Is MPLS Dead? Impacts. Recommendations. Analysis

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1 Is MPLS is the leading enterprise WAN service and has been widely deployed by networking personnel over the past decade. This research shows how MPLS will continue to play a key role within the enterprise as part of a hybrid WAN architecture. Impacts As carrier WAN and Internet offerings have evolved, WAN architects have a wider range of services and price points from which to choose. Changing traffic flows resulting from cloud computing require network architects to redesign traditional Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) WAN architectures to prevent degraded application performance. Network designers can now use WAN optimization and WAN path control technologies to bridge the availability and performance gaps between MPLS and Internet/VPN service. Recommendations Madison Network architects should revise WAN architectures to improve performance for external cloud applications and resources. In most cases, hybrid WAN architectures will provide the best blend of performance and availability. Networking teams should utilize Internet/VPN and WAN optimization controller as a service (WOCaaS) as an alternative to MPLS for specific use-cases, and to gain negotiating advantage with incumbent MPLS carriers. WAN designers should categorize branches according to their performance, availability, feature requirements, and then determine the most cost-effective WAN service(s) required to meet them. Network managers should no longer assume that Internet/VPN service is significantly less expensive than MPLS. Analysis MPLS and Internet/VPN are the predominant WAN alternatives for enterprises today. However, the technology landscape has changed significantly since the commercial introduction of MPLS in In particular, new services and technologies have changed the paradigms of traditional enterprise WANs. The availability of high-speed, low-cost Internet and other new WAN offerings are often cited as indicators of MPLS's impending demise. In addition, recent marketing from providers of non-mpls solutions claim MPLS is outdated, overpriced, and ultimately 1

2 unnecessary. In practice, the situation is more complex, with all WAN service types undergoing significant evolution. This research evaluates these factors to determine if and where MPLS fits in today's enterprise. Overall, MPLS is and will remain healthy, with forecast compound annual growth rate of 4% through Impacts As carrier WAN and Internet offerings have evolved, WAN architects have a wider range of services and price points from which to choose. Changing traffic flows resulting from cloud computing require network architects to redesign traditional MPLS WAN architectures to prevent degraded application performance. Network architects can now use WAN Optimization in a Box, (WOC), and WAN Path Controllers, (WPC), technologies to bridge the gaps between MPLS and Internet/VPN service. Top Recommendations Network managers should no longer assume that Internet/VPN service is significantly less expensive than MPLS. Additionally, alternative solutions can be used to gain negotiating advantage with MPLS carriers. Categorize branches according to their requirements, then determine the most cost effective WAN service(s), required to meet them. Revise WAN architectures to improve performance for cloud resources. Hybrid WAN architectures will likely provide the best performance and availability. Investigate MPLS providers roadmaps to enhance cloud connectivity. Evaluate WOC and WPC solutions independent of the underlying network, specifically when performance, bandwidth, or management of multiple links are pain points. 2 Impacts and Recommendations As carrier WAN and Internet offerings have evolved, WAN architects have a wider range of services and price points from which to choose The Myth of Low-Cost Internet (Consumer versus Business Class Service) Globally, WAN service prices continue to decline. In countries where there is a competitive market for telecom services, prices for higher-speed MPLS services (greater than E1/T1) have fallen by 10% per year or more. The resulting gap between MPLS and business-class Internet services is fairly small, ranging from 5% to 30% today, and varies with geography.

