Alice LaPlante

The Best of Both Worlds: Pairing MPLS with SD-WAN

The reports of MPLS’ death have been greatly exaggerated.

A staple of enterprise connectivity since 1997 when it was established by the Internet Engineering Task Force, MPLS was once hailed as a major innovation in networking. But it’s now viewed as a mature protocol as newer technologies most notably software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN)—have emerged.                                                                           

CenturyLink saw all this happening, but rather than viewing the scenario through a MPLS-versus-SD-WAN lens, it adapted by giving customers the best of both worlds: MPLS plus SD-WAN allowing for the integration of public and private network bandwidth. This plays an important role in hybrid network deployments, as it allows for cost-effective, scalable bandwidth, improved application performance, resiliency, and simplified security while organizations continue to move workloads between public clouds and their private data centers. In doing so, CenturyLink has won a major award for strategy and innovation. Frost & Sullivan recently announced that CenturyLink had achieved its top honor for Competitive Strategy Innovation and Leadership in the MPLS/IP VPN Services Market.

A maturing technology still in demand

It’s true that growth in the U.S. multiprotocol label switching/Internet protocol (MPLS/IP) virtual private network (VPN) services market has been slowing since 2013. MPLS is now in the mature stage of its lifecycle. Despite this, the MPLS/IP VPN services market is still a multi-billion dollar market with revenues exceeding $14 billion in 2017.

MPLS also is one of CenturyLink’s flagship services. As a leading provider of global MPLS VPN services, CenturyLink ranks in the top three of Frost & Sullivan’s U.S. market share analysis. And with the completion of the Level 3 acquisition in November 2017, CenturyLink’s market share increased from 10% to 16%. “Organic growth in a mature market is extremely tough and slow, which makes the increase in CenturyLink’s market share even more noteworthy,” Frost and Sullivan wrote in its report announcing CenturyLink’s award.

So who is still buying MPLS VPN services? Many, many enterprises.

MPLS still delivers cost savings by moving voice, data, and video applications to a single IP-based network. And MPLS still appeals to organizations due to its ability to prioritize traffic using class of service, and to interconnect distributed enterprise locations using a fully meshed architecture.

Not an either-or situation

SD-WAN was initially seen as a major disruptor to the MPLS market. SD-WAN automates network resources assignments using performance-based, application-aware routing based on pre-defined policies. This dramatically cuts costs.

Many think SD-WAN is an upgrade to MPLS. That’s simply not true. MPLS is not going away. A recent IDG Market Pulse survey identified that 80% of enterprises are supplementing rather than replacing MPLS. So rather than viewing it as an either-or scenario, enterprises should expand their MPLS to encompass Internet, and add SD-WAN to it, to get the flexibility, control, and quick uptime for branch operations that the technology enables. CenturyLink has found that more than 80% of its SD-WAN customers are keeping their MPLS as part of their next-generation network. And more than 40% of those customers are actually purchasing new MPLS services to go with their SD-WAN networks.

The CenturyLink Strategy

CenturyLink possesses both the expertise and the technology to integrate different operations and management systems across multiple access types. It does this while giving network engineers a single pane-of-glass view of their hybrid networks.

CenturyLink’s capabilities today encompass more than 450K route miles of fiber across more than 60 countries and in more than 100K connected buildings. By purchasing Level 3, CenturyLink gained a strong Ethernet portfolio. Combined with its MPLS footprint more than 2,200 data centers scattered around the world, CenturyLink can deliver a complete hybrid network to enterprise customers.

CenturyLink has multiple SD-WAN vendor solutions available—a global SD-WAN based on the Versa software/technology across NA, EMEA, Asia Pacific and LATAM, and a managed Cisco SD-WAN solution based on Viptela software and technology that is being enabled across Cisco’s vEdge series and Enterprise Network Computer System series (ENCS) in the U.S., with plans to expand globally beginning in 2019.

The company is thus in an excellent place to bundle MPLS with DIA, broadband, and wireless LTE for its SD-WAN customers. By having the flexibility to bundle MPLS with the different network solutions, CenturyLink ensures that customers get the network configurations that work best for their businesses.

MPLS is very much alive

MPLS network with VPN service provides traffic prioritization and routing, allowing you to efficiently deliver applications across multiple locations. Its intelligent direct-path routing results in on-time traffic delivery. Multiple levels of traffic prioritization for individual applications increases efficiency. And any-to-any connections enhance application delivery and user experiences. No surprise then, that CenturyLink is actually seeing MPLS demand increase.

For more information read the Frost and Sullivan report: https://www.centurylink.com/asset/business/enterprise/report/2018-na-mpls-ipvpn-competitive-strategy-innovation-leadership-award-report.pdf

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