Will Standards Lessen SD-WAN's Growing Pains?

Hey, uCPE, show me the money!

Another potential growth opportunity for SD-WAN is in the Universal Customer Premises Equipment (uCPE) model of delivering SD-WAN as a VNF on a white box. This approach provides end-users with room to grow -- adding other VNFs such as WAN optimization or security, for example, on a single white box.

However, this model can be expensive for enterprises and the benefits of NFV -- such as the ability to swap licensing from one vendor to another and add or remove functions without dispatching field engineers -- are are a lower priority in the near term for enterprises and require a heavy commitment, says Washburn.

"A lot of enterprises would turn around and say, 'well, I don't have plans to change my infrastructure in the next three years. It's a theoretical benefit but I don't need to swap out my router every three months,'" he explains. "Moving to the cloud and virtualizing has typically meant lower costs, at least up front, but NFV isn't less expensive and in some cases is more expensive. It just hasn't been a high-priority issue for a lot of enterprises."

Enterprises are interested and know the transition to NFV is important in the long run, but they're moving forward slowly, "implementing here and there like in the data center, but they're not ready to go big and replace existing routers," adds Washburn.

The economic issue is one major concern for enterprises, adds Perrin, but there are also issues with openness and standardization since multiple vendor's VNFs reside on one box.

"You're buying a box that does multiple things but if you haven't deployed those multiple things on day one and you're not quite sure what you're going to do, it's cheaper to buy the single-function box," says Perrin. "It's tough for a vendor or service provider to go to their customer and argue to pay more today for potential tomorrow."

While hurdles remain for the success of the uCPE model for delivering SD-WAN, it is a more compelling deployment model for telecom operators offering SD-WAN as a managed service, explains Perrin. This model makes it simpler for telcos and cable companies to deliver new managed services to customers.

Washburn echoes Perrin's assessment: The "great majority of SD-WAN today, even when it's software, is run on bare metal. So they're taking an x-86 box and routing the application up, it's taking direct control of processes in the box and behaves like a piece of hardware. Most customers are ordering SD-WAN in that traditional way."

Enterprises are still grappling with the best approach to SD-WAN, and there's still a learning curve, says Washburn. Maybe an enterprise picks an SD-WAN platform, but it ultimately doesn't meet their requirements, or they've started on a proof of concept with a service provider but "don't know what step two looks like" and aren't sure how to move forward.

"The challenge with SD-WAN comes down to enterprises trying to figure out how to approach the SD-WAN environment … some vendors say 'it's zero-touch provisioning, this practically manages itself, the centralized controller makes it easy to administer,' and don't fully reflect that SD-WAN has a different set of challenges and it's still quite a complicated technology."

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— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Roopashree Honnachari 8/22/2019 | 5:46:50 PM
Re: interoperability question I think the physical appliance itself on which the VNF operates will become immaterial in the future...most vendors do want to get away from the hardware business and want their VNF to run on any hardware the customer chooses. Hence, the heightened focus on the uCPE model. However, the cost, orchestration and management complexities of the uCPE approach has hindered the model from gaining much traction. I don't know if you meant to ask if SD-WAN VNFs from different vendors will be able to interoperate in the future....like a VMware-VeloCloud SD-WAN VNF interoperable with Cisco SD-WAN.  That will be something!
Phil Harvey 7/15/2019 | 2:52:08 PM
Re: interoperability question Thanks, Dan. That helps clear it up.

We'll change "and address the need for vendor interoperability" to "as well as SD-WAN's service characteristics and capabilities" in the fifth graf. 

DanPittPaloAlto 7/15/2019 | 2:42:23 PM
Re: interoperability question Phil,

As Stan explains below, the standardization applies looking upward from the SD-WAN control point toward the applications or OSS/BSS, not the interactions between the control point and the edges. These interactions have been vendor-specific and we have not seen the market demand to standardize these. If the edges are some sort of programmable uCPE then it's likely a swap of one vendor's SD-WAN for another's can be effected through rebooting of VNFs in the uCPE.


ralphsan2 7/15/2019 | 12:15:58 PM
Re: MEF SD-WAN Standard Hi Kelsey,

The new MEF 70 SD-WAN service standard addresses 3 key areas:
  1. Defines the baseline characteristics for a service to be called an SD-WAN service (MEF 3.0 SD-WAN service), e.g., OTT, IP-based, application aware, operates over any service provider's underlay WAN, operates over multiple, different types of underlay WANs, etc.
  2. Standardizes terminology for SD-WAN service components: SD-WAN Edge, SD-WAN UNI, Tunnel Virtual Connections, Underlay Connectivity Services (underlay WAN services), etc.
  3. Defines Application classification criteria and policy definitions to determine what actions are performed for different Application flows on a classification match.

