SD-WAN Will Really Take Off When It Gets Its Act Together

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Wednesday, January 10, 2018 with No comments

What’s the appeal of SD-WAN?

Here’s how Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) frames the market forces and problems that SD-WAN is touted as addressing, in its white paper Understanding SD-WAN Managed Services:

The internet has become a global fabric that connects people and machines—an on-demand, real-time set of programmable systems. It now must provide more value than just bandwidth. Particularly noteworthy is the way apps have moved to cloud, becoming “an IT utility for a globalized and mobile workforce,” MEF said in its paper. (Reproduced with permission of the MEF Forum.)

But, it takes too long to get new interconnect sites and clouds (public or private) up and running. To get all sites of a multinational business connected can take many months, for example. Even simple changes like bandwidth adjustments can take weeks.

SD-WAN has the potential to solve these and other problems—bringing value for telcos, ISPs, MSOs, cloud providers, managed service providers, and SD-WAN tech providers. SD-WAN adoption is driven by the need to speed up service provisioning, scale the network on-demand, adjust to market dynamics, dynamically tailor apps, and reduce network connectivity service costs.

What’s holding SD-WAN back?

However, cautioned MEF in its paper, SD-WAN suffers from a lack of standardization around deployment, architecture, and APIs. Even the terminology is inconsistent. Definitions abound, but for MEF, an SD-WAN is an IP-based, secure overlay network that can operate over any type of access network. Other fundamental tenets of SD-WAN, the organization said in its paper, include:
  • Ability to service-assure each ‘tunnel’ in real-time
  • Customer premises, application-driven packet forwarding up to OSI Layer 7
  • Packet forwarding over multiple WANs at each site
  • Policy-based packet forwarding
  • Automatic, centralized configuration of customer premises equipment
  • Use of WAN optimization
Other deployment challenges for SD-WAN include inadequate OSS/BSS systems, lack of integration with legacy infrastructure, insufficient or incomplete standards, and too-high deployment costs.

But, that’s not all. Communications service providers (CSPs) and managed service providers (MSPs) may not be fully committed to adopting SD-WAN, in some cases because they see it as a threat to existing services like MPLS-based VPNs. That’s becoming less of an issue, but is still a factor; 45% see it as an opportunity, 37% see it as an opportunity and a threat, and only 4% see it as solely a threat, according to a MEF survey cited in its paper.

For MEF, SD-WAN managed services are one use case for its Third Network vision of connectivity that’s agile, assured, and orchestrated using standard, open LSO APIs. As the reality of SD-WAN gets closer to that vision, it should prove even more valuable and lucrative for service providers and network operators.