VPN and MPLS are security solutions that help you surf the web safely. They both enhance privacy via anonymity. And they can also help improve connection speeds in certain contexts. VPN and MPLS are fast and powerful options for securing connections, but which one should you choose? Let’s find out more.
What is VPN?
VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network.” VPNs create virtual networks. These virtual networks overlay physical network infrastructure. They can be applied internally within company networks. However, VPNs most commonly create secure connections between network endpoints and the external internet.
Different types of VPNs are available. For instance, companies might link offices together via a site-to-site VPN. Or they could create direct connections between data centers and user devices with a Remote VPN.
VPNs create a virtual tunnel to carry encrypted data packets. This tunnel carries data from your device to endpoints across the world. In between, VPN servers and routers move internet traffic quickly to its destination.
Most VPNs use communities of physical servers to create direct virtual links worldwide. But some providers also use virtual server technology. In this case, virtual machines assign IP addresses and manage encryption. This style of VPN often delivers slower speeds, so users should be aware of their provider’s server make-up.
VPNs encrypt data via encoding protocols with varying degrees of complexity. The most common protocol is IPSec, which delivers speed and security. But more advanced and stronger encryption may be available. Alternative VPN protocols include OpenVPN and WireGuard.
VPNs also anonymize the source of data packets. Routers assign IP addresses to packets that have no relation to their origin. External observers can only see that data comes via a VPN provider network. Snoopers cannot tell who is sending data or what packets contain.
What is MPLS?
MPLS stands for Multi-Protocol Label Switching. Like VPNs, MPLS is a way of transferring data across the internet. But the traffic control technique used is very different.
In MPLS, data labels replace IP addresses. These labels identify packets, their origins, and their end destination. Usually, IP look-up procedures have to identify packets many times as data moves across network nodes. MPLS simplifies this time-consuming process.
Every packet leaving a network is assigned a label. The first router accepting this packet reads the label and calculates an optimal route to the packet’s end destination.
The route taken by data packets is known from the start. Routers do not need to carry out IP address lookups as data transits. Think of MPLS as a driver with good directions to their destination. Without this information, data has to ask for directions every few miles. With good directions, traffic moves smoothly and quickly.
MPLS technology also has security benefits. IP lookups can expose information to hackers to use in cyberattacks. Attacks are much less likely when information stays at the data link layer (OSI layer 2) instead of the network layer (layer 3).
There are some potential downsides, such as the cost of MPLS equipment. MPLS requires investment in Label Switch Router (LSR) technology. Engineers must configure all nodes in the data path for MPLS – a relatively unusual situation.
What are the differences between VPN and MPLS?
Despite their similar use cases, VPN and MPLS technologies differ greatly.
MPLS is often a faster solution for secure networking. Network technicians design systems to route data as efficiently as possible. Labels determine optimal pathways with minimal hops, and there is no need to waste time with IP address lookups. This setup ensures that data arrives quickly.
VPNs are not designed to deliver the most efficient routing. However, Virtual Private Networks can still be extremely fast. Updated server technology, efficient protocols, and tools like AI-assisted routing can improve connection speed dramatically.
At the same time, general internet speeds are improving while network bandwidth costs are falling. These developments have slightly reduced the competitive advantage of MPLS.
VPNs can lead to other speed optimizations. For instance, making traffic anonymous can help beat ISP throttling. Service providers sometimes throttle connections of heavy users. But throttling is impossible if ISPs can’t determine the origins of traffic.
MPLS networking comes with higher upfront costs than installing VPNs. Companies need to install hardware switches or replace routers to ensure MPLS compatibility. Service providers may need to overhaul software and configure labels for many connected devices. These requirements add to the cost and time involved.
VPNs are almost always cheaper. Companies must source a client for each connected device. They also need to purchase a subscription from a VPN provider. These costs are low. However, purchasing a relevant security license may be necessary when setting up VPN routers. This can increase the cost of VPN networking compared to MPLS connectivity.
Security is a critical issue when comparing VPN vs MPLS. MPLS networks reduce the scope for traffic interception. Hackers cannot read the IP address of data packets. They gain little information about the origin and destination of data. When combined with strong encryption, this adds up to robust network security.
