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MPLS, SD-WAN, and how to monitor your wide area network

19th August 2019

As intelligent as networks are, they’re not always as intelligent as we’d like them to be. There’s no better example of this than the routing of data. How data is transported – and, specifically, prioritised between each router – underpins network optimisation in enterprise contexts.

The efficacy of a message is impacted by the speed and reliability of its delivery. Enterprise requires a routing solution that intelligently prioritises real-time traffic: the bandwidth required for a meeting should always be prioritised above the bandwidth required for Netflix, for example. But whichever routing technique we use on WANs, or a combination of thereof, it’s also important that we maintain the ability to monitor all network traffic.

Introducing MPLS

Luckily, for private networks, such a solution exists. Multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) is a routing technique that routes data through the shortest path available by attaching additional information to each packet: i.e., a more specific, detailed labelling address for each packet sent. It avoids complex routing table lookups – using short path labels rather than long network addresses – and speeding traffic flows. 

More simply, it helps to establish highly efficient routes for data packets, thereby optimising network performance. Think of an expedited postal delivery service for enterprise-specific packages. The first time a packet enters the network, MPLS assigns it a specific forwarding equivalent class (FEC). A table indicating how to handle packets of a specific FEC type is stored on each router. This means that routers don’t need to perform header analysis; instead, subsequent routes use the same label to retrieve a FEC for each packet.

As a consequence, MLPS has the ability to handle packets with particular characteristics, such as those from specific applications, consistently. The routing of traffic associated with, for example, video conferences and other real-time applications is expedited by mapping it to low-latency routes. This ensures that critical use cases and systems are prioritised.

SD-WAN

So, with MPLS, we have a way to ensure high-priority traffic is prioritised over low-priority traffic. The traditional limitation to MPLS, however, is that it’s only relevant to private, corporate networks, and remapping network pathways is a lengthy process. To rectify this, a new technology was recently introduced, earmarked by some as a potential substitute to MPLS: SD-WAN (Software-Defined Wide Area Networks).

SD-WAN makes it possible to route corporate traffic over ordinary internet connections, and is an ostensibly more flexible and cost-effective WAN solution. But rather than replacing MPLS, SD-WAN is better suited to augment MPLS WANs.

SD-WAN is a transparent-agnostic overlay able to route any type of traffic, including MPLS. Its key advantage is the visibility it provides: with it, an enterprise WAN-traffic architect is able to sit, monitor, and apply policies across connected WAN devices from a central point. 

SD-WAN and Scrutinizer by Plixer

MPLS will always be a valuable technique for guaranteeing performance of real-time traffic for applications that require it. A mix of the two solutions best befits modern WANs; MPLS for time-sensitive, real-time applications and systems, and SD-WAN for efficient routing. SD-WAN ensures flexibility and cost-effectiveness, while MLPS guarantees network performance. Either way, both types of traffic can and should be monitored – and, with Scrutinizer, they can be.

Using Scrutinizer, network managers are able to see not only the quantity of traffic traversing a network, but monitor the paths taken, including the reasons why and whether more efficient routing is possible. Whether you end up using more of SD-WAN or MPLS in your WAN, or one entirely over the other, understanding performance metrics that make up the network – and how to make changes for future optimisations – is critical.  

To see Scrutinizer, Plixer’s network monitoring solution in action, start your 30-day free trial. Alternatively, to discuss MLPS and SD-WAN implementations and how to maintain monitoring over complex networks, contact us today

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