Four service providers earn their MEF certification stripes for SD-WAN

Comcast Business, PCCW Global, Spectrum Enterprise and Telia Company are the first service providers to pass muster for MEF's SD-WAN certification process, which is administered by Spirent Communications. By gaining certification in MEF's pilot certification program, the four service providers proved their services comply with MEF's SD-WAN Service Attributes and Services (MEF 70) standard that was published last summer after two years of development.

RELATED: MEF puts its stamp of approval on industry's first SD-WAN standard

Providing a baseline of what SD-WAN is and then testing the defined attributes helps customers, service providers and vendors cut through the noise of the more than 60 SD-WAN vendors that are currently in the market. The goal of the certification process is to give customers that buy MEF 3.0 certified SD-WAN services confidence that those services meet MEF's definitions and attributes.

All of which is especially important as enterprises move away from first-generation do-it-yourself (DIY) SD-WAN implementations to next-generation managed services SD-WAN offerings.

According to research by Heavy Reading, 76% of the 125 surveyed service provider professionals believed that SD-WAN services certification was "critical" or "important" for accelerated SD-WAN growth.

"It's a key milestone for the industry and it's really advancing the innovation going on here because you have alignment on a standard," said MEF's Stan Hubbard, director of communications and research. "Customers can have the confidence that when they purchase SD-WAN from a certified provider that they're getting the basic set of requirements defined in that standard. It also offers a platform upon which they can build their own innovative, differentiating solutions on top of."

Similar to its efforts with Carrier Ethernet, MEF has put a lot of time and energy behind its SD-WAN certification work, but not everyone thinks it's needed at this stage of the SD-WAN game.

"I think the big companies are still evaluating the value of certification to dedicate resources to get it done," said Frost & Sullivan's Roopa Honnachari, in an email to FierceTelecom. "Also, these companies have an established managed SD-WAN customer base which intersects with NFV-based services or virtual network services they offer, so the need to certify SD-WAN at this point in time may not be a priority."

Some SD-WAN vendors, such as Cato Networks and Aryaka haven't seen the value, so far, of joining MEF's SD-WAN efforts. Cato, along with Aryaka, differentiates itself from telcos' SD-WAN offerings by using its own private core network instead of routing SD-WAN traffic over the public internet.

RELATED: Nuage, Versa and Infovista make the grade for MEF 3.0 SD-WAN certification

The first wave of SD-WAN vendors, which was comprised of Nuage Networks, Versa Networks and Infovista, were certified for the same MEF standard in January.

For the service provider certification, Spirent's Marc Cohn, head of virtualization, said that Comcast Business connected to Versa Networks' endpoints while Telia and Spectrum Enterprise both used Nuage Networks to do the same. PCCW Global tapped into VMware's VeloCloud endpoints for its certification, although that solution has yet to pass MEF's certification for SD-WAN vendors.

"They (VMware) have not passed the certification yet, but suffice it to say after we did the initial announcement, many of the leading vendors have approached MEF about becoming certified," Cohn said. "And frankly, we're in discussions with over 20 different companies at this point about additional certifications. That's a really good indicator because the value of the standard is adoption, and those who are interested in certifying are definitely planning to adopt it. There's no need to do certification if you're not planning adopt the standard.

"From the Spirent's point of view, one of the big challenges is just getting up to speed on the various vendor products. There's just dozens of these vendor products. They each had their own conventions, their own view of the world, and these products were not explicitly designed against the MEF standards because there weren't MEF standards when these products were actually developed."

Of the 20 companies that have shown interest, Cohn said three quarters of them are service providers.

RELATED: MEF19 kicks off with new SD-WAN certification programs for professionals and service providers

At last year's MEF19 conference in Los Angeles, MEF introduced its SD-WAN Certification Program for service providers and vendors, as well as the SD-WAN Certified Professional (MEF-SDCP) program for professionals. MEF COO Kevin Vachon said on Tuesday that the certified professional training is now production-ready with accredited trainers providing the curriculum.

"So it's still at the early stage, but there's huge interest," Vachon said. "We're pretty excited about that."

The MEF 3.0 SD-WAN Certification Program is transitioning from being a pilot program to general availability over the coming months. MEF’s draft SD-WAN Certification Test Requirements (MEF 90) standard is expected to be ratified in the second quarter of this year.