Versa Lands SD-WAN Gig at Liberty Global

Versa has landed another landmark SD-WAN deal with a group-wide supplier agreement at Liberty Global, the cable networking giant with significant operations across major territories in Europe.

Liberty has awarded Versa Networks "preferred supplier" status for SD-WAN capabilities aimed at large enterprise and government customers as it seeks to build up its business services portfolio on a broad basis. The move is important for Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY) as SD-WAN is just about the hottest service for business customers currently, providing flexible, easily-deployable connectivity for enterprise branch sites. (See , KDDI Embraces Versa's SD-WAN, Eurobites: BT Climbs Aboard the SD-WAN Bandwagon and Tata Pours Special Sauce on SD-WAN Prime.)

Liberty's largest business services unit is Virgin Media Business Ltd. (VMB), part of the Virgin Media operation in the UK. VMB will take the lead within the Liberty group with the deployment of Versa technology and the launch of cloud-based SD-WAN services, which should be commercially available in the latter part of this year, says Peter Kelly, managing director at VMB.

"This is a big step forward for us and a critical element for our future in the UK market," Kelly tells Light Reading. "The team at VMB went through a six-month RFI and RFQ process and while there were other suppliers we considered, Versa is giving us the innovation and speed to take this service to our corporate and government customers quickly, and is a long-term, strategic choice for Liberty Global," he adds.

Kelly says Liberty Global's CEO Mike Fries "sees business services as a good growth engine for the group ... [across Europe], as Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and others are all looking to grow their business services," and the expectation is that Versa's platform will help Liberty's operations in those countries launch SD-WAN services too.

So why Versa? "We felt Versa was the most innovative and agile" of the SD-WAN vendors, notes Andrew Halliwell, product director at VMB, and as it's cloud-based "it allows us to get to market quickly. Other suppliers were credible, but we regard Versa as the most progressive."

"Part of Versa's appeal is that it is no legacy tie-in to any specific customer premises equipment [CPE]," adds Halliwell. "Versa has a set of preferred CPE partners that it works with and we are evaluating those options just now. We're looking at a launch in the back end of this year and customers are already talking to us about their requirements."

It's also possible that fellow cable giant Comcast might have had an influence on Liberty Global's choice as the two companies track each other's technology selections and strategies closely and Comcast is already a Versa customer. (See Comcast Packs More Powerful SD-WAN Punch.)

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But isn't VMB a bit late to the SD-WAN game? Rivals such as BT, Vodafone, Colt and Interoute are already delivering such services in UK and across Europe, while VMB is still up to 11 months away from launch.

Naturally, the VMB team refutes any such suggestion. "We see there have been phases of release. The initial offerings in 2015 and 2016 haven’t really stood the test of time. We think cloud-based approaches, such as Versa's, are the way to go," states Halliwell.

Kelly adds: "SD-WAN is a complementary capability and we don't feel it has held us back in any way in 2016 or 2017. We have been growing our business and taking market share as we compete with the likes of BT, Vodafone and Colt. And our customers want to engage with us around SD-WAN."

VMB has indeed been growing: In the first nine months of 2017 the operator generated revenues of £554.8 million (US$789 million), up 3.5% from the same period a year earlier.

Kelly says the move into SD-WAN and the selection of Versa is the latest stage in an overall review of the Liberty Global architecture, which includes the Project Lightning broadband access rollout in the UK, while the introduction of SDN and other technologies that enable greater levels of automation play a big part in the overall strategy. "SDN is a very long pole in that tent," says Kelly, who is clearly a fan of camping.

And the SD-WAN technology selection process isn't over yet, as VMB, and Liberty Global, will next look for the most appropriate platform it can use to offer such services to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

For more on this topic, see:

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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