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How SD-WAN is Forcing Service Providers to Re-invent Themselves (…as NFV did with vendors)

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Interesting similarities can be observed between SD-WAN and NFV. NFV aimed at ending the reign of monolithic solutions, with software and hardware decoupling, but also with the use of open APIs that facilitate the ability to pick, choose and replace vendors as necessary. The hope was that increased competition and commodity hardware would drive costs down. This is however not a particularly shiny prospect for vendors.

If you think about it, SD-WAN is also about breaking monoliths: service provider offers. From this perspective, the managed service offer is split into discrete components: connectivity, hardware, WAN/LAN devices, VPN/security and operations. Enterprise customers can theoretically source each item independently and benefit from choice and competition. As a result, a large community of SD-WAN advocates aggressively target service providers, accusing them of offering less and charging more; in other words ripping off enterprise customers. This is equally not a shiny prospect for service providers.

The right answer for CSPs is not necessarily to fully embrace the current offerings of the main SD-WAN players. It may be part of the answer, but not the full one. As with vendors for NFV, this turmoil is forcing service providers to reconsider the value and strategy for each individual component of their offer (connectivity, hardware, operations, etc.

Let’s start with connectivity and VPN. Many SD-WAN vendors build their business case on saving MPLS costs. If you are a CSP and can serve your customer with MPLS easily, this is just a bargaining game. Why SD-WAN then? Just call your service provider sales rep! Many commentators now admit that MPLS is not dead but SD-WAN has highlighted how un-ideal it is: if you need to build a global VPN with branches in Mexico, South-East Asia, etc., those MPLS links become awfully expensive and slow to deploy. This is where it makes sense for CSPs to adopt Over-The-Top VPN technologies as proposed by the mainstream SD-WAN solutions. In other words, service providers do not need full-blown SD-WAN technologies to remain competitive so long as the customer demand is limited to “same as before, but lower cost”.

Of course, there is more to SD-WAN than just building a network overlay: such as being able to easily enforce application policies, monitor network and application performance. In my opinion, this should be viewed as another layer of services that can be offered at a premium cost. Historically, service providers have been extremely successful in outsourcing networks for enterprise customers, especially in Europe. The key ingredients were: a one-stop shopping experience and being a price leader for this outsourcing. The contention here is that they can strike back against SD-WAN DIY and System Integrators. Being a price leader implies they need entry-level Over-The-Top offers, but also a rich set of options to upsell so that enterprises remain attracted to their main marketing asset: a one-stop shopping experience.

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SD-WAN at the CSP: Why gray solutions are slowing success

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It’s striking the number of service providers that have recently started promoting SD-WAN offers, especially given that there is little evidence amongst them of its commercial success. Popularity and perceived demand are high in the telecoms world, but it seems few service providers have yet to really win over end-users.

Just another example of industry hype? Or is there more to SD-WAN than meets the eye?

There certainly is. Or rather, there will be soon. The increasing move towards a true white-box approach will undoubtedly be the driver in realizing SD-WAN deployments at the CSP and generating real value behind the hype. So, why have they lagged?

The SD-WAN romance

The appeal of SD-WAN is its software-based, flexible and fully programmable nature. The premise of a service delivered using Common-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware offers the illusion of freedom. COTS hardware suggests that users are no longer locked into one solution, as new Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) can be added from a broad choice of third-party vendors.

As there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, the end-user can be critical and selective of the services it chooses, based on its own budget and requirements. In turn, this means they can benefit from competition, as vendors can battle to deliver more innovative, cost-effective services.

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Unpacking the technologies behind the Zero-Touch Provisioning of a universal CPE

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Explore the combination of technologies that enable remote provisioning and management of the uCPE and the VNFs this powerful new device supports.

A Universal Customer Premises Equipment (uCPE) consists of both software and hardware components to create a small virtualization platform at the customer premises and which is capable of running multiple Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) in a local service chain. This is similar to running Virtualized Network Functions in the datacentre but at a smaller scale. This enables Communication Service Providers (CSPs) to disaggregate software and hardware at the CPE level and provides them with unprecedented flexibility to run any type of service on the same commoditized hardware platform.

The services delivered by this programmable end-user device are in general controlled by Next Generation Service Orchestrators, who take care of the service configuration aspects of the delivered services. Another level of Orchestration concerns the deployment of the uCPE in the field. One of the challenges is to minimize its deployment cost using zero-touch provisioning. Pushing a new configuration to a uCPE is more complicated than to legacy CPEs because not only the configuration of the uCPE needs to be pushed to the device, but also the service chaining topology and the VNF images with their initial configurations. Using the NETCONF/YANG protocol however it is possible to push the complete initial configuration to the uCPE including the service chaining configuration and the VNF images with their initial start-up configuration. The initial communication with the provisioning server can be achieved using the NETCONF Call Home functionality, which allows the CPE to identify itself to the provisioning server and receive the correct configuration associated with the customer where the device is installed.

With zero-touch provisioning it is possible to install a uCPE and its configuration in an automated way. In many cases, however, end-to-end orchestration systems don’t support zero-touch provisioning yet or provisioning systems are not in place or sufficiently mature to support this level of automation.

