To infinity and beyond: SES Networks preps SD-WAN service

Satellite provider SES Networks is currently evaluating its own SD-WAN service ahead of launching it next year.

In an interview with FierceTelecom at last week's MEF18 event in Los Angeles, CEO JP Hemingway said SES Networks has a fully tested SD-WAN offering in its portfolio—the vendor has yet to be announced—and it's in the process of picking technology for its edge compute node.

Whether its connecting rural areas in Africa, backing up telcos' fiber or providing its own services over its satellites, SES Networks' Hemingway said his company's superpower is its global reach.

SES Networks provides Ethernet private lines, IP transit, data services and data communications for service providers. Hemingway said that in some areas SES Networks competes with carriers' fiber, and in others augments their fiber by providing connectivity in hard to reach or remote areas.

Because there's a lot of fiber in the U.S., Hemingway said SES Networks does the bulk of its business outside of North America.

SES Video provides broadcast delivery of video content to homes, dishes, hubs and, eventually, video content to the edge of cable networks.

All told, 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 allows SES Networks to employ intelligent routing for services, which fits in with its SD-WAN offering. In addition to the satellites, SES Networks will also deliver its SD-WAN service over other 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, according to Hemingway.

"I think we've got a bit of a hybrid (SD-WAN) model," Hemingway said. "We absolutely do have some appliances at the edge of the network. Our own instance of SD-WAN is deployed at the edge of the network and we're able to make those smart decisions about which infrastructure applications are getting driven over it. In many cases our telco partners have their own SD-WAN and we needed to be integrating our services seamlessly into their SD-WAN implementation.

"What we tend to offer is that reach, which is our superpower. Think about what people are focused on in the telco world and where enterprises want to grow their business. And some of those enterprises are in challenging locations, whether you're talking about mining, some large industrial complexes or offshore energy sites."

Hemingway said a lot of organizations and business want to run seamless business solutions, such as SAP CRM systems, with the same tools and operational efficiencies that they get over fiber.

"We couldn't do that before over satellite because the performance wasn't there," Hemingway said. "What we're offering now is fiber-like performance. If you've got 10 remote offices running in a large scale operations for oil and gas, they can now run this seamless CRM, these seamless SAP systems, as if those things were connected over fiber. So it's making a huge difference, and we tend to work with telcos to embed ourselves into their ICT portfolio."

Hemingway said that SES Networks has been involved with MEF dating back to MEF's earlier Carrier Ethernet days, and he sees MEF an important standards development organization going forward for services and technologies such as 5G. And since SES Networks partners with telcos, it wants to stay in lock-step with how they're preparing their networks and services.

"We're selecting technology for our edge compute node," Hemingway said. "I think if you start getting into that (5G) space and how you deliver functions to the edge compute, how you control those edge compute nodes, looking at those standards is incredibly important. We're also growing as a company and growing our team of expertise is the place that we've been very, very focused. So rather than try and do every standard body all at once, we're having to be fairly selective on where we invest our time and focus."

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SES Networks is a founding member of the Linux Foundation's LF Networking Fund, which includes ONAP. SES also took part in MEF's 2.0 Carrier Ethernet certification and supports MEF's Lifecycle Services Orchestration reference architecture.

SES Networks' use of SDN, AI and analytics

Hemingway said that SES has implemented software-defined networking, but is now looking at a more standards-based approach.

"We actually built our own SDN initially," he said. "It was a very specific application that we thought was very different. It was to make a satellite be able to steer beams. We would send control layers up to the satellite and the satellite literally physically moves where the coverage is on demand. And it was also trying to track ships, cruise ships at the time, which are floating cities with 8,000 people all wanting high-speed broadband. We've got something that's an eye in the sky looking at where the ships are, where our end points are, how much capacity we have on aggregate and where we can move the beams to be.

"So we created that on our own, but what we're looking at now is implementing a standards-based approach and we're actually in that transition as we speak now."

SES Networks is using artificial intelligence for both external and internal uses. Since satellites can be impacted by adverse weather, SES Networks is working with partners to see how it can use predictive weather analytics to proactively reroute traffic ahead of any of the weather impacts coming into a region.

SES Networks is also using artificial intelligence to look for drops in RF powering that are indicative of upcoming issues.

"So instead of waiting for the RF power to drop to nothing, we'll proactively switch and use this intelligent routing I mentioned. So that's for our own internal operations," Hemingway said.

SES Networks is using analytics to get a view of the applications that are running across its circuits, whether the applications are video content, enterprise VPNs or Google.

"We then use our analytics platform to inform the routing decisions that we route over this MEO/GEO hierarchy," Hemingway said. "The last piece on this one is linked to the partnership we just announced with IBM. So we're jointly promoting IBM's AI engines to our end customers.

"So again, back to these remote refineries or these remote oil and gas remote factories who can make smart production decisions by using IBM's technology. They're now able to access IBM's cloud so they can make decisions at the edge. And the edge can speak to the IBM cloud and update its algorithms when they need to. So it's a neat mixture of real-time and quasi real-time traffic over our cloud connectivity solutions."