MPLS, or multiprotocol label switching, is a network technology typically used by enterprises to connect their remote sites or by ISPs for layer 2/layer 3 traffic segmentation within different tenants. It’s been around for more than 20 years, and many companies still rely on it. What is MPLS, and is it still reliable?
First, let’s discuss how “normal” routing works. When you visit a website on your browser, a lot of interesting things are happening in the backend. Your web requests are divided into small pieces called packets. Each packet carries information about its destination and where it’s coming from. Routers forward packets to other routers, which is how packets move across the network.
While two packets may travel to the same destination, they can take different routes.
How does MPLS work? MPLS (multiprotocol label switching) is a data forwarding system that assigns labels to each packet. These labels determine how that packet should travel, creating a private network. Since the packets are labeled between their transition from layer 2 (responsible for transferring data between nodes) to layer 3 (responsible for packet forwarding and routing), MPLS is often called a “layer 2.5 protocol.”
As the name suggests, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) is a software-based approach to managing a WAN (wide area network). However, it’s more advanced than MPLS. SD-WAN is more secure, is less expensive, and offers better performance.
Both MPLS and SD-WAN are used for network connectivity: connecting users working from home with headquarters or remote branch offices.
Some IT specialists claim that in the future, MPLS will be pushed out by SD-WAN, but in truth, they’re not exactly identical technologies and both have their use cases.
While MPLS vs. VPN search queries happen often on the internet, it’s apples and oranges. They are different technologies serving different purposes. MPLS is a networking technology, while a VPN is a tool designed to encrypt your traffic and hide your IP address from prying eyes.
You can use both MPLS to connect different branches of your company and a VPN to protect your employees online. Since MPLS doesn’t encrypt your traffic, it’s worth considering VPN solutions to ensure that your data is protected in transit.