VPN vs MPLS: What’s the Difference?

July 19, 2018

Data secure becomes more and more important for enterprise and data center networks now. Thus keeping data safe is imperative when it is stored, processed or transmitted among network devices such as fiber switch, storage server, etc. Nowadays, VPN and MPLS are two competing technologies to keep data stored and secure efficiently. But what exactly are they and how they differ from each other? This post will give a detailed introduction to the difference between VPN and MPLS, and set out how to make a proper decision over VPN vs MPLS.

VPN vs MPLS: What Is VPN?

VPN, also known as Virtual Private Network, is basically a virtual network within a physical network. It is generally deployed to be high security network tunnel through which data travels in a strongly encrypted form. Thus, any data travelling over a VPN is not visible to the physical network surrounding it. VPN can be created through a various type of encryption, such as IPsec, SSL and TSL. Among them, IPsec is the most widely used.


VPN vs MPLS: What Is MPLS?

MPLS is short for Multi-Protocol Label Switching, which is a protocol that uses labels to route packets instead of using IP addresses. It is a technology directs and carries data between network nodes, which means it’s possible to create direct virtual links between different nodes regardless of locations and distances. Unlike VPN, MPLS is a mechanism independent of protocol and data, therefore it can work regardless as to the physical network topology. Due to this flexibility, many suppliers have developed their network switches suited for MPLS platform. For example, FS S5800-48F4S 10GbE switch enables LSR in an MPLS network to exchange label binding information for supporting hop-by-hop forwarding. For more information on this switch, please read FS S5800-48F4S MPLS Switch: the Best Mix of Layer 2 and Layer 3


VPN vs MPLS: What’s the Difference?

VPN and MPLS differ from each other not only in the above mentioned aspects but also at cost, performance, application, etc. To be clear here lists the difference between VPN and MPLS in the following chart:

Parameters VPN MPLS
Technology Type Point to Point and Multipoint technology. Multipoint technology
OSI Layer Works up to Layer 7 Works between Layer 2 and Layer 3
Encryption Use encryption Do not need encryption
Cost Low High
Traffic Prioritization Not possible Possible
Platforms Support Supported on Routers (with relevant security license) and Firewalls MPLS can be terminated at any layer 3 device such as Router, Firewall, Layer 3 Gigabit Ethernet switch, etc.
Multicast Support Not supported on IPsec VPN. Need to implement GRE over IPsec which incurs additional configuration and overhead Support multicast traffic
Target Customers Suitable for small to medium sized enterprises Suitable for large-size enterprises
Provisioning and Management Customer needs to perform configuration and provisioning of VPN setup over IPsec supported box Service provider is responsible for providing and maintaining MPLS connectivity, which relieves customers from burden of configuring the devices
Traffic Control and Routing Decision Customer has the control over traffic routing Service provider has more traffic control and its routing
Location Limitation Basic requirement being Internet termination at customer sites from any provider Limited up to locations where service provider has network laid out or has partnership with another service provider
Delay Sensitive and Mission Critical Traffic Less preferred & reliable for delay sensitive traffic and business critical application More reliable and provides better user experience considering QoS has been implemented
Deployment Time and Network Availability Easy and fast deployments like SSL/IPsec remote access VPN for remote home user via Internet. Easy and fast deployments like SSL/IPsec remote access VPN for remote home user via Internet.
Cloud Based Services Wide array of Cloud based services available for customers over Internet using VPN based connectivity Limited availability of Cloud-based services for customers over MPLS

VPN vs MPLS: Which One to Choose?

VPN and MPLS each has its own pros and cons. So you’d better do a cost–benefit analysis to help you decide before deploying VPN or MPLS network. In fact, choosing VPN or MPLS depends on your business requirements, which can come down to such factors as cost, security, availability, QoS, speed , etc. For example, If your company is running critical, real-time applications across the network (such as voice, video or remote desktop), MPLS is a perfect solution. While VPN is suitable for those who want to save cost and has low request for QoS, speed, etc.


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