Will MPLS Play a Role in the Future of the WAN?

May 10, 2021

Will MPLS play a role in the future of the WAN?

With the increased adoption of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), the nature of application usage changes rapidly, which also explains the dramatic drop in MPLS usage. According to a TeleGeography’s survey, enterprises were running almost all their sites (82%) on MPLS in 2018. However, this number fell to 58% in 2020. While this is a dramatic decrease, analysts do not see the end of MPLS just yet as Gartner predicts a gradual decline of MPLS usage of 5% per year. IDC is slightly more optimistic and sees the market being flat over the next five years. Whether enterprises chose to maintain their MPLS structure or fully embrace cloud adoption and internet connectivity comes largely down to the choice of their WAN architecture and security requirements.

At one end of the spectrum are businesses that deploy a hub-and-spoke architecture where the traffic is routed from the edge to the centre, where companies host their applications, firewalls and internet breakouts. This network-centric, well defined and static architecture makes it relatively simple to implement security measures and manage them centrally. Security is a very high priority for those types of companies, and they are usually also leaning towards an MPLS based underlay architecture as they are less concerned about cost. Those organisations have traditionally relied on the castle-and-moat approach when designing enterprise security strategies. But as applications are moving to the cloud and employees are no longer working only from within the corporate offices, they need to access enterprise applications from anywhere and any device. Legacy network technologies and security strategies that have worked unchanged for decades are not agile enough and no longer effective in addressing these challenges. Backhauling traffic from remote locations across a hub-and-spoke network to a regional data centre and then breaking out to the cloud creates traffic bottlenecks, increases latencies, provides a poor user experience and decreases productivity. 

At the other end of the spectrum are cloud-driven organisations with large branch networks that process many of the workloads on public and private clouds. This set-up requires a more user-centric, flexible IT architecture with local internet breakouts that offer increased performance and reduced cost vs the centralised management of the internet. Branch users and remote workers need fast and secure access to their decentralised applications, which is hard to accomplish by backhauling. The replacement or augmentation of MPLS with the internet and the migration to the cloud also opens new opportunities for organisations to embrace their digital journey to enhance their customers’ experience, which will give them an edge over the competition. While a cloud-focused approach usually provides better performance and more flexibility, it also challenges companies’ approach to security because instead of managing it centrally at a few locations, it now needs to be deployed across the whole network with consistent policies.

Organisations need to re-evaluate their WAN architecture as technologies such as SD-WAN, migration to the cloud, and the COVID induced surge of remote and distributed work challenge the status quo. Surely, MPLS is not going away any time soon, and it will still play an essential role for years to come. Still, enterprises that embrace the cloud-first approach will deliver a superior digital experience to their customers and achieve significant savings by augmenting or replacing MPLS with DIA or Broadband.

Whether organisations will keep their MPLS network to support legacy workloads, fully embrace the internet, or combine both, customers can benefit from network and application performance visibility, the ability to prioritise traffic, centralised management and advanced security features.

ngena’s Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) ready cloud platform blends all elements – wide area networking, network security and multi-cloud – into a single fabric. Get in touch with us at connect@ngena.net, because, at ngena, we are passionate to help companies transform their WAN connectivity to enable a more dynamic business that can adapt positively to the opportunities and risks in the market.

The author

Michael Hamann

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