MEF Takes on SD-WAN Standardization: a Critical Stand in the Technology's Move to the Mainstream

September 06, 2017
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Any business looking for the right software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) solution today is likely to encounter a confusing and wide-ranging array of offers and vendors. From small companies marketing turnkey products to the largest networking players with comprehensive managed services offerings, SD-WAN is being widely and loosely hyped.

There’s good reason for this escalating interest. SD-WAN’s proven success at creating more agile, cost-effective and cloud-friendly WANs is garnering the attention of enterprise and mid-market IT leaders in their quest to satisfy skyrocketing bandwidth demands for cloud-based applications, mobility and expanding facilities. Its potential as a major revenue generator is similarly drawing in service providers of all shapes and sizes. All of this activity is taking place on a playing field with no widely accepted definitions, practices or standards.  It’s not surprising that there is confusion in the market.

That’s why I’m excited that MEF, our networking industry association, has launched a campaign to establish SD-WAN standardization. Taking this step validates its recognition that SD-WAN is moving into the mainstream of the networking world, and that there is a universal need for standardization of terminology, service components, reference architectures, as well as an SD-WAN service definition.

In its recently published paper, Understanding SD-WAN Managed Services, MEF introduces standard terminology for different SD-WAN managed service components and illustrates how they fit into MEF’s Lifecycle service Orchestration (LSO) Reference Architecture, which provides a standard SD-WAN architecture and framework to facilitate multi-vendor interoperability and operational agility.

As a recently elected MEF board member, I am proud that our organization has taken this important step to create a standardized approach to defining the SD-WAN landscape. Clearly, we are at the forefront of moving SD-WAN to the next level, and to further support that effort, Comcast has joined the Open Network Automated Platform (ONAP), which supports real-time, policy-driven orchestration and automation of physical and virtual network functions that will enable software, network, IT and cloud providers and developers to rapidly create new services. We are the first cable company to join ONAP.

Being responsible for our SD-WAN offering here at Comcast Business, I find it reassuring that MEF and Comcast share a strikingly similar point of view in our approaches to SDN, focusing on virtualization and orchestration first, to enable the right delivery of products and services such as SD-WAN.

In its paper, MEF describes and places SD-WAN squarely in the context of enabling network orchestration. Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are positioned as enabling platforms that can deliver a range of virtualized services.

This approach promotes flexibility and interoperability, and makes it possible to add services over time in a highly integrated fashion, delivering a customer experience of a single solution, rather than multiple ones, even if offered by a variety of technology partners. The concept of starting with a high-performance, flexible and cost-effective platform and adding services over time is an important differentiation from much that we see in today’s market.

Many current SD-WAN solutions are built without any underlying SDN/NFV platform, making them merely boxes that may perform virtual private network (VPN), firewall and router functions, but not in a scalable, orchestrated manner that allows new services and vendors to be added and grow with the offering.

At Comcast Business, we are introducing our software-defined networking solution as a platform—a carrier-grade platform with gigabit broadband speeds capable of delivering a variety of high-performance virtual network functions, starting with SD-WAN. The only cable provider to have launched an SDN offering to date we view the software-defined networking world through the lens of orchestration and virtualization, as it’s the platform we create today that will enable the network functions of today tomorrow.

As we move our SDN and SD-WAN offerings into the networking marketplace, I am proud to be a part of two industry-leading organizations that see the real potential of these exciting technologies.

Learn how MEF is taking steps to standardize SD-WAN terminology, service components and reference architectures.

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