Standardising and orchestrating SD-WAN managed services

Industry body MEF has been working over the past several years to accelerate the industry transition to agile, assured, and orchestrated “Third Network” services delivered over automated, virtualised, and interconnected networks. Pascal Menezes, CTO, shares his view

While much of our effort has centered on what it takes to orchestrate Carrier Ethernet, wavelength, and IP services over multiple operators and multiple technology domains, we announced in July that we have extended our work to standardise and orchestrate SD-WAN managed services as well. In our view, an SD-WAN managed service is a great use case delivering on the Third Network vision.

Agile, Assured & Orchestrated

New Third Network services will enable IT administrators to dynamically and on-demand create, modify, and delete services via customer web portals or software applications. This is similar in concept to cloud-based services, such as infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), where users can dynamically create, modify, or delete compute and storage resources.   

MEF members will achieve this vision by building upon advances in various cloud-centric technologies such as open LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) APIs, SDN, and NFV. 

These technologies can be used to create a new global business network fabric that combines the agility of the cloud with a new layer of intelligence that overlays the interconnected islands of connectivity networks (e.g. CE 2.0 and MPLS) provided by different operators. 

In addition, MEF has been developing an open set of LSO APIs that will be used to automate service ordering, fulfillment, performance, usage, analytics, and security both within an operator domain and across multi-operator networks. 

This approach overcomes existing OSS/BSS constraints by defining service abstractions that hide the complexity of underlying technologies and network layers from the applications and users of the services.

MEF’s approach to SD-WAN managed services

MEF believes SD-WAN managed services will play a major role in accelerating the transition to agile, assured, and orchestrated services, but just like with the Carrier Ethernet market, it is critical for the industry to align on common definitions and standards in order to maximise market growth potential. Hence, MEF has begun defining SD-WAN service terminology, components, and implementations in the context of MEF’s LSO Reference Architecture and Framework. This work – including a new white paper titled Understanding SD-WAN Managed Services – will ensure consistency of performance, policy, and security of SD-WAN services orchestrated across multiple provider networks.

In our view, fundamental SD-WAN managed service characteristics include: Secure, IP-based virtual overlay network; Transport-independence of underlay network; Service assurance of each SD-WAN tunnel; Application-driven packet forwarding; High availability through multiple WANs and Policy-based packet forwarding. Also: Service automation via centralised management, control, and orchestration and Virtualised bump-in-the-wire services such as security, application performance management, WAN optimisation, etc.

There are many use cases for SD-WANs from providing a complete secure, multi-site VPN service to simply providing access to off-net sites via last-mile Internet broadband. Unlike other network connectivity services, SD-WANs use application-driven networking where application traffic – e.g., Skype for Business or SAP traffic – is forwarded over different WANs based on QoS, security, and business priority policies. Since SD-WANs provide centralised control and management automation plus a secured overlay network over multiple WANs, enterprises worldwide can reduce the cost of their WANs while having similar business-grade WAN performance and security guarantees. 

However, SD-WANs must be operated by either enterprise or service providers. Many enterprises prefer to have a CSPs or MSPs deliver an SD-WAN managed service rather than own and operate it themselves, since network management and operations is not their core business. CSPs and MSPs are now aggressively introducing SD-WAN managed services to address enterprise challenges and deliver agile, assured, and orchestrated network services leveraging SD-WAN technologies.   

MEF has embarked on the journey to standardise SD-WAN managed services for large scale and multi-tenant deployments by CSPs and MSPs. The charter is to define deployment scenarios, solution architectures, and open APIs in addition to SD-WAN terminology. MEF will provide market education through webinars, white papers, and workshops at industry events.  A common SD-WAN vernacular will enable buyers, sellers, and users to more effectively communicate needs and intent, while open standard LSO APIs will automate, facilitate, and accelerate SD-WAN implementations and service deployments.  

For more on MEF’s perspective, see our recent on-demand webinar:  SD-WAN Managed Services: Terminology, Use Cases, Challenges and MEF Work