This Industry Viewpoint was contributed by David W Wang
The SD-WAN (software defined - wide area network) era has come. A few years ago, buzzwords like SDN (software defined network) and NFV (network function virtualization) were mostly network architectural concepts, but now SD-WAN has evolved into a disruptive technology and service that can truly revolutionize and benefit the IT/Telecom market and industry on a global scale.
Fundamentally, a SD-WAN, like a virtual PC that separates its operating system from the hardware shell, separates Layer 3 network control from Layer 2 data link. As the result, a lot of network management, optimization and upgrading functionalities that used to be handled by CPE (customer premise equipment) or network edge routers or switches, now can be virtually centralized and managed from the core network facilities via software applications.
The benefits of SD-WAN are surely game changing and disruptive in comparison with the legacy WAN technologies like MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) in terms of network cost, agility, provisioning lead time, management, security, and so on. For instance, SD-WAN will permit users to supplement or replace their dedicated private MPLS with public broadband connectivity, with little sacrificing on the connection reliability, latency control, network security, and bandwidth availability.
Major US telecom carriers are now all pushing for massive SD-WAN deployment to replace the legacy network architecture and functionalities. Recently Verizon has announced that it plans to deliver virtual CPE services to over 30 global markets by the end of the year, allowing business customers to take advantage of software-based services powered by the telco's cloud based wired and wireless networks. Considering CPE as being pivotal to managed WAN services but for years having been troublesome in sourcing, delivering and provisioning in the global market for Verizon, now this “virtual CPE service” should mark a milestone leap for the telco to boost its WAN solutions beyond the legacy MPLS products.
AT&T is more aggressive in rolling out SD-WAN solutions. Recently the telco has officially launched its NFV on demand service in 76 countries and territories, allowing multinational businesses to reduce network costs and service activation time. The service can cut hardware requirements, so businesses will have much less to manage on site with more cost saving. Meanwhile it simplifies the process of purchasing and adding new network functions from months and weeks to just a few minutes.
As of October 2015, CenturyLink has equipped over 36 locations in multiple geographies globally with its VNS (virtual network services). Then the telco's latest service, CenturyLink SD-WAN, is an offering that bundles connectivity from several partners, CPE, software licensing, and configuration and monitoring, all accessible from an online service portal.
With all these SD-WAN deployment and launching campaigns underway, the next mission for the service providers will be about how to effectively promote and sell SD-WAN to the marketplace. Whenever a new technology emerges, there will be some early adopters, but carrying on the new service quickly into the main stream may become quite some challenge. While SD-WAN offers quite attractive savings, features and lead-time, some enterprises might remain skeptical on factors like standards and technology maturity, integration with existing architecture, reliability SLA, traffic security, and control power on the network.
In order to speed up the market adoption of SD-WAN, while in the back office the service providers should continue to work closely with equipment vendors to upscale and standardize the new SD-WAN architecture and ecosystem, the front office, on the other hand, may start target marketing and selling SD-WAN to enterprises with the following profiles:
First, existing heavy but unhappy MPLS users. For those enterprises (e.g. banks, retailers, and manufacturers) with over 30 MPLS sites currently, especially when those sites are made of many branch offices across large geographic areas, maintaining, trouble shooting and upgrading this MPLS network can become quite a pain in terms of cost, resources and time. Thus SD-WAN offers may become an easy sale pitch to these enterprise users. The sound approach is to identify the pain points with the current MPLS and then offer SD-WAN as a cure, or at least a partial cure like a hybrid solution to replace some of the MPLS connections.
Second, those enterprises that generate heavy video traffic and on a CDN (content delivery network) platform. Video content includes both regular recreational stream (e.g. from YouTube and online gaming) and business critical purpose like video conferencing, and they take a lot of bandwidth away in network transport. Hence it is beneficial to distinguish them and keep the business critical only video traffic over MPLS, and allocate and reroute those recreational video traffic to SD-WAN, which can lead to better cost and bandwidth control to the enterprise clients.
Third, the SMB sector. Some misunderstanding is SD-WAN is only suited for large enterprises. As a matter of fact, SD-WAN will fit well to those SMBs who want to link their branch offices and remote working employees via an Intranet but cannot afford MPLS or have issues with legacy IP VPN services. In such scenarios, the SD-WAN package can include both public Internet and 4G LTE wireless connections, because for those customers who feel a wireline Internet connection not feasible to pursue, then a 4G LTE solution with up to 300Mb/s download and 75Mb/s upload speed can be the right choice.
Forth, those enterprises that have largely adopted cloud IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and SaaS (software as a service). For these cloud know how customers, since they’ve taken the initial step to virtualize their IT operations and architecture, now it should make a lot of sense for them to virtualize and simplify their network connectivity as well, based on the same cloud centric technologies towards a new ecosystem. Currently they may use a private and public Internet hybrid to handle their cloud communications, but tomorrow they will be better off to use a new hybrid: private MPLS for mission critical data, and SD-WAN for regular data, which is more cost effective, managed and secured.
Finally, those IoT (Internet of things) and M2M (machine to machine) service providers and users. These clients have been struggling between a private MPLS and public Internet. The former can be too much for IoT and M2M applications, while the latter can be vulnerable and uncertain in reliability and security. So now SD-WAN can come up as the best solution to handle IoT and M2M traffic over the IP network globally.
Besides, service providers should offer more educational and training programs, free trial, use cases and testimonials, etc to better promote and sell SD-WAN into the market. If we say 2016 is the year of SD-WAN deployment from the service providers’ standpoint, then 2017 will become the year of SD-WAN adoption for the enterprise market, in particular for those enterprises as profiled and targeted above.