MPLS is not a flawless security solution. If not matched with encryption, data can still be at risk. Attackers gaining access to internal networks can generally read traffic with ease. Configuring MPLS is also more difficult. Errors in configurations can lead to security vulnerabilities.
VPNs deliver security via tunneling protocols, data encryption, and IP anonymization. These layers of protection make it tough to extract and read data. Attackers cannot learn much about the contents or origin of data packets.
However, VPNs do rely on IP addresses. IP lookups can lead to interception risks, especially when using poorly secured VPN providers. Users can mitigate this risk by choosing their service provider carefully, researching encryption options, and finding a Virtual Private Network that takes security seriously.
MPLS security often applies to on-premises corporate networks. It may also be suitable for extended business networks, linking global branch locations. But ensuring proper configuration of every connection is essential. This requirement makes expanding MPLS switching time-consuming and inflexible.
VPNs offer far more flexibility for network managers. Employees can securely connect remote working devices. They just download the VPN client and follow secure access practices. VPN networks also reach across the globe. There is no need to calibrate MPLS hardware in distant locations. Instead, users can easily and securely send data to contacts in other regions.
Users also configure VPN software themselves. Companies have more freedom regarding VPN usage, and changing services is simple. A service provider will usually manage MPLS setups. Companies are less free to customize security setups and depend on a good relationship with their service provider.
Similarities between VPN and MPLS
There are many significant differences between multi-protocol label switching and VPN security. However, the two technologies are fundamentally quite similar. They both seek the same goal: secure data transmission and protection against cyberattacks.
VPN and MPLS allow users to surf the web and intranet content safely. They make life harder for cyberattackers seeking to intercept traffic and extract data. And they secure internal networks against external threats.
VPN and Multi-protocol label switching can also work together. They are not necessarily competing for security solutions. For instance, cloud-optimized MPLS systems can combine with VPNs in an MPLS-VPN hybrid. In these situations, MPLS infrastructure acts as the backbone while Virtual Private Network protection applies over the top.
MPLS-VPN systems add extra assurance for network managers. However, they come with high upfront and maintenance costs. The additional computing required to route data and add VPN encryption can also affect speeds. So hybrid solutions aren’t always suitable.
VPN vs MPLS - which is the most suitable for your business?
VPN protection suits businesses that require an agile, off-the-shelf security system. VPNs encrypt and anonymize data passing from networks to the external internet. They guard confidential data between remote workstations and on-premises servers.
Employees can surf the web safely, with less exposure to man-in-middle attacks. Companies can also add VPN protection affordably and quickly. Cloud-based services can secure SaaS apps conveniently. And companies can shop around for alternative providers when needed.
Both VPN and MPLS deliver enhanced security. But VPN offers encryption as standard. It also works up to OSI Layer 7 compared with OSI layers 2 or 3 for MPLS alternatives. Because of this, Virtual Private Networks may be preferable when security is more important than speed.
MPLS is a more bespoke solution for intranets with high-level security needs. MPLS systems are generally rolled out within organizations to connect departments or branches. They work well when routing data internally and securing critical information within the network.
MPLS also works well with Voice-over-IP and other data-heavy business applications. Routers can switch high volumes of real-time traffic reliably and quickly – a good solution for internal conferencing or team management.
Create a secure business network with NordLayer’s help
Data protection is a critical priority in modern network management. MPLS and VPN provide enhanced information security, guarding data flowing across network boundaries. With strong encryption and anonymization, companies can lock down the data that matters.
However, MPLS and VPN are not the same. From speed to security protection levels, the two systems vary. Thanks to their adaptability, price, and security protections, modern VPNs generally provide a better service for business users.
NordLayer offers flexible VPN-based network security solutions. Our Business VPN features a range of protocols and the option of using dedicated private or public servers. Companies reliant on SaaS can source Cloud VPN services to make collaboration safer. And our VPNs can combine with tools like Single Sign On or 2-Factor Authentication for extra security.
Build a custom security setup to meet your needs. Find out more, and get in touch with our team today.