Tag Archives: mpls

SD-WAN: Contender or Just a Pretender?

We are all learning the acronym SD-WAN, but to layer 2 and 3 OSI model aficionados, it can be hard to accept how an upstart layer 7 software application can potentially replace a stalwart layer 3 technology like multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). Which begs the question: Is SD-WAN a contender, or just a pretender in the future generation of networks? 

MPLS: The Incumbent

When MPLS was introduced, medium and large businesses rapidly adopted the technology. Deploying an MPLS network to connect offices together provides users with the ability to have a predictable, secure, and high preforming environment. This is done by bringing all your data through a single provider and allowing them to prioritize your traffic at layer 2 or layer 3 using QoS.  

Providers can provide QoS through specifically designed networks with logical separation using labels to identify traffic, VRFs, and VRF tags to separate the customer traffic. They then allow customers to apply QoS tags to traffic types to reach higher levels of availability.

Let’s look at how this works in more detail, as this is the meat of what customers care about.

When designing MPLS, it is important to determine how you want to provide this QoS. The first thing to do is identify traffic of similar kind and then a degree of excellence. In a typical deployment, 4 quality queues are seen as defined below:

  1. Real-time traffic – This is typically voice, video, and/or VDI.
  2. Business Critical – This includes applications required for a company to do business. Examples might be an EMR for a medical company or credit card transactions for a retail company. 
  3. Business Important – This might be an intranet, active directory, email, or other application that is not sensitive to jitter, latency, or retransmits.
  4. General Traffic – This queue includes all other traffic.

Once customer traffic has been identified and tagged, the degree of excellence of those tagging/groupings must be defined. Most carriers offer a different service level for each queue and different bandwidth guaranteed to each traffic type across the entire MPLS network. As companies continued to converge, however, holes in this design were found. This brought forth the creation of SD-WAN.

SD-WAN: The Contender

Instead of using QoS (layer 2 or layer 3), SD-WAN uses software definitions. With MPLS, you must either use only a source or destination IP address or port. That would be the same as saying you can only relieve traffic congestion from where you started, where you are going, or based on the type of car you have. This would not be very helpful in a major situation where most traffic is destined for the same general area. But what if you could also consider important factors, like ensuring doctors and first responders were never caught in traffic? That one additional factor could change the landscape in most cities and potentially save lives. In terms of the company network, that would be the same as having a real-time queue.

This is what SD-WAN does to QoS. Video traffic can be prioritized to YouTube over Netflix, for example, or Office 365 email over personal Gmail accounts.

Not Beholden to a Single Carrier

With MPLS, the entire environment must be controlled by a single provider. This means that you cannot choose the most cost effective solutions for each location, which doesn’t work for customers with large geographical environments. SD-WAN allows the most cost effective solution per location be chosen. 

Significant Resilience Improvements

With MPLS, providing redundancy is very difficult as MPLS routing uses private IP. For the secondary connection, most customers choose to use a VPN over an internet connection. They then need a device that is intelligent enough to build the VPN and handle routing between the two solutions. Even then, routing with just layer 3 protocols doesn’t allow different levels of resilience or performance increases. Typically, customers settle on having the VPN be active/inactive (or hot/cold), meaning that the other connection is ONLY used when there is a total failure of the MPLS.

 With SD-WAN, the world of high-performing resilient networks comes with a lot of options. You can define and build it so that both connections are used, called active/active or hot/hot. You can prioritize based on application type; for example, real-time traffic can be forced down a high-quality connection with SLAs associated with it, and general web traffic can be sent down a more cost effective connection.  Other business critical or important traffic can be bundled to go out both connections, maximizing total bandwidth.

Conclusion

The flexibility and design options increase exponentially with the introduction of SD-WAN. MPLS still has its place and will for years to come, but for many customers SD-WAN provides a great alternative that may help them meet their internal goals.

SD-WAN: Panacea or Pandora?

SD-WAN is getting a great deal of air play in the industry right now, promising to solve every network challenge that embattled network architects and operators are experiencing today from insatiable bandwidth requirements and costs through simple network resiliency and management. But what is marketing fluff, and what is real? What are the real drivers behind this latest “transformational” technology, and what problems does it really solve?

More Affordable Network Needed

With increasing workloads and performance requirements, especially with the proliferation of cloud-based applications, the need for predictable, high-speed, secure, and diversified networks is escalating. It simply isn’t always financially feasible to deploy diverse MPLS links to multiple distributed offices.

