of NNIs in the solution. Each traffic class is allocated a set amount of bandwidth within the MPLS circuit, and that bandwidth is guaranteed. SD-WAN provides a comparable service based on application type and required parameters such as latency, jitter etc. Priority is given to specific applications which then have access to all the bandwidth all the time, always prioritised over other applications – typically Teams voice traffic is prioritised over Facebook for example. SD-WAN  offers a more intelligent and granular option to ensure application performance and traffic priority.

NETWORK SERVICE LEVEL AGREEMENTS: MPLS type solutions offer SLA agreements for network conditions and outages, dependant on the solution design. SLAs range from 99.999% to 99% uptime guarantees, based on solution design. These  agreements more than often pay out paltry amounts for non conformance, often £30 – £50 for an outage that took your business offline for an hour! SLAs are an outdated concept that provide a false sense of security.

SD-WAN in comparison offers SLAs on individual connectivity connections, but not on the solution as a whole. The reason behind this is that we would much prefer to deliver a service that conforms to your requirements rather than pay out pennies for a service that doesn’t. SD-WAN is coherently resilient in design and solutions are designed to your required uptime and performance levels – HA configurations, multiple connectivity providers and technologies per site and fail to wire / glass technology are just a few examples of how SD-WAN can be designed. We deliver SD-WAN networks according to the actual application performance required

Compare SD-WAN & MPLS for yourself with our comparison table!

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Single link (no resilience) or active link & passive back-up connection (Double the costs with 1 link remaining idle) Multiple connectivity methods – leased line, ADSL, FTTC, 4G aggregated to create a virtual circuit.
Installation timescales
90 days + 5 minutes to a few days, ability to utilise existing on-site connections regardless of type, add and remove connectivity on demand.
Disruptive Hybrid overlay built on existing infrastructure with sub 5min disruption on switchover
Telecoms provider
Single provider limited to their network presence in each location, and connection to their own Points of Presence Access to 1000’s of providers networks worldwide ensuring you always have the best connectivity option in each location
Multiple provider solutions
Requires NNI connection between all providers adding latency and cost Makes use of any provider connections
Via Telco only Zero touch deployment of pre-configured devices is available, operational within a few minutes
Hub and Spoke Dynamic fully meshed network, with conduits that are automatically created on demand and then automatically closed when no longer required, reducing overhead
Third party monitoring Complete visibility down to application and user via SD WAN monitoring software for every site on the network
Closed network, vulnerable to physical link hack AES 256 encryption – end to end security
Fixed route, subject to degradation Application performance consistently monitored & enhanced.   Adjustable prioritization for application, file and bulk traffic.  Intelligent traffic paths, including mid-session line disruption around line loss with zero impact to the conduit (aggregated lines).  Ultimately allowing your packets to travel as Pure liquid data based on the priority of those packets
Cloud connectivity
Via a data centre Direct thereby reducing latency and bandwidth required at DC or hub locations
Business continuity
Double cost Inherent due to multiple bandwidth types used.
Disaster recovery
Additional facility and connectivity required SD-WAN devices can be moved to a new facility and begin using on-site connectivity instantly with minor configuration or a virtual instance can be loaded at a new facility.
Costly Savings of 15% – 60% compared with MPLS
Required Not required
IT staff
Required on site for most installations Remote zero touch installation, can be managed by a single resource, without the need for technical staff on location
Policy changes
Require Telco to make policy changes per router, charged per router, 10-day timescale Policy changes can made to all sites simultaneously
MPLS is expensive and outdated technology, no longer fit for purpose for cloud applications Commercially attractive, fit for purpose advanced WAN technology, flexible, scalable and resilient
Real time applications
Predictable Slight variance
Fit for Video and voice applications
Yes Yes
Via MPLS Telco only Via any connectivity option, from any Telco
Proof of concept available
No Yes
Static per session Intelligent routing per packet
WAN Optimisation
Additional vendor solution required Yes
Additional vendor solution required Virtual instances of leading security products from Check Point, Palo Alto and Zscaler can be integrated with and hosted on the SD-WAN device, further reducing hardware required onsite. Most SD-WAN software includes a built-in stateful firewall.
High Availability 
Optional Optional in design,  some SD-WAN devices have additional fail-to-wire capability


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