The above items address issues that buyers of SD-WAN services (and products) face as they evaluate different service (or product) offerings.  The standard defines the fundamental characteristics of an SD-WAN service and enables buyers and sellers to use a standard vernacular to more effectively communicate the service components & functionality and define application policies.

The MEF 70 standard is just the begining of SD-WAN standardization with additional work in progress at MEF to define additional SD-WAN service characteristics and capabilities (including security aspects) and the LSO APIs to plug into all aspects of the service from Service Orchestrators to Customer Portals.

Vendor interop is not a focus of the standard.  The above items are far more important to standardize to accelerate SD-WAN service growth and help customers make more informed purchasing decisions.

... Ralph Santitoro

Kelsey Ziser 7/15/2019 | 9:54:09 AM
Re: MEF SD-WAN Standard Hi Stan,

You mentioned that "MEF is not creating SD-WAN protocols for vendor equipment interoperability standards" but MEF is addressing issues customers face by using multiple SD-WAN vendors, correct? Carol touched on that last year: https://www.lightreading.com/carrier-sdn/sd-wan/mef-touts-multivendor-sd-wan-and-more/d/d-id/743511 
Phil Harvey 7/12/2019 | 5:43:52 PM
interoperability question Hi Stan,

More of a reading comprehension question on my part -- The MEF is just defining the service and not specifying how the service should be built, but what it should do -- is that right? 

Second question -- if vendor A and vendor B built gear that delivered the same service, as defined by the MEF, is it possible that gear from vendor A could be swapped out with gear from vendor B with minimal fuss, in the event that the enterprise suddenly wanted to change vendors?

I'm always curious about how much flexibility companies really have when they change their minds about stuff. Not nearly as much as consumers, but probably a lot more than they used to.


stanMEF 7/12/2019 | 5:03:24 PM
MEF SD-WAN Standard Hi, Kelsey.

For your Readers...The draft SD-WAN Service Attributes and Services standard can be downloaded here:  https://www.mef.net/Assets/Draft-Standards/MEF_70_Draft_(R1).pdf

What's in the Standard?

The standard describes requirements for an application-aware, over-the-top WAN connectivity service that uses policies to determine how application flows are directed over multiple underlay networks irrespective of the underlay technologies or service providers who deliver them.

We cover key concepts and definitions like an SD-WAN UNI, the SD-WAN Edge, SD-WAN Tunnel Virtual Connections, and Underlay Connectivity Services. We also define service attributes that describe the externally visible behavior of an SD-WAN service as experienced by the subscriber as well as the rules and policies associated with how traffic is handled. Check out the document for this and more.

What's Not in the Standard?

Just to clarify, MEF is not creating SD-WAN protocols for vendor equipment interoperability standards. We are focused on defining a SD-WAN service with its attributes and policies.

What's Next for Standardization?

The next phase of standardization - MEF 70.1 - will cover things like complex service attributes related to application business importance and prioritization, underlay network characteristics, and connectivity to private/public cloud services. 

Also, stay tuned for more on MEF 3.0 SD-WAN certification.


Stan, MEF

prayson.pate 7/12/2019 | 1:41:28 PM
Re: Time to move past appliances Hi Kelsey,

We are seeing enterprises move to uCPE and virtualized SD-WAN for both economic and strategic reasons.

One recent example is a large enterprise with hundreds of sites worldwide.

They were experiencing severe network problems over the past few years, and were looking for a new way to manage connectivity.

Key requirements were:
  • Secure connectivity to differently sized locations
  • Open, vendor agnostic solution enabling choice of uCPE hardware
  • Easy deployment and management
  • Integration with existing automation tools
  • Ability to host a wide variety of non-networking applications
  • Cost savings of more than 20%

We are now working with our partners to deploy this application.

It is a great example of cloud-centric technology powering innovation - and solving real-world problems.

Kelsey Ziser 7/12/2019 | 1:33:00 PM
Re: Time to move past appliances Excellent points, Prayson, thanks! What I heard from the analysts and have heard from some SPs is that the economics of uCPE are still tricky. Any thoughts on why it makes sense for enterprises to move in thei direction from an economic standpoint?
prayson.pate 7/12/2019 | 1:21:21 PM
Time to move past appliances Hey Kelsey - thanks for the interesting article.

The section "Hey, uCPE, show me the money!" on page 2 spends some time focusing on the difficulty of virtualized SD-WAN for enterprises.

But the penultimate paragraph highlights a huge benefit for enterpises: risk mitigation in the face of unknowns.

With virtualized SD-WAN running on uCPE with a hosting layer, enterprises can experiment with different combinations of SD-WAN and firewalls, without having to change the hardware. This can even be done at a later date if one of the virtualized functions fails to meet expectations.

The days of closed appliances and bare metal SD-WAN is coming to an end. It's time for enterprises to embrace a cloud-centric approach. Innovative enterprises are doing this today.

Prayson Pate
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