Charter's Spectrum Enterprise launches SD-WAN using its NFV and edge platform

After taking a measured approach, Spectrum Enterprise has gotten out of the starting gate with its SD-WAN service, which it's serving up from its SDN/NFV and edge compute platform.

Satya Parimi, Spectrum Enterprise

It's noteworthy that Spectrum Enterprise, which is the business services division of Charter, is offering its Managed SD-WAN service nationally and not just within its own cable footprint. Connectivity options for the SD-WAN service include "bring your own connection," fiber, HFC, LTE, and, eventually, wireless.

Spectrum Enterprise is also offering a security feature through Fortinet as part of Tuesday's SD-WAN news. Both the SD-WAN and security services are offered as virtual network functions (VNFs) with more VNFS to follow later this year, according to Spectrum Enterprise's Satya Parimi, group vice president of enterprise data products.

Instead of going with one SD-WAN vendor, such as VMware's VeloCloud or Viptela Networks, Spectrum Enterprise went the best of breed route, according to Parimi. In addition to Fortinet, the Spectrum Enterprise Managed SD-WAN service uses technologies from: Cisco for services orchestration; Netcracker for VNF management and Nokia’s Nuage Networks for the SD-WAN technology and for purpose built CPE (customer premises equipment).

"We wanted that best-of-breed because it also gives us flexibility, and we also wanted the platform to be open enough that we can quickly stack on additional things," Parimi said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "Some of the competition just does something end-to-end, like at the customer prem and have maybe two data centers in the core of the network, and you're running everything over the top. But then, for the next service you do, you have to keep replicating the same thing over and over again.

"We want to make this investment in this edge compute platform because, increasingly, more and more, things are running virtualized, and we believe that 'build once and leverage multiple times' will yield a lot of benefits down the road. By putting together the best-of-breed solution, I think we have a platform right on which we can rapidly add new things."

RELATED: Spectrum Enterprise close to launching SD-WAN service

Spectrum Enterprise demonstrated its SD-WAN service two years ago at the MEF conference, and again last year at MEF 18. While Spectrum Enterprise is a bit late to the SD-WAN party, Parimi said taking the managed approach, which includes white glove installs, visibility into the network and 27/7 monitoring, would win out over do-it-yourself (DYI) SD-WAN offerings.

"We want to take that complexity away from the client to get them more comfortable with it," Parimi said. "We're focusing on the customer experience and customer usability to get them over the hump of being comfortable with SD-WAN. The branch office SD-WAN deployments are fairly simple, so that's where you see a lot of traction for now.

"But if they really want to go after the big, complex WAN networks, which there are quite a bit of those out there, that's where I think I managed SD-WAN helps. A lot of them do SD-WAN themselves and probably in three years realize that this is not really their core competency and they just generally switch to managed services down the road."

Spectrum Enterprise's Managed SD-WAN service includes the capability of stitching together SD-WAN networks with Ethernet networks.

The service is available with various configuration options, including Layer 3, Layer 2 and hybrid service configurations along with the ability to use and optimize multiple connections at each site. The virtual security service is available for customers who want to enable secure internet access with their Managed SD-WAN service.

Spectrum also has a universal CPE in labs, but is not saying what vendors it's working with. Parimi said that Spectrum Enterprise plans to offer more security VNFs, and VNFs for its voice and video services as well as for other products, later this year.

On the cable operator front, Comcast has had its SD-WAN service deployed for several years now.

"From a generic standpoint, all service providers need to have a strong SD-WAN offering and it's no surprise that one of the largest cable guys would be  introducing their offering," said Lee Doyle, principal analyst with Doyle Research, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "It seems like it has taken a while for them to deploy it.

"What is interesting is there they doing a best of breed integration because they have Cisco, Fortinet, and Nuage Networks. That's what makes it interesting from a technology standpoint. They're presumably doing their own integration."

Spectrum's edge and NFV platform

In general, the cable industry has been slower than the telcos when it comes to virtualization, but that is beginning to change as cable operators deploy distributed access architecture (DAA) and distributed CCAP technologies.

Parimi said Spectrum Enterprise's edge compute platform was basically comprised of off-the-shelf hardware with "OpenStack on top," which allows it to run various virtualized service components.

"Over the coming months and quarters, we expect to launch new functionalities and new products and services off of that platform," Parimi said. "We're looking at a number of other devices we have to put at the customer premise. We're looking at where does it make sense to bring some of that into the edge of the network? Because it just gives you so much more affectability in delivering the service, managing the service and also rapidly developing and pushing out features faster."

Parimi said that Spectrum Enterprise was also looking at reselling  internet outside of its footprint as well.