SD-WAN, as it turns out, is not freeing service providers from vendor lock.
In the traditional world of hardware routing, software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are attractive because they theoretically free operators and enterprises from the constraints of proprietary infrastructure (hardware and software). SDN opens up the control plane, making it possible to cast aside the handcuffs of vendor lock.
Or does it?
On the access side at the customer premises, operators face the significant challenge of orchestrating all the many virtual network functions (VNFs) involved with virtualized networking. Amidst this confusing new landscape, lack of defined standards to which software vendors can write code, and the struggle to bring IT and network operations organizations together, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN)—which essentially refers to SDN technology applied to enterprise WAN networks—has become the first meaningful step toward software-based network automation. It provides a self-contained, orchestrated environment for these virtualized network functions.
Potential benefits of SD-WAN include the opportunity for operators and service providers to:
- simplify WANs and positively refactor managed service business models
- leverage favorable economics of commodity broadband in a hybrid WAN network
- more easily use combos of private MPLS, broadband, or LTE
- put integrated intelligence policy engines to work dynamically optimizing cloud app connectivity
With SD-WAN, vendor lock returns on steroids. Each vendor offers its own proprietary SD-WAN controller and management plane as well as edge devices. Oh, the irony. Operators and enterprises are adopting SD-WAN out of need for speed and agility, to reduce OpEx, and to create new revenue opportunities. Hitting all three points requires SD-WAN solutions that integrate with existing systems, for easy management and fault detection. This has led back to vendor-specific solutions. In striving to get away from vendor lock, operators (and the enterprises they serve) find themselves shackled even more heavily than before.
For operators selling managed services, using SD-WAN may offer short term operational advantages, but with the inflexibility of no multi-vendor interoperability, it will threaten the operators with higher costs in the longer term. Why? Once an installed base of a given SD-WAN vendor is deployed, there is no way to introduce a second SD-WAN vendor edge device without deploying the full centralized control and management planes. This is actually not the case today with traditional routing technology. If an operator starts with one vendor and later wants to change to another, or combine more than one, it means refactoring all the operational IT infrastructure. Management, monitoring, control, and other functions are different for each vendor’s technology.
Beyond centralized controllers, performance monitoring and assurance is another challenge with multi-vendor SD-WAN environments. It’s true that each vendor uses software algorithms to measure one link’s performance relative to others, steer applications based on priority, and offer network measurements from end to end. However, SD-WAN is fundamentally an overlay solution by its very nature. Therefore, the underlay network performance cannot be measured with the great accuracy and granularity. Further, no underlay network infrastructure segmentation is available to pinpoint network issues and reduce mean time to repair (MTTR); the overlay network is blind to these.
This is where Accedian comes in. Our SkyLIGHT solution provides a uniform monitoring and assurance platform across the entire SD-WAN infrastructure. It now includes application-aware monitoring, giving full visibility into multi-vendor SD-WAN environments.
So, at least when it comes to monitoring and assurance, there is light at the end of the SD-WAN vendor lock tunnel.