SD-WAN Interoperability

Next week we’ll converge on New York City for ONUG Fall. The ONUG team has a ton of amazing content planned: fireside chats with IT leaders, roundtables with executives, and more. But it’s the POC demonstrations that have us most excited.

Each year, ONUG Working Groups task vendors with demonstrating competency in specified areas. Not only can attendees see and touch working products, but they can learn how vendors solve real-life problems. Some of the practical questions to be asking yourself when attending these POC demonstrations include:

  • Vendors may claim to solve a given problem, but how complex is their solution? Does it require numerous components to be purchased, deployed, and managed?
  • Are those components shipping or still on paper?
  • What about the overall proposed design. Will it scale?
  • What are the single-points-of failure in the proposed solution?

This year several working groups have reached a stage of maturity where vendors will demonstrate how they work with partners to solve more complex business-level problems. The Virtual Networks/Overlays group, for example, will have a multivendor PoC where controllers interoperate with orchestration systems and are supported in the underlay by multiple vendors via Virtual Extensible LAN (VXLAN) and layer 3.

The SD-WAN group will demonstrate interoperability components across four use cases – network connectivity, security, application services, and cloud service provider. Demonstrations will show how network services, such as load balancing and firewalls, can be inserted into the path of traffic. Such an approach would allow organizations to eliminate hardware appliances. There will be a PoC around connecting remote sites via cloud providers, without traditional routers, and how configuration can be automated and orchestrated.

“This level of interoperability is important as it allows IT business executives to swap out vendors that are not working out or have shifted their focus. It puts control of purchasing into the hands of IT business leaders and allows companies to be more agile and responsible to the market,” says Nick Lippis, ONUG’s co-chairman and co-founder.

What’s Missing

What this level of interoperability won’t provide, though, is the ability to develop a single SD-WAN fabric with equipment from multiple vendors. Today SD-WAN vendors use various methods for building the SD-WAN overlay, typically using IPSec, GRE, VXLAN or some other encapsulation technique. They also have a range of approaches for distributing local prefixes, measuring network performance information, and more.

Though they may employ common protocols, vendors still only form SD-WANs from their own devices. “Hub-spoke control plane may leverage standard protocols elements, but their use is likely to be proprietary,” David Klebanov, Viptela’s technical marketing lead, commented on Twitter.

Allowing for vendors to participate in the same SD-WAN would require standardizing on protocols and their use. It’s something that takes years of development, if our experience with the TCP/IP stack is any example. “By the time we have standardized multivendor SD-WAN, aliens will have given us quantum communications,” tweeted Christian Renaud, research director at 451 Research.

Would ONUG develop the necessary interface to make that happen sooner? “ONUG is not a standards organization nor does it build/write open source software. ONUG advocates for open APIs and interfaces all along the IT stack through its collective voice and massive buying power,” says Lippis, “Through the ONUG working groups there are many examples of gaps in the industry where an open interface needs to be developed. Our hope is that open source communities and standards organizations pick up these user requirements documented in the working groups and use them to address current industry shortcomings.”

Whether or not open source or standards organization ultimately develops an open SD-WAN architecture, the evolution to SD-WAN ecosystems and not just products is a significant step for the industry. In this era of specialization, no one vendor can provide the complete solution. Partnerships and alliances are critical. Demonstrating products from different vendors working to solve a much larger problem reflects the serious commitment to the industry.

We look forward to seeing you there next week.

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