Will Standards Lessen SD-WAN's Growing Pains?
The call for standards creeps into just about every telecom equipment and service category and the SD-WAN market is no different. However, where SD-WAN stands apart is that it's a feature set, not a piece of hardware, so it's harder to pin down what is and isn't SD-WAN, according to Ovum's Brian Washburn.
For a while there, the SD-WAN market felt a little like a crowd of Elvis impersonators. While they all claimed to be the King -- er, provide SD-WAN -- it wasn't always immediately clear if they truly offered an SD-WAN service or were perhaps WAN optimization companies hiding in glittering bell bottoms.
Both Washburn and Heavy Reading's Sterling Perrin spoke with Light Reading about how MEF has stepped in to create SD-WAN specifications to provide clarity in the market, and how this service definition could impact the SD-WAN market which raked in revenue of "26% quarter over quarter to reach $359 million in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2018," according to IHS Markit .
Also, Perrin and Washburn discuss whether the Universal Customer Premises Equipment (uCPE) model of delivering SD-WAN is a growth opportunity for the market, or if the economics don't yet add up.
MEF updates SD-WAN standards
In response to the growing SD-WAN market, MEF has released SD-WAN standards to better define the technology as well as SD-WAN's service characteristics and capabilities. The standards were initially announced last October at MEF '18; MEF issued the final draft of its SD-WAN specifications in May, called "SD-WAN Service Attributes and Services (MEF 70)."
"Enterprises want to know what they're getting, and service providers want to sell more by eliminating confusion," MEF CTO Pascal Menezes told Light Reading's Mitch Wagner.
MEF expects to release the final specification in mid-July, and if it takes hold, Perrin says a uniform definition could be useful in expanding SD-WAN adoption by providing clarity and weeding out vendors that claim to provide SD-WAN but offer services that don't measure up to the industry standard.
"I think the impact will be more going forward than up until today," says Perrin, principal analyst of Optical Networking & Transport for Heavy Reading. "The vendor interoperability portion is probably less compelling, but getting to service specs that define 'what is an SD-WAN service? What are the attributes you need?' does get at reducing the complexity of evaluating and deploying SD-WAN. If it takes, it will be helpful in expanding deployment."
MEF's definition specifies that an SD-WAN service needs to provide visibility into the application layer, control over the application layer that extends to dynamic path selection, analytics tools to "make sure policies are adhered to," and several other features such as routing, security and WAN optimization, explains Brian Washburn, practice leader of Network Transformation & Cloud for Ovum.
Washburn adds that a clearer definition of the SD-WAN technology and service will be important when enterprises decide to switch SD-WAN platforms, service providers will "want to port customers in as standardized a way as possible. If they need to graduate from one [SD-WAN service] to the other, you're not starting all over again."
If an enterprise changes its mind about which SD-WAN platform is the best fit, having that clearer SD-WAN technology definition could make the transition to a different SD-WAN service "fast and painless with a smooth migration," says Washburn. This will become increasingly important as service providers are expanding the number of SD-WAN flavors they offer to meet different customer demands.
MEF will also be offering certifications for SD-WAN features which could give vendors a leg up during RFPs, explains Washburn. At the end of the day, though, Washburn says some companies may not meet all the feature requirements under MEF's SD-WAN definition, but if an enterprise is satisfied with current services, they'll likely continue to work with that vendor regardless of what certifications they have.
Next page: Hey, uCPE, show me the money!