MPLS stands for Multiprotocol Label Switching, a networking technique used to direct data packets efficiently along predefined paths to their destinations. It was designed to provide faster, more reliable data transmission across large enterprise networks with multiple locations, using labels instead of IP addresses.
MPLS was developed in the 1990s as a technology to improve the efficiency and performance of packet-switching networks to enable fast and reliable IP packet forwarding.
It quickly gained popularity and widespread adoption in service provider networks since it supported various protocols and provided traffic engineering capabilities. Over the years, MPLS has evolved, incorporating new features and enhancements, and is still used in both enterprise and service provider environments.
Typically, data is divided into pieces, called packets, before being sent from one location to another. Each packet contains code that routers use to decide which direction it should go on its way to its destination.
When you order a package from Amazon, it moves from the warehouse to your home without being opened and inspected. The shipping label is scanned at each stop along the route, and the package is forwarded accordingly.
Similarly, an MPLS network simplifies the routing process, using labels to direct and forward data packets through a network without the need to open and examine the IP header. Here’s how it works:
MPLS networks can classify and separate traffic based on the type of data it is carrying, ensuring faster transmission for applications that require high quality, such as voice and video.
Multiprotocol Label Switching is used in various networking scenarios and is especially useful for enterprises supporting branch offices or global locations on the network. The most common scenarios for MPLS include:
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): By encapsulating and forwarding packets using MPLS labels, VPNs can be established over shared infrastructure while maintaining privacy and traffic segregation.
Traffic Engineering: MPLS provides traffic engineering capabilities so network administrators can control traffic flow to direct data along specific paths, balance the load across network links, and allocate bandwidth according to application requirements.
Quality of Service (QoS): MPLS supports QoS mechanisms to prioritize traffic based on priority-level or specific requirements so service providers can ensure that critical applications, such as voice or video, receive the necessary bandwidth, low latency, and low packet loss.
Service Provider Networks: MPLS networks can handle multiple types of traffic simultaneously, allowing service providers to offer a range of services like data, voice, video, and cloud applications.
In terms of cybersecurity, MPLS offers security advantages that include:
With the rise of cloud computing, MPLS is no longer a comprehensive solution, and it does come with drawbacks, including:
It’s true that newer technologies like Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) offer greater flexibility and cost-effectiveness, especially as enterprises adopt greater cloud presence, use more Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, and hire an increasingly remote workforce.
However, since MPLS was widely adopted and implemented in many enterprise and service provider networks, migrating away from it can be a significant undertaking. Enterprises already using MPLS can use a hybrid approach to leverage the strengths of both old and new technology.
MPLS may also remain useful for large organizations with regional offices and data centers, distributed retail establishments using point-of-sale systems, and businesses that rely on real-time applications like conference-calling software.
At the end of the day, the suitability of MPLS versus alternative technologies depends on the specific requirements, budget, and priorities of each organization.
Although MPLS is no longer the perfect network solution on its own, it can be combined with cloud computing technology, providing secure and reliable connectivity in certain situations where sensitive data needs to move over public internet connections and reliable performance is necessary.
MPLS helps optimize traffic flows between corporate networks and the cloud by directing traffic, allocating bandwidth, and implementing QoS policies to ensure that critical cloud applications or services receive the necessary resources and performance levels.
A hybrid approach can connect on-premises data centers, branch offices, and cloud environments, offering consistent connectivity, centralized management, and the ability to extend the organization’s network into the cloud.
MPLS networks can handle increased traffic demands, accommodate additional sites or branches, and support the growing number of cloud connections as organizations scale their cloud adoption, though it is important to note that scaling with MPLS requires more time and expertise than other methods.
SD-WAN, MPLS, and SASE are different networking technologies that address various aspects of network connectivity and security.
MPLS is designed to efficiently route data traffic within a private network, using switching, traffic engineering, QoS, and VPNs with reliable and predictable performance, traffic prioritization, and secure data transmission.
SD-WAN can replace or complement traditional MPLS, optimizing and managing wide area network (WAN) connections with features like centralized management, software-defined control, dynamic path selection, and application-based traffic routing. SD-WAN provides benefits like enhanced performance, cost savings, improved application experience, and increased agility.
SASE takes a comprehensive approach by converging network connectivity and security services. It integrates SD-WAN capabilities with security functions like Secure Web Gateways (SWG), Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS), Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB), and Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) to simplify network architecture, improve security, reduce complexity, and enhance user experience. It is particularly suitable for modern, distributed enterprises, offering secure and direct access to applications and cloud services from anywhere.Learn how Perimeter81’s enterprise SASE solution can simplify your network architecture and provide end-to-end security and scalability, even across large distances. Book a demo today.