Is implementing an MPLS network worth the extra money?

Hey everybody,

     My company has a main office and 15 other branch offices connected to the main office via SonicWALL VPN.  We utilize terminal services and VoIP throughout the network that route back to the main office.  

     Our network has been experiencing slow-downs and congestion.  We found out that our dual T1 lines (1.5 Mbps each) at the main office becomes very congested during peak hours.  In the next year we expect a higher volume of data and voice traffic.  Our ISP suggested that we upgrade to MPLS instead of the method we have now, which is purely through the public internet.  

     We're thinking about upgrading one of the lines to 3 Mbps  MPLS and having the other a 3 Mbps Internet line or just having both be 3 Mbps internet lines.  Implementing MPLS would be costly because the lines coming from the branch offices would also have to be upgraded to MPLS.

     My question is would MPLS really be worth it?  I know MPLS improves response times and supports QoS.  However, our SonicWALLs provide things like QoS already.  Would upgrading the T1 lines from 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps be enough of an upgrade or does adding MPLS really provide some significant features that our network can really benefit from?  Any feedback or ideas would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks in advance :)
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172pilotSteveConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Your QoS isn't being necessarily limited by the sonicwall, BUT, as pointed out before, as soon as the traffic hits the Internet, all packets are again created equal, and you lose your control...

I agree that there's no firm answer to this - it depends on what you're trying to do, what you're WILLING to spend, and what you're willing to put up with, in regards to delay, lost packets, and lack of service level agreements (SLAs)

Your VPN strategy is probably sound, and the voice traffic going over it is definitely the hardest thing to get "right" in that scenario.  If your voice is good, then you're probably not going to gain anything by going to MPLS, at least technically..

What CAN happen, however, is that your ISP could make a big sale to another customer tomorrow, and effectively oversubscribe their backbone connection that you've been relying on for years with no problem.  All of a sudden, your voice quality goes down, and you have no control over it..  You'd call the ISP, and they'd say "Sorry - you can still get to the Internet, and ping times are acceptable..  you have no SLA guarantee"..  At that point, you're going to be scrambling for a solution...  Of course, that may never happen, and your ISP could be perfect forever..

Going with MPLS will give you the control to MANAGE the relationship with the vendor better.  You will define how much speed you need at each site, and you'll define how much of that traffic will get high priority QoS treatment and markings, and you'll PAY for that ability.  You will have an SLA that says you are guaranteed that level of service, and you'll have someone to contact who is responsible to make it right if something goes wrong.

Other things to note:
With MPLS, you wont be able to get a new circuit / site online as quickly as you will with your ISP scenario
With MPLS, you are on a virtual private connection already, so you dont need the overhead of a VPN.  This will improve your performance, and simplify management
Depending on the carrier and your contract, you may have the Internet available directly from each location, or you may find that you need to route all your internet traffic through one of your sites and then back out through another DLCI (assuming over F/R) to get to the Internet..  If you dont mind managing a bunch of firewalls (which you're doing already) then the distributed connection to the Internet is faster/more efficient, but if you want a centrally managed "choke point" of all of your Internet traffic, for either monitoring or making centralized changes, then you need to realize that with MPLS, your Internet-bound traffic may have to traverse the MPLS to a central site, just to be re-routed through a firewall and back out, taking more bandwidth than you expected..  Again - Pros and cons on both sides..

I support a company who has 35-40 locations and used to have what you have, then migrated to dedicated Frame Relay, and then to MPLS, and are now putting new sites on with either MPLS or VPN connections (back to step1!!!), depending on size, so in their case, they liked a mixture of both environments, depending on size/needs of each site.   If you're willing and able to support both technologies, having a mixture like that may be the best bang for the buck...  Big/important sites on MPLS, with VPN for ease of fast connects and handling smaller sites..

The advantage of MPLS is lower delay as well as end to end QoS, among other things. The so call QoS offer by your SonicWalls is not truely working - it can only control things that passthrough it. Once the traffic get to the internet, it lost all the QoS.

e.g. if some one from one of your remote office send a voice packet to your main office, and mark that packet EF. Once the packet leave your remote office's SonicWall, the EF marking will be removed and mixed with other traffic on the internet. When that packet finally arrive your main office's ISP, that packet have to complete with other traffic trying to get into that 3Mbps pipe. If at that time, some one download a big file, it is very possible your high prority packet will be dropped or delaied.

It is not a straight answer does MPLS worth the money. It depends on how much you have to pay, your budget, how important to you to have predictable delay and support QoS. There are times that increasing bandwidth and uses VoIP equipment that are less sensitive to delay/jitter is able to make this work most of the time without paying for the high price of MPLS.
Personally I don't think MPLS is worth the extra cost for the lower bandwidth.  GuruChiu is correct - the QoS offered by the SonicWALL (or other vendors for that matter) isn't as up to scratch as what the MPLS can offer.  However, your bandwidth can be degraded and in some cases their is the short print that some MPLS QoS services don't quite give that same QoS.

However, depending on what SonicWALL you have, you can start to "control" the traffic a little.  Do users need full bandwidth access to Facebook / YouTube etc.  Using Content Filter, Application Firewall and Intrusion Detection & Prevention you can start to contact your bandwidth much better allowing better use of VoIP.

Other considerations are what is happening on the network too.  We recently had an issue where the client moved to MPLS and didn't see any major difference.  When we got into it, their Switches had not been setup correctly and the issue squarely lay here.
MPLS between sites will be like having private connection. Maksure to keep secure with VPN tunnel. Yes MPLS is worth that extra $$$$. One more thing having WAN optimization will make huge diff.
WAN optimization will not necessarily replace the need for additional bandwidth, but it can certainly help with performance in some circumstances.
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