SD-WAN in 3 Years: 8 Views From Across the Ecosystem Part 1

Photo: Futuristic world

As open networking has evolved, most of the focus has quite rightly been on delivering functionality at the technical level. 

Now, with SDN well and truly in mainstream use and NFV looking likely to follow it soon, the whole value chain is taking note right down to enterprise end users – with SD-WAN at the heart of this. With SD-WAN already seeing early adoption across different end user industries, this is a major growth area for carriers and providers – if they are prepared to embrace what it offers. 

With this in mind, we are speaking to 8 players from across the ecosystem about what SD-WAN means to their businesses – and where they see it in a few years’ time. Here are the first four. 

Roy Chua, Co-Founder and CEO, AvidThink / Analyst: “As SD-WAN matures, we are getting ever so close to that full-stack NFV rollout” 

“SD-WAN is essentially the next-generation enterprise edge, where you can bundle together multiple types of links and run traffic over them – while some may be more reliable than others, reliability goes up overall. This is coupled with a central configuration, usually cloud control, so you can manage hundreds or thousands of locations with consistent policies across those locations. 

“It’s been a success – enterprises rolled it out first, and then the telcos realised it could be a revenue source to them by upselling value-added services. So they are now deploying what you might call ‘SD-WAN Gen 2’, with the carriers wanting more control and saying ‘Don’t use the boxes the SD-WAN vendors gave you, use my UCPE and I can run multiple VNFs on that CPE’. This offers not just the SD-WAN that clients asked for but even more – a firewall that a client’s security team has vetted for compliance could go into the deployment, for example. This SD-WAN Gen 2 is going on worldwide across major carriers – a lot of RFPs have it included. 

“What else are the carriers doing? In this Gen 2 setup we need more sophisticated orchestration. As SD-WAN matures, we are getting ever so close to that full-stack NFV rollout. We started with vCPE as an initial NFV use case in the telco space – and instead an enterprise-led initiative in the form of SD-WAN has become a major telco driver leading the NFV rollout! As I look at many of the carrier architecture for SD-WAN Gen 2, it looks a lot like NFV. 

“We are getting there – but perhaps not along the path we has originally envisioned.” 

Mattias Fridstrom, Telia Carrier / Operator: “As we enter the enterprise world, everything is more transactional” 

“As a carrier, the old way wasn’t too bad – you would do one big deal and spend time delivering it, so the long lead times allowed you to be manual. But now as we enter the enterprise world, everything is more transactional – rather than internet in 3 places, it can be 50 places and then 60 places the week after. The old way was impossible – we now need to be automated and have much better control of data. We need to move away from manually handling things.” 

Dan Pitt, MEF / Analyst: “Eventually, SD-WAN will evolve to become a platform for (network) edge services. At this point the conversation will be about computing, not networking.” 

"The need for multi-vendor SD-WAN is more prevalent than many people think. When a new technology emerges, customers often try one vendor to get to know the technology. Maybe they try a second one later or somewhere else but it’s not been common for them to have significant installations of multiple vendors. With SD-WAN, a surprising number of major network operators do have significant deployments of multiple vendors. Why is this? There are many reasons. When one company acquires another, they could be using different vendors. When procurement decisions are made by individual business units, they can use different vendors. When different vendors’ products meet distinct business needs, the same customer can end up with multiple vendors. What happens in most of these cases, however, is that the customer needs to treat the different solutions with some commonality. It is that commonality that lends importance to the concept of multi-vendor SD-WAN. 

"Important progress is already being made in defining a standard for the interface between the service orchestrator and the SD-WAN controller. A standard interface allows a single customer service orchestration system to control SD-WANs from different vendors in a common fashion. This is the industry’s most pressing need at the moment. It requires the specification of the most popular SD-WAN services and behaviors. So far the industry has made good progress in agreeing on these initial services and behaviors, but as more types of services emerge the standards will need to evolve to incorporate them. Vendor extensions will likely proliferate for a while, offering customers specialized capabilities but inhibiting standard orchestration. This tension between standardization and innovation is normal and the market will decide the balance. 

"At some point, network operators will demand a standard interface between SD-WAN controllers and the SD-WAN edge, so that operators can select SD-WAN edges based on their respective price, performance, and features, not just their compatibility with a given SD-WAN controller. We are several years away from this. 

"Eventually, SD-WAN will evolve to become a platform for (network) edge services, and various functions, including those that today are labeled as SD-WAN functions along with new ones, will simply present to the market as VNFs. Multi-vendor SD-WAN will then include the aspect of multi-vendor NFVI so that anyone’s VNF will run on anyone’s SD-WAN platform. At that point our conversation will be about computing, not networking. 

Nick Conway, Wavestone / Solution Provider: “The whole world of WAN is changing” 

"It’s an interesting area – the whole world of WAN is changing. Most organisations previously signed five-year contracts with a global telco or vendor. Now, the whole game has changed just at the time that these contracts are coming to an end. Global reach has improved, with the internet now having a big part to play, there is a lower cost of availability, and tech like SD-WAN is helping leverage these lower-cost options." 

Look out for Part 2 in The Network soon. 

Click here to find out more about our 2020 event Layer123 World Congress 2020: Service Evolution Beyond SDN and NFV.