Stable buildings need solid foundations and enterprise-grade services are no different. If the underlying transport is too erratic no application service will look too pretty. Add in the limited number of routes and long distances between Internet regions and global, Internet-based enterprise services become predictably erratic. So if you’re not going use the Internet as your basis for a global SD-WAN, what are your options? The traditional answer, of course, has been MPLS. But several technological improvements are converging now to offer another choice, what we call the UberNet.
Is the UberNet right for your organization? Let’s find out.
The convoluted routing, multiple carriers, high packet loss at carrier exchanges and more make the Internet unpredictable.
The Case for MPLS
As a privately managed backbone with built-in Quality of Service (QoS), MPLS suffers none of the Internet’s erraticness. Yes, that’s old news, but the strengths and pains of MPLS bear reiteration to understand the value of the UberNet.
MPLS services deliver the predictability the Internet is lacking. Whatever contention exists for its backbone is managed by the MPLS provider. Packet loss and latency statistics are more consistent and much lower than those of the Internet. And to back up that point, MPLS services come with guarantees around availability (99.99% per year uptime), packet loss (1% is typical) and latency on a route-by-route basis. Just as important, MPLS services are mature services built for the enterprise. Aside from the SLAs, they come with integrated invoicing, end-to-end delivery and management.
But like anything, there’s a price for this kind of dedicated infrastructure. Committing to a dedicated capacity, maximum latency and maximum time to repair makes MPLS services very expensive. Anyone who’s purchased MPLS bandwidth for their business and Internet DSL for their home has endured the surreal experience of paying three-times and even ten-times more per megabit for MPLS bandwidth.
The cost of MPLS bandwidth impacts more than the bottom line. IT managers must economize bandwidth spend to meet budgets. As such, branch offices get sized with just large-enough connections. These narrow connections are increasingly incompatible with today’s larger data flows.
The problem is only made more acute traffic shifts to the Internet and in the cloud. Providing remote offices with direct access to the Internet necessitates securing that connection with a full stack of advanced security services. To avoid those costs, many MPLS-based enterprises centralize Internet access. But centralizing Internet access requires Internet- and cloudbound traffic to be backhauled to the centralized Internet portal. Precious MPLS capacity is consumed and Internet and cloud performance may degrade due to the well known trombone effect.
Less pronounced, but perhaps equally important, is the rigidity of MPLS services. New installations can take 30 to 90 days and as much as six months depending on the location and infrastructure. Since remote offices are sized with limited bandwidth, new applications or changes in application dynamics can force bandwidth upgrades, which may also take weeks.
And there’s more. With bandwidth at a premium, companies often invest in additional equipment to extract the most out of MPLS. WAN optimization, for example, become particularly important. The additional equipment obviously increase capital costs, but also complicates management and troubleshooting.
Finally, you’re locked into the network coverage of the particular MPLS provider. Invariably, some offices sit outside the coverage area. MPLS providers must connect their network with other local or regional MPLS providers, increasing costs.
MPLS services are out-of-step with today’s market. They’re expensive and take too long deploy. But they’re the necessary evils of enterprises – or so it would seem. Shifting dynamics always lead to innovations enabling us to replace old guards with new solutions. MPLS is no exception.