SD-WAN enables companies to take advantage of less expensive internet access rather than managed private networks while still getting the benefit of the types of capabilities provided by an MPLS network. In many areas, tier one direct internet access actually (and maybe surprisingly) provides lower latency, lower jitter, and lower packet loss than its expensive MPLS counterpart, so companies with a large number of distributed offices can expect to see real cost benefits with an SD-WAN network versus a traditional MPLS network.

Simpler and Faster Deployment

MPLS circuits can take months to provision and turn up. The underlying internet access types that SD-WAN can take advantage of can be faster and easier to deploy. However, don’t be misled by the myth that SD-WAN is simple to deploy.  There is still a substantial amount of planning and configuration to be done. Beware of the “plug and play” misconception and investigate how each solution is deployed, as they are all different.

Management

Not all SD-WAN solutions are as easy to manage as you might think, and not all management portals provide the same functionality. Whether you are looking at a service provider-managed solution, your own “book end” managed solution, or are using a dedicated SD-WAN network provider, look carefully at what priorities you can set and what monitoring you can do. Are these to device level (MAC address) or location level (essentially just network aggregation and optimization solutions)?

And, most importantly, don’t forget about how software updates are applied and managed and how template policies are set and administered — the very things you would think about when managing routers in your network.

Security

There are claims made that MPLS is more secure than SD-WAN. In reality, an MPLS network is only as secure as the accuracy of the MPLS provider’s switching. The use of IPSec connectivity and additional service chaining in an SD-WAN environment should be more than sufficient to address most security concerns.

 

Vendor Maturity

You can’t simply turn to Gartner’s magic quadrant and pick a leader. The industry is too young, with many new market entrants. Whatever deployment method you are going to use, be sure to check the underlying equipment vendor’s track record.  Financial stability and investors are important. Ask for references and don’t forget to look under the hood at the vendor roadmap to understand future solution enhancements such as scalability.

MicroCorp was a pioneer when MPLS came along. We have over 30 years of experience delivering complex network solutions and helping businesses discover the right technology for their operations. Contact us to learn more about a partnership in adding SD-WAN and related technologies to your portfolio of solutions.

SD-WAN: Get Past the Hype

While SD-WAN officially flew past the hype stage of Gartner’s emerging technologies cycle in 2015, but it is still in that stage for many a partner, agent, and CIO.

It’s important to step back and recognize what SD-WAN can and cannot do for businesses. With all the noise out there, SD-WAN is still in its “wild west” phase. How do we cut past the industry buzz and get to the heart of what SD-WAN is all about?

Examine how its benefits apply to your customer’s business.

Not everyone needs SD-WAN, contrary to what you’ve been hearing. Additionally, some SD-WAN providers have crafted marketing to make it seem like their solutions apply to everyone, but they can’t look at each business’s network. Partners should look at what applications their customers are running to determine if SD-WAN is for them.

If your customer is primarily a mid-market account that’s not doing much other than running voice across a WAN and their apps are in-house, that is a perfect case for SD-WAN. But if you’ve got an organization that is highly regulated (such as banking, healthcare, or government), they are going to be slower to adopt, and it might hamper their business instead of bolstering it. Remember: they were also slow to adopt MPLS.

Oh yeah, what about MPLS?

Great question. MPLS is not going away — it’s a proven technology. There are likely to be some improvements to MPLS because the SD-WAN market is forcing the hand of the providers to change the way they deal with MPLS from a customer standpoint.

Some carriers are urging not to sell SD-WAN against MPLS, but instead, with it. This is an important point considering that not all businesses need SD-WAN, and some are going to continue to do just fine with their MPLS solutions.

So, if some verticals aren’t suited best to SD-WAN, which ones are?

Retail is a great example of a market that will benefit. With dispersed malls, various stores, and large footprints, those outlets are running on slim margins, so they want good bang for their buck.

Where does security fit in?

This is tied to the vertical point. Banks need high-level security, and some SD-WAN solutions aren’t there yet. While every business needs top-shelf security (including retail), those businesses that consistently deal with classified or confidential information might need something stronger than what many SD-WAN solutions can offer right now. This is why partnering with the proper provider, can help layer on additional services that SD-WAN does not solve.

SD-WAN is on the incline that’s getting ready to peak, but there are a lot of things left to prove with this technology. Security is one of them.

As SD-WAN entrenches itself in the networking world, education will be a consistent requirement for partners. Contact us today to learn more about how the latest changes to the software-defined world affect how partners can succeed with new technologies.