Industry Voices—Chua: The multi-everything SD-WAN and thoughts from SD-WAN Summit 2019

The recent SD-WAN Summit 2019 organized by Upperside Conferences saw an uptick in attendance from the previous year, indicating ongoing interest in the topic. With representations from major SD-WAN vendors such as Cisco/Viptela, VMware/VeloCloud, Nuage Networks, Silver Peak, and significant challengers such as Aruba Networks, Huawei, Fortinet, and Versa as well as other ecosystem players, it was a full agenda.

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The telcos who are actively deploying and selling SD-WAN offerings to enterprises were well-represented, sharing their stories of success and lessons learned. The theme of the show was the "Second Wave of SD-WAN", which we at AvidThink view as service providers and managed service providers getting into the game with multi-vendor, uCPE-based solutions. This follows the initial wave of enterprise uptake of SD-WAN, purchased directly from the SD-WAN networking vendors. Certainly, it could be interpreted in many ways: arrival of multi-cloud, standardized SD-WAN, cloud-native SD-WAN, etc. I’ll leave it to you to define your personal second wave of SD-WAN.

Multi-vendor, multi-domain, multi-cloud

In any case, at the show there were a couple of themes that caught my eye. One popular theme was “multi.“ In talking to a couple of major CSPs and MSPs, and listening to the various presentations, there was clear activity in getting multi-vendor SD-WAN deployed, managed, and orchestrated. Some brave CSPs are looking beyond, even orchestrating across multi-domains, provisioning not just the SD-WAN overlay service but also different underlays (MPLS, 4G LTE, 5G). And of course, connectivity of SD-WANs to multi-clouds, public and private was touted by most SD-WAN providers.

With the drive towards multi-vendor, multi-domain and multi-cloud, there’s certainly no lack of complexity.

4G LTE backup, LTE provisioning, LTE and 5G primary links

SD-WAN started out in the MPLS domain for the most part. However, there’s current interest in LTE-connected CPE appliances for SD-WAN. In some cases, LTE is used as the initial provisioning connection — i.e., as a bootstrap mechanism. In these scenarios, the LTE link can also be used as a backup or failover link for a broadband internet or MPLS connection. And when 5G fixed-wireless access (FWA) becomes available, it’s conceivable that the wireless link could become the primary link, if cost numbers can be made favorable. Some view SD-WAN technology as potentially useful in multi-wireless deployments, such as for IoT use cases, where sometimes in hard-to-reach places, there’s only wireless connectivity.

Everything is an SD-WAN endpoint

Another theme that emerged around SD-WAN is that SD-WAN is apparently going everywhere. SD-WAN will run in the cloud, SD-WAN will run on IoT endpoints, and SD-WAN will encompass corporate end users on their laptops and mobile devices. In other words, SD-WAN supplants VPNs and becomes the dominant form of secure connectivity. SD-WAN goes from replacing MPLS VPNs with encrypted OTT connections to replacing mobile and laptop VPN clients with SD-WAN clients leveraging the same VPN technologies.

Some are even talking about these SD-WAN clients leveraging multiple 4G or 5G carriers on a mobile phone to provide improved link resiliency or 4G and WiFi links on a laptop to do the same. Not all SD-WAN providers today address mobile devices or laptops, but it certainly makes sense as SD-WAN becomes the dominant enterprise fabric — as we’ve said all along, SD-WAN will evolve into a universal enterprise networking fabric.

Standardization: Hot or not?

One of the more contentious topics at the conference was the role of standardization in SD-WAN. Some see value in efforts underway by organizations like the MEF and ONUG, and now, MEF + ONUG as a team, but others remain ambivalent. In any early field that’s grown organically, as opposed to one that needs to be standards-based like WiFi to ensure interoperability, there’s bound to be different stances. From a carrier standpoint, some standardization is helpful as they try to onboard multiple vendors onto their platforms and attempt to integrate them into their orchestration systems and core networks. From an SD-WAN vendor standpoint, particularly those enterprise-direct focused, they’ve had little demand for standardization. Instead, feature richness and performance demands show up more often on sales team requests.

Standardization will likely come as a result of carriers putting pressure on vendors. And the initial focus will be on northbound APIs for orchestration, assurance, and self-service portal integration. As for interoperability across SD-WAN, that’s going to be a long time coming.

Continued SD-WAN challenges — licensing anyone?

Aside from continued enterprise confusion on which SD-WAN solution to pick given the growing variety out there — yes, we’re still adding new ones without losing existing vendors — there continues to be challenges in SD-WAN land, especially at MSPs and carriers. We’ve already touched on the orchestration and differences between SD-WAN solutions. And with some solutions requiring carrier-installed gateways/hubs or tying into the vendor’s gateways/hubs, there’s more integration work. In addition, pricing and licensing is still an area of complexity for the service providers. Very different licensing schemes exist between vendors, from pooled to non-pooled licenses to availability of trial licenses. Not to mention different licensing metrics — by CPU socket, by core, by bandwidth (with different schemes), and by feature set.

For MSPs and CSPs trying to deploy these, as Singtel pointed out in its presentation, it’s a real pain to manage on top of all the technology and customer challenges.

Open-source - Flex that flexiWAN

FlexiWAN is a new company taking an open-source approach to SD-WAN, with code promised at the end of the year. Amir Zamora, who’s been a fixture at Upperside Conferences for many years — from their VoIP days and ongoing MPLS conferences — is now their CEO driving a different approach to the market. They might even beat Linux Foundations’ DANOS in releasing their code to market, given that DANOS is about a year late in coming out. While I understand that sometimes there are unforeseen challenges, e.g., ONF’s Stratum that finally untangled itself from its origins in Google to be released to a waiting public, but it’s important to set ecosystem expectations appropriately given the prominence of open source in the networking world today. In any case, with the announcement that ENEA and Intel will be doing a joint demonstration with FlexiWAN, it’s definitely an interesting development that we’ll be present for.

All in all, Upperside‘s SD-WAN Summit provided lots of thoughtful content for us to muse on as SD-WAN continues its successful march across both the enterprise and carrier space.

Disclosure: Upperside Conferences reimbursed the author's travel to the conference.

Roy Chua is founder and principal at AvidThink, an independent research and advisory service formed in 2018 out of SDxCentral's research group. Prior to co-founding SDxCentral and running its research and product teams, Chua was a management consultant working with both Fortune 500 and startup technology companies on go-to-market and product consulting. As an early proponent of the software-defined infrastructure movement, Chua is a frequent speaker at technology events in the telco and cloud space and a regular contributor to major leading online publications. A graduate of UC Berkeley's electrical engineering and computer science program and MIT's Sloan School of Business, Chua has 20+ years of experience in telco and enterprise cloud computing, networking and security, including founding several Silicon Valley startups. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him at @avidthink and @wireroy

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.