MEF tackles SD-WAN interoperability with new standard

Industry standards group MEF is hard at work on a new SD-WAN standard aimed at enabling interoperability between vendor solutions at the edge, which MEF CTO Pascale Menezes said could help operators and cloud providers cut costs.

Called MEF W119, the Universal SD-WAN Edge standard “is really about interoperability of different vendors at the data plane, control plane, management plane, telemetry plane,” Menezes said. This will be key for operators who are trying to support a range of different vendors, as it will mean they won’t have to have separate deployments for each managed SD-WAN service at the edge.

“The carry through is I don’t have operational costs and I don’t have capital costs. I don’t have to buy seven vendors’ products to put at my POP location in the service provider or cloud to support every enterprise variation of what they want for SD-WAN at their site,” he explained. “So really, it just saves cost.”

Menezes said MEF W119 is expected to be released second half of 2022.

MEF released its first SD-WAN spec, MEF 70, in August 2019 and since then has been working to flesh out the standard. This week it unveiled the second version of the standard, MEF 70.1, which Menezes said includes four key features which were absent from the original. These include uniform ways to measure performance objectives for applications; the definition of different policy zones; variations on how to implement the network topology for overlays; and service attributes for underlay connectivity.

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Alongside MEF 70.1, the group released MEF 88, a new standard which defines security functions in an SD-WAN context. But Menezes said the group is already working on an update to MEF 88 which will define security functions more generally, including things like DNS filtering, URL filtering, middle box, IP Protocol Filtering and Domain Name Filtering. The definitions in the forthcoming update won’t be tied to an SD-WAN deployment, but instead “could be put in a SASE deployment, it could be put in a hyperscaler, it could be deployed anywhere because we’re defining functions,” Menezes stated.

MEF also put out MEF 95, which provides a unified policy framework for its standards across SD-WAN, Network Slicing, SASE and Zero Trust.

Defining value

Roy Chua, principal analyst at AvidThink, told Fierce the new lineup of standards are MEF’s way of pivoting from its original focus on Carrier Ethernet to reinvent itself with a focus on emerging technology. But while communications service providers view the standards as valuable because they “form frameworks and nomenclature that helps the CSPs think about and discuss new technologies using terms that have a defined meaning,” some vendors don’t appear as keen.

“We do hear from vendors in these solution spaces that the MEF definitions are too basic and don’t capture the full value of today’s solution suites — i.e. they are not cutting-edge enough, and aren’t yet useful in representing the full breadth of many of the leading features that enterprises are already using,” Chua explained. “Some vendors indicate limited interest in MEF participation because they don’t view that validation as necessary, especially if they are going direct to enterprises. Meanwhile, some leading carriers demand MEF compliance as a check box for RFPs, forcing vendors with interest in selling to these carriers to comply.”

He continued: “I expect ongoing evolution of these working standards and ongoing revisions as the push/pull between carriers and vendors plays out, with the MEF trying to add value through its standards and frameworks, as it did with Carrier Ethernet, but now targeting larger, dynamic, and more complex spaces.”

According to Menezes, MEF’s work is designed to help move the market forward by making these new technologies easier to understand and getting everyone on the same page.

“The whole reason we’re doing all of this is to remove market confusion” and provide a common language for providers and customers to use when discussing these technologies, he said. “That makes the market move bigger, bolder, better, faster because you remove confusion and that tide rises all ships and everybody wins. When the market is confused, people don’t buy.”

SD-WAN forecast

MEF’s work comes as the SD-WAN market experiences significant growth, with more on the horizon.

Roopa Honnachari, VP of research and global program leader for network and edge services at Frost & Sullivan, said in a statement the firm estimates the global SD-WAN service market will grow from $2.85 billion in 2020 to $14.5 billion in 2025. That’s a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 38%.

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Futuriom founder and chief analyst Scott Raynovich recently came to a similar conclusion, predicting SD-WAN will grow at a CAGR of 34% over the long term. He tipped the market to hit $3.5 billion in 2022 and reach $4.6 billion by 2023.