SES Networks takes SD-WAN to new heights with its first customer

After spending the last two years aligning various elements, SES Networks' satellite-based SD-WAN service is now generally available.

In April, RCS-Communication, which is an ICT company in South Sudan, launched SES's hybrid SD-WAN service after conducting internal trials with the satellite provider. RCS is using SES's medium-earth orbit (MEO) satellites to provision SD-WAN across its WiMAX network in the South Sudan capital of Juba.

"They were a pretty early customer of ours," said SES Networks CEO JP Hemingway. "They're sort of an ISP and enterprise operator providing services to a lot of the multinational enterprises that are in South Sudan. Typically those customers can be anything from hotels to small businesses to wholesale providers, and ISP services. What they wanted is to have a very resilient mechanism."

SES has been successful providing connectivity in places where terrestrial connectivity, such as fiber, can't reach. Hemingway said that while fiber was becoming available in South Sudan, RCS wasn't able to offer the type of connectivity that its premier customers wanted.

"What we're now doing is combining our MEO satellite capabilities, the low latency capabilities, with the fiber assets that they have to do a sort of ultra high availability service they can provide to their customers," Hemingway said. "They're (RCS) very proud of it and very pleased with the service."

SES has 70 satellites with 55 of those being geostationary (GEO) layer satellites and the rest being medium-earth orbit (MEO) satellites that are much closer to the earth. Hemingway said both MEO and GEO allow SES Networks to employ intelligent routing for services, which fits in with its SD-WAN offering. In addition to the satellites, SES Networks can also deliver its SD-WAN service over terrestrial and wireless services.

The GEO satellites are located 36,000 kilometers away and have latency of about 600 milliseconds while the MEO satellites' orbit is 8,000 kilometers with latency of about 120 milliseconds round trip.

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Under Hemingway's guidance, SES has spent the past few years working on an SD-WAN service with global reach to telcos, enterprises, ships and even a Humvee. Due to its experience with security and low latency, SES picked Versa Networks as its SD-WAN vendor.

In September, SES beefed up its connectivity options with Microsoft Azure by becoming an Azure ExpressRoute services partner. That partnership allows SES Networks to provide dedicated, private network connectivity across land, sea and air, and other hard to reach places by using its satellite systems. 

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In August, SES announced it was using the open networking automation platform (ONAP) in partnership with Microsoft Azure and Amdocs, the latter of which has deep roots in ONAP. ONAP is providing the network functions virtualization (NFV) orchestration capabilities for the ExpressRoute services.

The rap on satellite-based services is that while they can provide connections to hard to reach places the latency and bandwidth weren't as good as fiber-based options. By using ONAP and partnering with Microsoft, SES has been able to largely dispel the previous knocks on satellite connectivity.

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On May 6, SES was featured in a Microsoft Azure webinar on modernizing networks for hybrid and multi-cloud environments. The short version of what was presented in the webinar was that an SD-WAN service could be provisioned at the edge or in the Azure government cloud via ExpressRoute. The webinar demonstration included a simulation of a fiber outage whereby traffic was immediately directed from fiber the to SES’s MEO network.

"The latency was higher than fiber, but obviously still low compared to traditional satellites," Hemingway said. "But it also showed that the capacity was very significant over MEO. The capacity was actually more on MEO than it was on fiber just to prove the principle to all those people that viewed the webinar that you shouldn't think of satellite as being super high latency and lower capacity"

Given that it can be deployed almost anywhere, Hemingway said he expects additional customers for SES's SD-WAN service, but it will be up to Microsoft Azure to announce any SD-WAN related deployments with SES.

"The big thing for me is this is continuing the journey that we've been talking about over the last year or two, which is we have to make the consumption of satellite frictionless and seamless," Hemingway said. "We're adopting the use of these great technologies and these orchestration platforms in the terrestrial world. We're serious about it. We've talked about SD-WAN for a while now, but now we productized it and released it to our first customer.

"We're doing really interesting demonstrations with Microsoft to have more of their customers and our customers adopt it together. Those are three things that we're announcing, all of which are pretty exciting."