SD-WAN: Not a Panacea
ORLANDO -- MEF 2017 -- Hold the ticker tape parade and victory lap for SD-WAN, it still has plenty to accomplish, according to a panel of service providers at the MEF17 conference.
SD-WAN has burned bright over the past couple years, and it has enjoyed its time in the limelight here in Orlando in keynotes and panel discussions. And then there's the recent news of Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) launching a wholesale SD-WAN solution last week -- it first deployed SD-WAN in 2015 -- as well as Charter's Spectrum Enterprise division joining the SD-WAN ranks. (See Verizon's Cevis: Application-Aware Networks on Deck and Charter Taps SD-WAN to Boost Off-Net Reach.)
To paraphrase Homer Simpson: SD-WAN, is there anything it can't do?
Well, actually, yes, there's plenty more that SD-WAN can do, according to the MEF panel that was moderated by Jason Marcheck, consulting director, GlobalData Technology. Marchek asked his panel if SD-WAN was more than just a use case, and what the next steps would be.
"Sometimes I look at SD-WAN and think it's sort of just a bump in the road. Now, granted it's a helluva bump in the road, but it's not an end in and of itself. It's the means to a great end," said David Hughes, vice president of engineering at PCCW Global. "Here we have this SD-WAN solution that we deploy efficiently and quickly to get something new and exciting out to customers that are asking for it, but we can't get obsessed with that being the endgame."
"The idea of products organized around boxes, products organized around connectivity concepts, be it Carrier Ethernet or anything else, which is sort of what MEF is driving, is that those things kind of go away because all of this stuff ultimately get pushed into the fabric of the network itself," Hughes said. "So this whole mitigating concept of having this appliance or device that gates all access to the Internet kind of goes away. SD-WAN sort of leads to the inevitable because it provides access to any device, anywhere and anytime, very elegantly and very quickly.
The problem, according to Hughes, is that there's currently no way to orchestrate and manage SD-WAN services from carrier to carrier or SD-WAN service to SD-WAN service.
John Dickinson, vice president of commercial network, network engineering at Charter Communications Inc. , agreed with Hughes that the endgame for SD-WAN was to integrate it into network-as-a-service.
"I think it can be very complementary to our existing service offerings, including our Ethernet service," he said. "I think if we integrate it into our service and use that technology effectively it will be able to grow our business. It may erode a bit of the Internet exchange business, but I think as we get our networks more interconnected that will happen anyway."
Allan Langfield, executive director of product management at Comcast Business, said his company's primary focus wasn't on getting an SD-WAN offering to market. Instead, Comcast's focus was to get its SDN/NFV platform, called ActiveCore, up and running while also doing white box virtualization. He said while SD-WAN was a great use case, it's limited when it's not orchestrated or virtualized. (See Comcast Business Dives Into SD-WAN Waters.)
"We see a lot of dedicated hardware devices for SD-WAN services that are deployed," Langfield said. "I don't blame anyone in that space because there's a market opportunity and they are capitalizing on it. I think folks need to be very, very conscious that there are a lot of implementations out there that may be great SD-WAN applications, but they don't have the power for orchestration to grow beyond the SD-WAN use case, or to grow beyond this single vendor or very select partner integrations."
The promise of orchestration is being able to deliver products and services that aren't siloed. With orchestration, automation would move beyond the complexity that is subject to error in the old model and provide the customers with more flexibility for managing their own solutions, Langfield said.
"We're a bit away from that today, but I think it has started," said Langfield. "I just think we need to be conscious of giving ourselves and the industry too much credit just because we got into the SD-WAN space. I think there's going to be a lot of maturation there over time.
"SD-WAN is awesome, but not all SD-WANs are created equal in terms of leveraging SDN and NFV so lets continue to challenge ourselves in growing that space."
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation
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