Spectrum Enterprise unveils its plans for a "trendy" new SD-WAN product

13 December 2017 | James Pearce


Spectrum Enterprise, part of Charter Communications, is the latest service provider to unveil plans to launch an SD-WAN offering. Capacity sits down with VP of data product management Bob Schroeder to discuss its new product

SD-WAN is “trendy” right now – it is the word on every enterprise’s lips, as they look at how to save money while introducing more flexibility into their WANs.

For Spectrum Enterprise, which is part of Charter Communications, this is the key reason behind its own SD-WAN plans, with a product currently undergoing customer trials ahead of an expected launch next year.

Bob Schroeder VP of data product management at the company, tell Capacity that it is “because the market is wanting it” that Spectrum is developing its own solution.

“SD-WAN is pretty trendy right now,” he adds. “We are demonstrating our proof of concept, and have been working on SD-WAN, NFV, and SDN technologies for a few years, but now we’re entering customer trials. We will be looking to launch a commercial service in 2018.

“One of the foundational pieces of this is it starts with connectivity, and we’ve been evaluating solutions for enterprise customers and their use cases.”

In assessing the value of SD-WAN, Spectrum identified three key use cases, according to Schroeder. The first is “overlay”, meaning enterprise customers have the choice to use any connectivity methods that they see appropriate, be it LTE, cable, fibre, or the open internet. “Those connections can be managed and controlled by Spectrum Enterprises in a virtual private network environment,” he adds. “That can be redundant to an existing network or it can be enhancement to an existing network.”

The second is “enhancements to Ethernet WAN,” he adds. “Our customers as they grow and add locations have the option to choose the type of connectivity they want in those locations. If they choose public internet or OTT connections provided by us or someone else, we can stitch those connections back into the enterprise WAN using SD-WAN technologies to create a holistic private hybrid WAN network for them.”

The final one he points to is rapid scale, where customers may want and prefer a fibre connection, but fibre may not be built into that location, so “customers have the option to use whatever connectivity they would like if they can get access to LTE or broadband that helps that location get on the corporate enterprise network very quickly.” This gives the customer a choice when fibre is delivered to that location of using one or the other, or both in concert. 

“We are working very hard to ensure customers have options or choice and flexibility in how they grow their network and how they mature into this technology,” Schroeder adds.

Early Days

For Spectrum, it is still early days in its SD-WAN strategy, Schroeder admits, but says its offering is an important step for the company.

That’s because “you can tell that everyone is talking about I,” he claims, explaining: “The reason for that is that one of the underlying things about this technology is that it helps our customers grow, migrate and even transform their existing legacy networks. It puts them on a next generation platform that is far more flexible to deal with software as a service and multi-cloud that is developing.”

He claims that it is the customer base driving the demand for SD-WAN but says it took a while for the technology to catch up with the expectations. Spectrum has yet to release its own offering because “we want to get it right” says Schroeder.

“Our whole philosophy is to deliver an expert service end-to-end, we want to make sure we get this right and deliver the choice and flexibility customers expect from Spectrum Enterprises.”

To achieve that, every operator needs to pick the right partners. He says that while Spectrum appreciates that some customers have preferences when it comes to equipment vendors, its proof of concept is based around technology from Nokia’s Nuage Networks. On top of this, Spectrum has partnered with Palo Alto for threat security and firewall services.

Shroder is keen to stress that those choices will not limit Spectrum, saying the US-based operator is open to partnering with other vendors if enterprises have a particular preference for equipment or virtual network functions.

“Customers have a bias on who they use [for equipment],” he adds. “I’m beginning to hear them ask more who we’re using for firewalls or content filtering, because they are accustomed to working with them or have a preference to the technology type. 

“We started with Palo Alto because we feel they have a very extensible product and a system that helps us with NFV but we’re not precluding ourselves from working with all of the market leaders as necessary. If a customer has a particular lead then we’ll evaluate that.”