While service providers have been the traditional providers of connectivity services to enterprises, they have been somewhat limited to the commodity market of providing connections. The move to virtualization and ultimately telco cloud, which is enabled by network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), opens up the potential for them to move up the value chain and provide highly specific and higher value services because of the flexibility, operational cost efficiency and the rapid response capabilities of the new network.
Among the early use cases for virtualization are software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN), which enable specific apps to be supported by the network in optimal ways. For example, latency-sensitive apps, such as virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) or artificial intelligence (AI), can be served with the low latency connectivity they require to ensure the customer experience is unaffected because the network understands and has been dimensioned to support that app’s specific needs.
Different types of traffic can be treated in different ways but without the cost or time burden of bespoke hardware and development. The universal customer premise equipment (uCPE) or commodity white boxes that SD-WAN enables to be deployed can enable highly flexible service instantiation, accelerated service provision and greater flexibility.
A critical advantage here is that enterprises and their providers gain greater control and insight into their network traffic because of the monitoring capabilities exposed in SD-WAN environments. Performance monitoring tools with NFV and SDN capabilities provide service providers with the ability to assure and validate service level agreements (SLAs) for these new services. This is vital for service providers if they are to monetize the value they add effectively.
Validation and assurance are not only about generating revenue, though. Assured resilience and cost efficiency also have value to enterprises and customers alike and a further layer of value is inherent to SD-WAN because it presents a more secure environment than traditional networks thanks to its inbuilt security protocols.
Today SD-WAN deployment is relatively new, especially as virtualized networks add a further dimension to its potential and are only just rolling out. However, the technical familiarity with the technology that exists at many service providers means there are promising revenue cases for service providers to pursue.
Among the use enterprise use cases for SD-WAN is MPLS replacement, which is sometimes referred to as hybrid WAN. In essence, this enables enterprises to move to an SD-WAN solution to simplify the management of multiple networks by replacing MPLS or other private network infrastructure with IP VPNs. Importantly, as the hybrid tag suggests, enterprises can migrate at their own pace, operating hybrid networks as required.
Another good example is unified communications. SD-WAN provides both ease of configuration and control of network characteristics that affect the performance of unified communications services such as collaborative working. VoIP traffic, for example, can be prioritized or routed around backbone issues to assure quality for single sites as well as in multiple locations. The experience is improved and service providers, therefore, can monetize on an associated SLA.
Remote diagnostics is a further area in which SD-WAN has clear business benefits for enterprises. For example, if the enterprise faces an issue at a remote location, it can be difficult to guide local users through troubleshooting assistance or to ensure the correct equipment or software is available at the remote site. The built-in performance management tools in many SD-WAN solutions give the ability to assess the network state and see what the users see on the network.
The above are just some of the many examples of the potential benefits to enterprises of SD-WAN but the technology, in general terms, provides enterprises with four key advantages: resilience, cost efficiency, flexibility and enhanced security. Service providers also benefit in terms of operational and cost efficiency, improved network security and widening of their service portfolios to meet the needs of enterprises so they can win or retain as much enterprise business as possible. The new SD-WAN capabilities rely on performance monitoring tools with NFV and SDN capabilities to provide the vital insights and network data necessary to manage, instantiate and optimize the network according to the applications and traffic that pass over it and, it is these that truly unlock the potential of SD-WAN for service providers and their customers.
~Written by George Malim. George is a freelance journalist who covers the telecoms and internet markets.