Simpler and More Flexible Managed SD-WAN Services with uCPE

By Karl Mörner

I recently held a presentation at SDN NFV World Congress. The topic was how the second generation SD-WAN makes it possible for service providers to tailor SD-WAN offerings to vertical industry segments. In this blog post, I will explain how it works and why it matters, as I make a short summary of my presentation.

In the last few years, many service providers have added an SD-WAN offering to their enterprise networking portfolios. Until now, it has almost entirely been deployed as a single vendor solution with integrated hardware and software, e.g. a grey box. This is the first generation SD-WAN, often provided as a managed service. A large number of enterprise users have benefitted from features like multi-link capabilities and centralized management, and many have seen improved network performance and reduced overall costs thanks to SD-WAN.

One size does not fit all

I have noticed that the more experience enterprise SD-WAN users have with the technology, the more specific their requirements will be for the solutions they want to deploy. Enterprises are looking for network solutions with characteristics, features and price points that support their businesses in optimal ways, and while SD-WAN in itself may have been enough a few years ago, enterprises now have a more fine-tuned set of requirements they expect service providers to deliver on.

Not all enterprises will require the same network performance, reliability, security, and networking features in an SD-WAN solution. It depends on how they use the network. Enterprises with similar ways of working are likely to have similar requirements, opening for service providers to offer solutions tailored to vertical industry segments like ‘industrial’, ‘financial’ or ‘retail’.

Many enterprises are starting to recognize that single vendor solutions may have both limitations and features they do not use but still have to pay for. There are gaps between what they want and what they get. A vertically tailored offering typically has a better fit to the users’ requirements, providing better end user value than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.

So the managed service providers must deliver on specific sets requirements for different vertical segments, and they must do it in a cost efficient way.  

Adding to the complexity, many enterprise users have already decided on a specific SD-WAN vendor or security vendor before approaching the service provider. To serve these requirements from individual customers, the service provider must allow multiple SD-WAN vendors, security vendors, and other network function vendors to be part of its managed service catalog.

To handle disparate requirements from different industry verticals, and to allow room for individual customizations, managed service providers need much more flexibility than is offered by the first generation SD-WAN. This is where the second generation SD-WAN makes a big difference.

Second Generation SD-WAN

A second generation SD-WAN is a multi-vendor solution based on NFV principles. It builds on a universal customer premise equipment (uCPE) architecture, running the SD-WAN application as a virtual network function (VNF).

Virtualizing SD-WAN and other network functions at the customer premise, allow service providers to deploy and manage network services without using specialized network appliances. The uCPE provides a general-purpose infrastructure with fully centralized control of software running at the customer premises. With a uCPE deployed at the customer premises, any network services including SD-WAN, security and routing can be offered, installed, managed and replaced by the service provider without onsite visits or local technical expertise.

Building the service catalog

Building a service catalog for managed SD-WAN services using different requirements for different market segments
Service catalog requirements for managed SD-WAN services

The uCPE architecture consists of white box hardware, a virtualization and management layer, VNFs, and orchestration. These are the basic building blocks service providers have at their disposal when putting together vertically targeted offerings. By combining and configuring different sets of components from multiple vendors, the service provider creates a catalog of services with different characteristics and features, tailored for different vertical markets. See figure above. This would not be possible without the flexibility provided by an uCPE platform.

A segmented service catalog allows managed service providers to target several market segments with high-value offerings. Smaller customization tweaks for individual end users adds additional value.

Conclusion

In The Hague where I first presented this, Enea also demonstrated a multi-vendor PoC with open source security and SD-WAN VNFs running on a uCPE. The discussions my colleagues and I had with other networking professionals at the event confirmed our belief that the flexibility and multi-vendor nature of open uCPE platforms is what matters for the carriers and service providers who want to offer the next generation enterprise networks to their customers.