In addition to the OneAccess-branded uCPE hardware (OVP or Open Virtualized Platform) and software (LIM or Local Infrastructure Manager), EKINOPS also offers OneManage to provide a solution for zero-touch provisioning of uCPEs based on a service catalog. OneManage supports a northbound interface to interface with OSS/BSS systems to receive customer-related data associated with a new uCPE deployment. In this way OneManage is an infrastructure orchestrator or sub-orchestrator, taking care of the provisioning of the uCPEs and the management of the installed uCPE base.

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Agility is the Goal and Lack of it the Handbrake

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When looking at the virtualization landscape in its broader sense I can’t help seeing that the real problem is agility or rather lack of it.

Take a look at SDN, whose main premise is to separate control from the data plane and thereby achieve high agility for its users. Same thing for NFV: abstract the software from the hardware and then combine and deploy software functions at will for high agility. So the operators, at least the bigger ones who have the least agility, are investing megabucks to deliver on the twin promises of SDN and NFV. What’s frustrating for them is that they are doing so lamentably slowly and in a decidedly non-agile manner.

In a sense it’s not so surprising. In effect, the operators are trying to re-engineer 15 years of painstakingly built managed services processes in a very short period of time. And they are doing so using a combination of new operational and management techniques, new albeit commonly available hardware, re-packaged software and co-opting their existing set of waterfall processes and organisational silos. This is like pressing on the accelerator with the handbrake on. Some, e.g. Verizon and belatedly AT&T, are trying to loosen the rigid structure of their organisations to create a more agile decision-making process and a Devops culture where network specialists and IT folk combine to break down internal barriers and loosen their internal disk-brakes.

It’s when we take a look at the arrival of SD-WAN that we see the real impact of lack of agility. SD-WAN vendors position their wares to enterprises with self-select portals, centralised policy control and the ability to take advantage of cheaper Internet links to deal with all the Cloud-based, Internet services that are swamping their traditional operator-provided WAN connections. This puts control and thus agility in the hands of the enterprises and this is precisely what they want.

The response of the operators to SD-WAN however is telling. As opposed to SDN and NFV, where they are re-engineering their processes with open APIs to (slowly) deliver on the promise of virtualization, they have taken a very different tack with SD-WAN. For the most part, they have:

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When the Rubber (Finally) Hits the Road: 2018 Predictions

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Looking ahead to 2018, Pravin Mirchandani, CMO, OneAccess Networks, anticipates a year of challenge and opportunity for operators.

Europe Starts to Get Serious about Virtualization

After a long period of experimenting with virtualization technology in their labs, European Telcos (or at least some of them) will get serious about introducing virtualized services for their enterprise customers. This is clearly apparent at Deutsche Telecom, in particular, but also at Orange and BT. I’d still hesitate to predict that we will see many actual service launches in Europe but nonetheless decisions will be taken, budgets will be committed and the new product introduction (NPI) work for virtualized services will begin.

The Cost of White-Box CPEs will be Driven Down but Not by Price Reduction

It’s clear that all the big Telcos are convinced about the benefits of an on-premise white-box strategy and while in 2017 they debated about how to move from grey-boxes, principally from Cisco and Juniper, right now they have a different problem: cost, particularly for the appliance they need for the volume part of the enterprise market, commonly known as the ‘small uCPE’.

Yet if half the cost of a white-box derives from a monopoly vendor – Intel – then, in the absence of competition (hint: think ARM), the only way to reduce costs will be to moderate demands on it. This will come from two directions. The business managers at the Telcos will insist on a smaller set of VNF requirements to reduce the number of cores and memory required (the two key drivers of costs for a white-box appliance) and the VNF vendors will gradually reduce their resource footprint in response to the Telcos’ demands.

The Operators Will Realise that SD-WAN is Actually a Marketing Problem

SD-WAN puts choice in the hands of enterprises and does so at reduced cost with automation removing complexity, a winning combination that is taking business away from many Telcos. So far, the Telcos have looked at this principally as a technology problem: how to build self-select portals to introduce choice for their customers, how to automate their back-end processes and how to co-opt SD-WAN technology without vendor lock-in.

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The Song of the Sirens: Five ways to spot hidden NFV vendor lock-in

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One of the big attractions of NFV is that it gives operators a chance to break free of single vendor contracts and establish greater control over the future development of their networks.

Genuinely ‘open NFV’ gives operators the ability to change tack according to technical and commercial developments. It enables them to shop around for best of breed solutions and blend a mixture of, say, migration-oriented hybrid solutions with white or grey-box CPEs and connect them all to their choice of orchestrator. It also dramatically improves their negotiating power.

Yet, despite appearances, few NFV vendors practice ‘genuinely open NFV’ and instead disguise how they intend to close and lock the front door once their customer has stepped inside.

There are five common traps that vendors set for operators as they entice them toward ‘open NFV’ contracts:

#1 Charging for third-party connections

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Latest News

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    EKINOPS (Euronext Paris - FR0011466069 – EKI),a leading provider of open, future-proof and flexible network solutions to service providers, has been recognised with a Technology Solutions Award at the 2019 MEF Awards, which took place during the leading industry conference, MEF19 in Los Angeles.

     
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  • EKINOPS to showcase joint SD-WAN Proof of Concept at MEF 2019 together with TELUS and Inmanta

    EKINOPS (Euronext Paris - FR0011466069 – EKI),a leading provider of open, future-proof and  fully flexible network solutions to service providers, has been selected by MEF to participate in the sixth annual MEF 3.0 PoC Showcase at leading industry conference, MEF19, which is taking place from 18 to 22 November 2019 in Los Angeles.

     

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