Big Interview

Transforming MEF to standardise SD-WAN and boost member revenue

Nan Chen is a true pioneer when it comes to Carrier Ethernet. MEF’s president speaks to Jason McGee-Abe about how the organisation is evolving to create new business solutions for the digital economy

MEF is a key industry association that provides a global services framework and the foundation for service innovation in the industry. Attaining a MEF certification has endorsed the services of many providers in the industry, showing Carrier Ethernet services comply with relevant specifications.

More than 200 MEF certified service products have been deployed worldwide by more than 70 service providers and Nan Chen is at the helm of this force. 

MEF has clearly evolved from developing Carrier Ethernet standards but also implementation, helping providers with their current offerings into what is being called the Third Network, orchestrated services across the world. 

But Chen tells me: “What I want to accomplish is to help MEF evolve from a pure technical standards organisation into more of a solutions-orientated company solving business problems for our members, the majority of which are service providers around the world.”

He explains: “Look at the solutions domains that MEF works with in two ways. The first is around services.” Carrier Ethernet services will play a part. “We’ll start to develop IP services, vendor and security services too,” he adds. The second domain is “lifecycle services orchestration” (LSO).

There are other areas which MEF works with, but “these are the two domains that we’re particularly focussed on right now”, stresses Chen. There others at the moment “yet to be officially announced”.

In each of the solutions domains that MEF produces, it provides a clear offering: standards and API, agile implementation, certification, and education and training. MEF provides professional certification and educational programmes too.

“These are core products for our domains. In general, that’s where MEF is headed, helping to deliver those Third Network services, which are agile, assured and orchestrated, across multiple carriers globally.”

From an organisational perspective, MEF is looking deeply at how they can actually deliver these services as “we’ve gained significant interest within our member community, especially from service providers”, says Chen. “It’s a big reason why we’re seeing some key senior executives joining us.” 

Leading executives join MEF

In July, at its annual members’ meeting, new leading industry executives joined the MEF board of directors. Shawn Hakl, VP of product and new business innovation at Verizon, Kevin O’Toole, senior VP of product management at Comcast Business, Gabriel Kerner, VP of network products and offerings with Amdocs Technology, and Rami Yaron, VP of strategy and business development at Telco Systems are the new elected board members. 

The new board will be tasked with focussing on expanding MEF’s growing community of service providers, technology vendors, and other companies that are committed to driving the creation of a global ecosystem of automated networks.

The board will guide an ambitious work plan that will enable service providers to achieve a faster time-to-market and time-to-revenue for leading-edge services that provide an on-demand, cloud-centric experience with user and application-directed control over network resources and service capabilities.

“We are thrilled to have these prominent and accomplished senior executives joining the board, augmenting an experienced team of professionals who are spearheading industry transformation,” said Chen.

“Both Shawn and Kevin, for example, are not only high-level executives but they’re focussed on business. They’re product executives where they are responsible for P&Ls for services they help to launch. Shawn looks after Verizon’s SD-WAN products and will help support our focal points here.”

This is in line with Chen’s vision for MEF, driving not just technology but transitioning to deliver solutions which will generate revenues for its members, like it has done with Ethernet. “To help you achieve this, you need to have executives with a track record of product responsibility and sound business minds, not just technical expertise,” which MEF certainly has. 

“We have a board with a sound business mind to help drive MEF into a different direction whereby our solutions domain will increase revenues and profits for members. Both Shawn and Kevin come from this product and business world and will help us to achieve this goal.”

Wholesale demand on the rise

“We’ve seen a significant pick-up in the wholesale space,” Chen admits. MEF is seeing an increasing demand from buyers seeking services which are MEF-certified so they can do business with confidence.

Seven members, including Chen himself, have been re-elected for new terms. Alessandro Talotta, chairman and CEO of TI Sparkle has also been reappointed to the board. Earlier this year, Sparkle became the first European service provider to receive MEF 100G Carrier Ethernet 2.0 certification for EPL and EVPL services. The certification also made the international services arm of TIM Group the first service provider in the world to attain the certification on a subsea cable system. 

As a result, Sparkle has further enhanced its data and cloud services proposition for those seeking better, assured and more secured bandwidth, says Chen. “TI Sparkle is clearly unique and is a pioneer in their area whereby they have certified undersea cables, which gives people confidence when they actually MEF-certified end-to-end solutions to carriers and enterprises.”

MEF is advancing with the definition stage for optical wavelength. “Today, IP and VPN services, more or less, are provided by the service providers themselves. What they’ve typically done has been to buy access to Ethernet for connectivity and running IP over that.”

One of the pages in MEF’s Ethernet playbook looks at the strategy “to see if the IP can be interconnected”, Chen tells me. 

“They clearly can, but you want to make sure they have the right parameters and attributes, which are the same and are being standardised and used across multiple carriers, so you can actually do IP interconnectivity on an IP/VPN level.”

Standardising SD-WAN

Chen says: “SD-WAN has taken the world by storm because of the simplicity, some significant cost savings and the ability to be able to deploy in wide area services.” 

He admits that there are potential issues around bandwidth and control that need to be solved. Because of the rapid development, there is no organisation in a standards world really taking on the initial terminology and definition in terms of standardising the landscape for the industry. “I think the majority of our members – and potential members – today really see the MEF as the way to deliver SD-WAN.”

This is because they see SD-WAN as “a version of implementation of Third Network services”, which is agile, assured and orchestrated; it really fits in with MEF’s overall vision of the Third Network. 

“Many companies approached MEF and we have worked with SDN vendors, as well as service providers, to come together to create a forum to standardise the terminology and definition of SD-WAN within the framework of LSO,” Chen goes on to explain.

“This is so we’re able to have common knowledge and terminology within the industry to help towards complete standardisation. With the potential of new members joining MEF as a result, we’ll gain more and more momentum to really help towards standardisation to help the industry mature and grow even faster.”

MEF is so well placed and equipped to help drive and support the standardisation of SD-WAN. IDC’s worldwide forecasts for 2017-2021 predicts SD-WAN sales will hit $1.19 billion this year – as enterprises choose it to overcome challenges as a result of surging cloud, mobile, big data and analytics traffic. At a 69% CAGR the market will reach $8.05 billion in 2021, says IDC. 

OpenCS SD-WAN project

MEF has established a project which is led by Riverbed and VeloCloud and includes contributions from a number of vendors, including Amartus, Cox, Fujitsu Network Communications, GBI, Huawei, Nokia’s Nuage, Silver Peak and Versa Networks. 

The project is focussed on providing use cases and business requirements to ensure that providers and vendors can implement SD-WAN managed services using open standard LSO API’s. The first six major SD-WAN managed services use cases have been agreed on by the MEF community.