How the Service Providers Missed The SD-WAN Market

by Nick Lippis

One of the great ONUG success stories is the creation of the SD-WAN market. Its inception took place on an April day in 2013 when the ONUG Board convened for its twice-yearly, face-to-face meeting at UBS headquarters. During this meeting, ONUG Board members shared use cases for which they required solutions that suppliers were not yet providing or addressing.

Each member wrote their use case(s) on a flip chart; about 10 use cases were created in total. Then, to prioritize them, each board member was given three red dots to allocate to the three most pressing, must-be-solved, use cases.

During this meeting, the ONUG Board had invited a handful of guests to provide their input and feedback. One of these guests, Jim Kyriannis, Program Director for Technology Architecture at New York University, was the one to contribute the SD-WAN use case, which ended up receiving the most votes by far, shocking the group.

At the time, Jim didn’t call the use case “SD-WAN,” he called it “Branch Office Has Multiple Paths to Headquarters.” It was at the second ONUG Conference,
hosted by JPMorgan Chase, where it was presented and its title was transformed into SD-WAN. The ONUG Community was asked to vote on some nine use cases at that meeting and it was Jim’s SD-WAN use case that, for a second time garnered an overwhelming majority of the community’s vote.

This launched the ONUG SD-WAN Working Group, chaired by Conrad Menezes of Bank of America. Within the working group, Conrad and other members began to take a deep dive into the use case and detail its requirements. Soon, the group of IT executives published their first ONUG SD-WAN use case white paper and the vendor community was invited to engage. From that point on, there has been strong IT executive and vendor participation. This working group defined verification testing so that vendors’ product features could be tested against the working group requirements. Some 17 vendors participated in the ONUG SD-WAN Working Group feature verification testing program.

The working group then defined proof of concepts that would further demonstrate how SD-WAN solutions could be applied in typical large enterprise environments. Again, 17 vendors participated. It was amazing to see all the SD-WAN proof of concepts taking place in 2014 and still to this day at ONUG.

All along this multi-year cycle, there were presentations at ONUG where IT executives would present SD-WAN successes and challenges. It was this openness of sharing information that allowed the community to fully understand the cost, risks, benefits, and value. In short, the ONUG Community engaged in organizational learning to the benefit of the entire community of IT business and industry leaders to create a new software-defined market for the wide area network.

The SD-WAN market was a product of the IT community; it was defined and created from the start by IT executives.

One would have thought that a new approach to wide area networking would have come from the service provider community, especially considering all the work being done on open source projects focused exclusively for service providers. In addition, there are so many service provider standards organizations and forums that one would have thought the concepts would have come from one of those groups. Yet, the SD-WAN market was a product of the IT community; it was defined and created from the start by IT executives. The ONUG experience proves the old adage that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Enterprise IT executive needs were not being addressed, but as the result of the collective IT user group illustrating those lacking requirements, a solution was provided. The SD-WAN market is the fastest growing software-defined market today thanks to the ONUG Community.

Still, the SD-WAN market is not perfect. There is little to no interoperability between suppliers today. There are no standards or open source approaches that have traction either. As the SD-WAN market grows, new use cases emerge that are demanding some level of interoperability. These use cases include SD-WAN for multi-cloud connectivity, large enterprise mergers and acquisitions, SD-WAN vendors being acquired by larger vendors, vendor lock-in mitigation, etc. These are just a few examples of the use cases now being addressed in the ONUG Open SD-WAN Exchange (OSE) Initiative, co-chaired by Steve Wood of Cisco, Conrad Menezes of Bank of America, and Snehal Patel of Gap Inc. The service providers are now fully engaged and the OSE is starting to liaise with MEF, Broadband Forum, and others so that cross enterprise-service provider SD-WAN interoperability emerges.

An effective community can do great things, sometimes by design, sometimes by chance. The ONUG Community could not be more thankful that Jim Kyriannis attended that board meeting back in early 2013.


Author Bio

Nick Lippis pictureNick Lippis


Nick Lippis is an authority on corporate computer networking. He has designed some for the largest computer networks in the world. He has advised many Global 2000 firms on network strategy, architecture, equipment, services and implementation including Hughes Aerospace, Barclays Bank, Kaiser Permanente, Eastman Kodak Company, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Liberty Mutual, Schering-Plough, Sprint, WorldCom, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks and a wide range of other equipment suppliers and service providers.

Mr. Lippis is uniquely positioned to comment, analyze and observe computer networking industry trends and developments. At Lippis Enterprises, Inc., Nick works with entrepreneurs evaluating new business opportunities in enterprise networking and serves as an independent investor and advisor.


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