3 It is possible to obtain Internet access at significantly lower prices than MPLS, via consumergrade services. Monthly service costs for consumer-grade Internet services (i.e., DSL and cable) typically range from 20% to 40% of the cost of MPLS for a normal branch. However, this provides lower service and availability levels with typical "next working day" break fix support. Such services may be appropriate for locations where low price is more important than availability, but this is unlikely to be true in all enterprise locations. In addition, organizations must ensure that any comparisons of WAN services are on an "apples to apples" basis, with the same access options, management capability, and current prices. Comparing a new quote for an Internet VPN based on Ethernet access with threeyear-old prices for MPLS is not meaningful. The Evolution of Access In the past several years, last-mile access to MPLS services have started to migrate from traditional leased lines (i.e., T1 and E1), to Ethernet, broadband and cellular (3G/4G) access. Additionally, many providers now offer multiservice Ethernet access, where a single highspeed Ethernet access line can be partitioned to simultaneously support MPLS, Internet access and Ethernet services (see "Multiservice Madison Ethernet Access: New Flexibility for Enterprise WANs" ). These new types of access provide higher bandwidth and lower prices for both MPLS and Internet services. New Carrier Services Virtual private LAN service (VPLS) and native Ethernet services are now commercially available. While VPLS is now mature, it is less geographically pervasive than MPLS. VPLS is, and will likely remain, primarily utilized for select use cases, and most providers are unlikely to extend it to support to ancillary services like SIP trunking. As a result, VPLS will likely serve to complement MPLS in hybrid WANs versus direct replacement. Specific use cases where VPLS makes the most sense today include: WAN infrastructures that need large-bandwidth/high-capacity port speeds and greater user flexibility Organizations that require legacy protocol support and greater flexibility via internal control and management Enterprises typically use Ethernet virtual private line (E-VPL) services, which offer very large ports (1 to 10Gbps) to interconnect very small numbers of large locations, especially distributed data centers. In contrast, MPLS is not employed because its port size is comparably small (100 Mbps). E-VPL can sometimes be used to interconnect regional hub sites, with the regional networks usually employing MPLS or Internet VPNs. 3

4 Internet Service Considerations Internet-based VPNs do not just represent one point on a price performance curve. Depending upon the combination of the number and quality of ISPs and the access types used, Internet VPNs can be used to produce WANs with a wide variety of price/performance levels. It is possible to create higher-availability, Internet-based WANs by either using a single highquality ISP everywhere or by combining multiple Internet connections in parallel, ideally to multiple providers. However, if considering the parallel approach, keep in mind that multiple access lines are seldom diversely routed and that any outage will probably affect all ports, none of which may be repaired until the next business day or later. Similarly, combining multiple high-latency connections does not result in a low-latency network. In addition, there is not full feature parity between Internet/VPN and MPLS, as several key features (multicast, quality of service [QoS] and full mesh) are absent. Finally, MPLS can provide increased security, as some carriers offer services with no interconnectivity to the Internet, provided via physically separate infrastructure. Managed Services For MPLS, enterprises have typically had the option of both purchasing and managing their own routers or having the MPLS provider supply and manage the routers and extend the SLAs and monitoring end to end (termed "managed router and managed WAN services"). In the past, Internet VPNs required that enterprises purchase and manage their own VPN routers or firewalls. However, most major network service providers now offer managed business-class Internet VPNs. Therefore, enterprises are able to make their decision about whether they want a managed or unmanaged WAN independently of their WAN technology choice. Recommendations: Organizations should categorize their sites according to their application performance requirements, features and availability, and then determine the most cost-effective WAN solution required to meet those needs. Apart from functional differences, organizations should no longer assume that Internet/VPN service cannot be managed in a similar fashion to MPLS. Organizations should ensure comparisons of WAN services are on an "apples to apples" basis, with the same access options, features/functions and current prices. 4 Changing traffic flows resulting from cloud computing require network architects to redesign traditional MPLS WAN architectures to prevent degraded application performance. Organizations are increasingly adopting cloud services including infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and SaaS for the promise of increased agility, reduced capital

