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The new hybrid enterprise network: SD-WAN and MPLS

Tech Trends · Aug 4, 2020

As businesses adopt a remote workforce, using a hybrid SD-WAN solution makes digital transformation a priority

According to a recent IFS study, 70% of businesses have increased or maintained digital transformation spend amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the impact to the economy has been unprecedented, but businesses continue to invest more in technology. With the initial shock of forced remote work dwindling, it’s become apparent that creating sustainable telework conditions is key.

Before COVID-19 changed our work, businesses were already evolving at a rapid pace—through technology advancements in IoT and mobility while making preparations for the 5G wave to come. The rise in remote work and cloud-connected teams has put digital needs at the forefront.

Employees need the ability to work faster with greater flexibility (working from home or anywhere they choose) but still be connected to their office in a secure environment. 

The adoption of cloud based solutions like Cisco Webex, Salesforce, Microsoft 365, and G-Suite is placing unprecedented demands on enterprise organizations’ networks. Gartner predicts that by 2020, we can expect to see 20 billion internet-connected devices. As more and more users are connecting from different locations—and accessing multiple applications at once—there’s a huge demand for businesses to evolve their WAN architectures. As network demand becomes a challenge (showing up as slow application performance, poor quality voice services, and increasingly sophisticated security threats) businesses are seeking ways to increase bandwidth. And, many are considering the benefits of a MPLS or SD-WAN solution—or a hybrid Enterprise SD-WAN approach.

The cloud has become a critical need for businesses, especially large enterprises; the bigger the company, the bigger the need for a more connected network, as multiple users and devices connect to applications from multiple cloud sources. Especially in this new climate of remote work from home, which could be here to stay permanently. 

Traditionally, businesses have used WAN solutions like MPLS (multiprotocol label switching), but as the preferred method of connecting shifts, internet connectivity becomes a key issue for organizations. With these growing needs top of mind, many are looking to SD-WAN (software defined networking in a wide area network) to bridge that gap. But is SD-WAN the answer?

Higher flexibility with a hybrid approach

The transition to SD-WAN does not mean that MPLS is on its way out. Many enterprises are choosing to take a hybrid approach, continuing to rely on MPLS as part of their transport layer mix to ensure and maintain reliable connectivity.

Organizations need the flexibility to choose between performance and cost for each of their locations. It’s not realistic to assume that every branch/office location will have the same performance needs. With a hybrid SD-WAN approach, businesses can be more cost effective in building their new network. The ability to mix and match underlay (internet solutions) to meet network requirements is crucial to meet today’s modern bandwidth demands.To be successful with a hybrid approach, enterprises must choose a provider that has good coverage and a national footprint. If they don’t, they’re risking limited underlay options, limited customer support, and ultimately limited expansion options.

The evolution of MPLS

It’s been two decades since MPLS was first deployed. It’s become a widely used network technology for large enterprises globally; creating fast, reliable, and secure network connections between multiple sites. Industries such as financial services, health, oil and gas, public sector, transportation, insurance and even large retail chains have leveraged MPLS technology for decades.   

Key benefits of MPLS include

  • Dedicated private network

  • Predictable performance

  • QoS (Quality of Service) is built in

  • Better bandwidth utilization

  • Reduced network congestion

MPLS still has a lot of value. It provides a reliable, fixed level of bandwidth, security through a private network, and a good end-user experience. But, like any technology launched 20 years ago, it has limitations with today’s technology demands. MPLS is expensive to deploy and can be a time consuming process, making expanding to new offices a challenge. This is where SD-WAN comes in.

SD-WAN is the application of SDN (software defined networking) concepts to the WAN—meaning the operator can remotely manage and effortlessly span over large geographical territories. Unlike MPLS solutions, SD-WAN can deploy within a few days and is transport agnostic, pulling existing configurations from the cloud to onboard new sites. This makes it very easy to be nimble when opening new locations or pop-up offices quickly.

Key benefits of SD-WAN include

  • Cloud optimized: Improved network performance and reliability, custom application priority policies, application prioritization

  • Ease of use and internet connectivity options: Reduced deployment cycles, detailed reporting and self-serve portal, SD-WAN can be installed on any internet connection (transport agnostic) 

  • Secure and reliable: Redundancy is affordable, security is integrated, security is managed

  • Cost effective

While SD-WAN is a more automated solution, replacing an existing MPLS entirely with SD-WAN is not as simple as it may initially seem. Embarking on a “rip and replace” approach can actually be very complex, especially for large organizations that have detailed networking requirements, custom applications, and custom security requirements (like firewalls, security protocols, and VPN for remote workers), that would need to be rebuilt from scratch. For complex networking needs, a fully SD-WAN solution can end up being even more difficult to implement than remaining on a legacy network. A dramatic switch can compromise performance and security, and further drive up costs; by switching to a complete SD-WAN networking solution, the key MPLS benefits of performance and security can be lost.

A new hybrid strategy for enterprises: MPLS and SD-WAN

The reality for large organizations is that they’ve invested a lot of resources into their existing network, and doing a network overhaul strategy can be a major disruption with negative implications to the business.The good news is, it’s not necessary to choose between MPLS or SD-WAN; in fact, adopting a hybrid solution is a strategy that can provide the best outcome. 

SD-WAN and MPLS can complement each other to create a connected and integrated enterprise network solution that also gives you security and performance benefits. MPLS is a private network, while SD-WAN encrypts data to give a secure overlay to continue to protect sensitive data. Choosing a hybrid strategy means you can use a combination of MPLS and SD-WAN in one of three ways: dedicate some sites to MPLS and your remaining sites to SD-WAN; use a combination of MPLS and SD-WAN at the same site; or a mix of both.

A strategy for many businesses is to offload as much MPLS traffic as possible to the internet, while continuing to use MPLS for time-sensitive applications that require guaranteed delivery. By using SD-WAN as an overlay solution at smaller branch locations, the existing infrastructure can run more efficiently and route traffic over the best path for high performance and low latency.

For example, if you’re a large insurance company who has multiple locations across the country, you could use MPLS for your main offices and leverage SD-WAN for your smaller branch locations. This hybrid strategy allows business to function efficiently and account for fluctuating bandwidth needs, while boosting productivity by keeping employees connected through cloud applications.

Adopting a hybrid networking infrastructure will allow you to leverage the best technology without compromising your network. Ultimately, there’s no need to compare SD-WAN vs. MPLS; you can choose the networking solution that works for each branch location to create a connected and integrated enterprise network solution.


At TELUS, we provide a hybrid approach that truly unlocks the business value for today’s network by integrating SD-WAN with existing MPLS, LTE and high speed internet solutions.

Cost effective

  • Up to 67% in TCO (total cost of ownership) or value improvement 1

  • Industry leading skill sets, managed solution with 24/7 dedicated support by TELUS

Secure and reliable

  • Secure by design framework, advanced security solutions 

  • Automatic LTE failover, up to 99.99% SLA (service level agreement) 

Ease of use and interconnectivity options

  • National provider maximizing application performance

  • Interconnectivity options with TELUS MPLS

Cloud optimized solution

  • Cloud-first technology partner 

  • Direct access to cloud applications: TELUS cloud applications and services, Office 365, G-Suite, Cisco Webex

1. 67% in savings based on IDC Analyst Connection, Data Network Transformation with SD-WAN, April, 2017

Learn more about our hybrid network solution and how we can help your enterprise create a strategic network that works for you. Talk to a sales representative today.

TELUS has the most robust SD-WAN portfolio in Canada. Learn more about our SD-WAN solutions today.

Authored by:
Matt Wong