Tata, Colt Take Vendors to Task on SD-WAN Interoperability

PARIS -- MPLS, SDN and NFV World Congress -- Major service providers Tata Communications and Colt have voiced all-too familiar complaints about the vendors of SDN and NFV gear while discussing their rollouts of SD-WAN services at an industry conference in Paris.

Executives from the two operators drew attention to the seemingly perennial concern about interoperability -- whether one vendor's products will work with another's -- and highlighted some of the risks that a lack of progress could have on the deployment of SD-WAN services.

SD-WAN services are being touted as an alternative to old-fashioned MPLS technology for enterprises looking to slash expenses by running applications over low-cost Internet connections.

Yet the number of vendors that have piled into the market, anticipating an SD-WAN boom, has arguably made interoperability an even bigger concern here than in other parts of the SDN and NFV landscape.

That does not mean operators are not attempting to implement a so-called "multivendor" SD-WAN strategy. US telco giant Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) is providing global SD-WAN services with both Viptela and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and plans to add another vendor into the mix in the near future, according to Peter Konings, a director of products in the EMEA region for the operator.

Elsewhere, however, there is evidently some anxiety about using a number of suppliers, instead of dealing mainly with one.

"There are a number of reasons we need vendor interoperability," said Claudio Scola of India's Tata Communications Ltd. during today's MPLS, SDN and NFV World Congress in Paris. "If we start linking networks together during an integration phase after an acquisition, then how do we make sure different islands are interoperable?"

Speculation that some SD-WAN vendors could fall by the wayside during a forthcoming round of consolidation may be exacerbating such concerns.

"Will a vendor still be here next year?" said Scola. "Standardization is a big thing."

Mirko Voltolini of Colt Technology Services Group Ltd -- something of a pioneer in the SDN and NFV arena -- sounds similarly concerned that vendors are not doing enough to address the interoperability bugbear.

"The last couple of initiatives have been driven by operators," he told attendees during a panel session at the Paris event. "The vendor community has to stand up to requirements and the behavior must change."

Colt, notably, has been a driving force behind the The New IP Agency , a not-for-profit industry association that has been trying to speed up the development of NFV technology by carrying out interoperability tests in partnership with European Advanced Networking Test Center AG (EANTC) .

Founded last year, the NIA's membership now includes many of the world's most important vendors as well as a number of service providers that have put SDN and NFV at the forefront of their network strategies.

Want to know more about the emerging SDN market? Check out our dedicated SDN content channel here on Light Reading.

Interoperability is certainly not the only concern that operators have when it comes to the rollout of SDN and NFV technology, however.

The separation of hardware and software that such technologies will facilitate clearly has major implications for suppliers that have traditionally thrived by selling boxes dedicated to particular functions.

Telcos have previously flagged concern that a new software-licensing model could prove costly and complicated. During Light Reading's "OSS in the Era of SDN & NFV" event in London last November, Neil McRae, the chief architect of UK fixed-line incumbent BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), described software licenses as "these annoying things" that impede flexibility, and urged vendors not to sell licenses in the same way they have flogged hardware. (See Latest NFV Headache: Software Licensing and Virtualization Frustration Sees Telcos Rebel.)

For other telcos making SD-WAN investments, the priority for now is ensuring vendors are at least embracing the need for software-driven change.

"Cisco has finally woken up to the fact that it is not about shifting tin but software, and how you consume that is key," said Simon Niland, a managed networks specialist for Australia's Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS). "You want to make decisions month by month and so it is about not tying yourself to one solution.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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