Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) are two methods for connecting corporate branch offices. SD-WANs are usually cheaper and more flexible, but MPLS also offers some advantages. Multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) is a common method for constructing the connections between local area networks (LANs) that make up wide area networks (WANs). Using specialized routers, MPLS sends packets along predetermined network paths, improving upon the typical way the Internet works. These predetermined network paths can be used as the connective tissue that comprises a WAN and allow multiple virtual WANs to coexist over a shared network backbone. However, they take quite a bit of time to set up, can be expensive, and require a contracted service from a carrier or telecommunications company.
A software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) is a large network that connects LANs using software, not hardware. SD-WANs do not require any specialized equipment for routing. They run over the regular Internet, making them cheaper to implement than other networking methods.
The SD-WAN model does not exclude the usage of MPLS — MPLS can be one of the networking methods used in an SD-WAN — but overall SD-WANs are often more flexible and cost-effective by comparison. Learn more in the Cloudflare Learning Center.
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