5 expenditure (capex) and improved fault tolerance. Cloud services are forecast to grow at over 18% through As a result, enterprise network traffic is shifting from the corporate data center to external clouds. Traditional MPLS networks were designed to deliver traffic to and from centralized data centers, including access to the Internet. The result is that branch traffic must now route through the corporate data center in route to the cloud. In addition to introducing a single point of failure, this hairpin or "trombone" effect adds latency, which can degrade application performance. To address these issues, organizations have three basic options: (1) migrate branches to Internet/VPN, (2) enhance existing MPLS services or (3) utilize a hybrid approach, augmenting existing MPLS networks with Internet connectivity. For a deeper dive into preparing your network for the cloud, see "Optimize Enterprise Networks to Improve SaaS Performance." Madison Data Center WAN MPLS Internet Remote Branch SaaS Provider Internet with VPN Organizations can replace MPLS with Internet/VPN (typically IPsec) service to provide direct local Internet connectivity for branches. This avoids the tromboning of Internet traffic, reducing latency between branches and public cloud resources. In addition, organizations can leverage the reduced cost of Internet bandwidth to gain capacity. However, this typically reduces performance for applications in the corporate data center and requires the addition of security services to branch locations. In addition, as identified earlier, several features are not available on Internet/VPN versus MPLS. Enhancing MPLS There are several options for organizations to enhance MPLS service to improve external cloud application performance. Organizations can leverage Internet gateway services embedded within the MPLS carrier's network, or connect the cloud provider directly into the carrier's MPLS network. Both of these approaches reduce latency to external resources, maintain existing MPLS features/availability, and do not require deployment of security controls to all remote branches. Hybrid WAN (MPLS with Internet/VPN) In a hybrid approach, enterprises supplement existing MPLS connectivity with Internet/VPN. Some locations may have only one type of connectivity but sites with higher availability needs will have both. Corporate data center traffic is routed through the MPLS network 5

6 while public cloud traffic is routed via Internet. If the organization does not want to add local Internet breakout to all branches, a regional Internet traffic model can be used in which Internet access is added to specific locations, which in turn provides Internet connectivity to branches in that geographic area. Hybrid connectivity at a location is typically the most expensive option, but improves performance, availability, and capacity. Carrier Response MPLS providers have reacted relatively slowly to growing enterprise use of cloud services, with most initially focused on connecting their own IaaS offerings to their MPLS networks. However, these providers are now beginning to take steps to better address enterprise needs to connect to a broader range of cloud services, deploying more Internet gateways and directly connecting their MPLS networks to the leading cloud centers. Enterprises should understand their MPLS provider's road map to enhance connectivity to cloud services before assuming that cloud services will have to be accessed via the Internet. MPLS Impact Due to the performance, feature and security requirements for most branches, enhanced MPLS and hybrid solutions will emerge as the most common approaches. The use cases that will drive wholesale migration from MPLS to Internet/VPN are primarily limited to: Smaller branches with rudimentary connectivity needs Organizations migrating the majority of applications to the public cloud Organizations that are extremely cost-sensitive and are willing to accept performance and feature limitations Recommendations: Enterprises should investigate and understand their MPLS providers' road maps to enhance connectivity to cloud services before assuming that cloud services will have to be accessed via the Internet. Network designers should architect their WANs based on the features, availability and performance requirements of the business (see "Focus on Five Dimensions of Design to Improve Performance and Save Money"). Network architects should revise WAN architectures to improve performance for external cloud applications and resources. In most cases, hybrid WAN architectures will provide the best performance and availability. 6 Network designers can now use WAN optimization and WAN path control technologies to bridge the availability and performance gaps between MPLS and Internet/VPN service. Performance and availability deltas between MPLS and Internet/VPN have been major factors driving organizations toward MPLS.

7 MPLS has higher performance (resulting from QoS providing reduced and predictable latency) and higher availability versus Internet/VPN. However, two technologies have emerged over the past several years that specifically address these two issues: WAN optimization controllers (WOCs) and WAN path controllers (WPCs). MPLS Is Not Dead It Is a Key Ingredient in Hybrid WANs Casual inspection of these trends would seem to indicate organizations should be racing to rip out MPLS. However, closer analysis reveals that while Internet VPNs and Ethernet services will play a greater role in the enterprise WAN over the next two to four years, it will largely be as part of a hybrid network, blended with MPLS service to ensure delivery of the performance, availability, and feature functionality that businesses desire. Madison 7

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