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MPLS and SD-WAN fail to meet needs of modern enterprise

Study from network architect argues modern uses cases have broken the network edge, with both traditional topology and much-touted software-defined replacement not cutting it

A sea change in networking that happens every ten to 11 years saw the arrival of multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) in 2000, and another inflection point in the industry is set to break existing edge technologies – not just MPLS but also its roundly acknowledged evolution, software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), according to the 2023 State of Network Edge survey from Graphiant.

The study was carried out on behalf of the next-generation edge services by Eleven Research, which surveyed 200 network architects and network admins from large enterprises in North America. The respondents were senior, director, vice-president and C-level IT managers. Eleven Research chose respondents who spent at least 50% of their time designing, provisioning and managing the network edge.

Among the survey’s key findings was that three years ago, enterprises saw enterprise connectivity as their major goal. Today, though, cloud connectivity and connecting to partners and customers have emerged as strong secondary goals, and in three years, enterprises anticipate these three use cases will hold equal importance.

Survey respondents called out three critical uses cases, namely: enterprise connectivity has changed in recent years, with a surge in remote workers and remote offices; the internet of things – cloud connectivity is the second use case that stretches enterprise capabilities; and digital transformation and the service economy, which are pushing enterprises to connect more often with customers and partners.

Yet the survey also showed that enterprises were not happy with MPLS and SD-WAN for these new use cases. Network architects gave both technologies Ds and Fs for metrics such as scalability, agility and cost.

Indeed, Graphiant observed that while SD-WAN allowed the enterprise to build WANs far quicker and less expensively – combining fast, reliable and secure MPLS traffic with less expensive and easier-to-deploy public internet bandwidth and reaching $3.5bn in value by 2022 – enterprise networks have outgrown both MPLS and SD-WAN.

It added that MPLS has been fading for years due to its cost and lack of agility, and that SD-WAN simply cannot scale operationally to the high volume of tunnels modern enterprise networks need. “These new use cases are tough for MPLS and SD-WAN,” said Robert Spangler, senior network engineer at Ballad Health. “MPLS is too slow to deploy and change, and far too expensive. And SD-WAN can’t handle that number of tunnels.”

Read more about NaaS

As MPLS and SD-WAN were failing, firms were turning to network edge as-a-service (NaaS).

The survey found that many aspects of enterprise computing have already moved to as-a-service. For example, nearly all enterprises have adopted as their standard software-as-a-service – 97% said they have embraced SaaS because of how quickly the Network Edge changes – while 81% said the same of storage as-a-service, such as Box and Dropbox, and 61% thought the same of compute-as-a-service.

Seven out of eight said customers/partners and multi-cloud connectivity were considered when building Network Edge.

Graphiant concluded by suggesting the survey results also show that moving to a new model where enterprises consume the network instead of building bespoke networks is ground-breaking, and what is inevitably needed for the modern business.

Read more on Software-defined networking (SDN)

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