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SDN providers nibbling away at slow-moving MPLS carriers

Clint Boulton | July 12, 2016
Another mid-sized enterprise has dropped an incumbent MPLS provider for a younger, more nimble service provider, in this case choosing a hybrid MPLS/SDN network for speed, flexibility and cost savings. (Updated on July 11, 2016.)

Switching networking providers is no small task but it wasn't really an option for Pattonair CIO Brian Long. Growing 16 percent year-over-year, the provider of nuts and bolts for airline engines was regularly adding new offices worldwide to serve its customers. It needed to have these new sites up and running quickly but its MPLS network provider Verizon was not willing to move at the speed Pattonair required, Long says.

brian long
Pattonair CIO Brian Long.

"It was a really good service once [the network circuit] was in," Long says of Verizon's MPLS service. "But if you wanted to be a dynamic business and quickly open up new locations and change capacities it was just a nightmare." Long says he soon got the sense that "we were an account number in their database and we just couldn't get the support that we needed."

A year ago he switched to a hybrid network comprised of MPLS with a software-defined network (SDN) overlay from startup Masergy. The results, spanning 13 global offices in Fort Worth, Texas; Derby, U.K.; France and Singapore, have exceeded his expectations. Pattonair hasn't experienced any downtime, enabling the company to meet all of its service-level agreements to Rolls Royce and other customers. Long says he also shaved 35 percent off of his networking bill compared to when he was using Verizon's network.

MPLS systems are losing ground to SDNs

Such stories are playing out across several industries, particularly among mid-sized enterprises whose growth spurts require them to set up new locations in hurry. Although these companies have relied on stable MPLS systems for years, they no longer feel comfortable relying on these last-generation network technologies. They face shorter deployment windows and must be able to rapidly scale bandwidth, none of which are strong suits for MPLS systems. Startups are swooping in to offer more flexibility and speed at a lower cost, as well as the capability to support several cloud applications.

SDNs allow network administrators to use software to program tasks typically conducted by routers and switches and create policies to route services wherever they are needed. SD-WANs marry both capabilities, enabling companies to rapidly set up and manage VPNs, WAN optimization, VoIP and network-based firewalls while supporting MPLS, broadband Internet and LTE services.

Long, who expects to add more cloud software, decided he needed a foot in both the MPLS and SDN camps. He negotiated terms with Masergy and closely monitored the arrangement, regularly consulting with the company during six months of planning. Long also broke a cardinal rule of networking switches. Typically, enterprises run the new system in parallel with the old system for as long as it takes to ensure the new service meets expectations. But operating two overlapping networks significantly increases communications costs.


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