Driven by ONUG and the IT Community, the Future of SD-WAN Depends on Responsible Service Provider Delivery

by Kevin O’Toole

Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) has come a long way since ONUG ignited the conversation about the market and practical use cases for this promising new technology just four years ago. Eighty-seven percent of 800 network management executives use or plan to use SD-WAN within the next two years, according to a March 2017 IDC survey of mid-size and large companies with at least 10 locations and representing a variety of industries. SD-WAN sales are predicted to grow at a 69 percent compound annual growth rate, reaching $8.05 billion in 2021, notes IDC’s Worldwide SD-WAN Forecast for 2017–2021.

Today’s SD-WAN market is real and it’s on fire, for very good reasons. Built and delivered correctly, SD-WAN offers an affordable and flexible solution for large enterprise and mid-market businesses to meet their continuously skyrocketing bandwidth demands in order to facilitate cloud adoption, burgeoning mobile applications, expanding branch facilities, and a host of other business imperatives. It provides a fast, agile and cost-effective way to expand network capacity or add enterprise-grade connectivity to remote facilities without the time-consuming and expensive process of adding complex MPLS circuits and T1 lines.

With businesses’ escalating dependence on high-performance connectivity and unrestrained bandwidth capacity, it’s no surprise IT executives are showing such intense interest in software-defined technology. Unfortunately, anyone looking for the right SD-WAN solution today is likely to encounter a confusing and wide-ranging array of offers and vendors. From small companies marketing turnkey products to the largest networking players promoting comprehensive managed services offerings, SD-WAN is being broadly and loosely marketed. All of this activity is taking place on a playing field with no widely accepted definitions, practices or standards.

In a February 2017 post to the ONUG community, organization co-founder Nick Lippis pointed to an absence of interoperability and standardization among suppliers that is blemishing the perfection of the SD-WAN market. This summer, another prominent networking industry voice, MEF, launched a campaign to establish SD-WAN standardization, including standard architectures and frameworks that facilitate multi-vendor interoperability and operational agility.

Clearly, SD-WAN has entered the networking world’s mainstream, but there remains much to be done in realizing its full potential. And it is the combined responsibility of all players—service providers, IT executives, and industry voices such as ONUG, MEF and ONAP—to work together through strong collaborative initiatives and ensure we are delivering its full value.

While ONUG and the larger IT community continue to shape many aspects of SD-WAN’s path to maturity through programs such as the Open SD-WAN Exchange (OSE), it is incumbent upon the service providers to develop and deliver open, high-performing and reliable solutions that meet customer needs today and tomorrow as their businesses continue to evolve, and consequently grow their networking dependence.

That delivery involves much more than the sale and installation of a pure SD-WAN product. At Comcast Business, we share ONUG and MEF’s positions on software-defined networking and SD-WAN, focusing first on virtualization and orchestration, to enable the right delivery of products and services. SDN and network function virtualization (NFV) are enabling platforms that can deliver a range of virtualized services, such as SD-WAN. This approach promotes flexibility and interoperability, and makes it possible to add services over time in a highly integrated fashion, delivering a customer experience of a single solution, rather than multiple ones, even if offered by a variety of technology partners. The concept of starting with a high-performance, flexible and cost-effective platform and adding services over time is an important differentiation from much that we see in today’s market.

Many current SD-WAN solutions are built without any underlying SDN/NFV platform, making them merely boxes that may perform virtual private network (VPN), firewall and router functions, but not in a scalable, orchestrated manner that allows new services and vendors to be added, and subsequently grow with the offering.

We owe it to our customers and the entire IT and business community to deliver the full potential of this amazing technology responsibly, and in a design that will serve them well for years to come. Our world is becoming more connected every day. Businesses depend on us to deliver connectivity designed for the modern world to enable their continued success. Working together, we can assure a reality that becomes the legacy of this exciting industry.

Author Bio

Kevin O’Toole

Comcast Business

Kevin O’Toole is Senior Vice President of Product Management for Comcast Business.  Kevin is responsible for all of Comcast Business’ data, voice, video, SaaS & managed services.

Kevin is an original member of the Comcast Business senior leadership team having served since the unit’s inception in 2006. Through the years Kevin has helped to build the business to its present $5B scale through leadership positions in product, marketing, sales & business development. A 20-year industry veteran, Kevin’s prior positions include both B2C and B2B leadership roles in product development, R&D, corporate strategy, and private equity.


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