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MEF’s new white paper "Understanding SD-WAN Managed Services" introduces terminology for different SD-WAN managed service components and illustrates how they fit into MEF's Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) Reference Architecture (RA) to facilitate multi-vendor interoperability and operational agility through use case examples.

As networks globally transform themselves into an on-demand and real-time set of programmable systems, many applications are moving to the cloud as an IT utility for a globalized and mobile workforce. The advancements of Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Carrier Ethernet (CE) have proven to deliver a business grade private Wide Area Network (WAN) for enterprises worldwide, yet challenges persist. The time it takes to bring up new sites and interconnecting sites or public or private clouds has increasingly become an issue. Today it can take many months to enable a multi-national business to connect various sites globally to each other or to their public and private clouds. Additionally, services changes, even just bandwidth changes, can often take weeks because they involve manual workflow-based processes that are unacceptable for a society now accustomed to on-demand cloud-based applications and services. Software-Defined WANs (SD WANs) have emerged as one such solution to address these issues.

Key Business Drivers and Market Opportunities

In 2016, MEF and Vertical Systems Group published a report (available exclusively to MEF members) of survey results from respondents representing 50 service providers and 37 technology providers with participants responsible for product management and planning, product marketing, network/systems architecture, and engineering. The survey focused on dynamic network connectivity services, such as SD-WAN services, that enable customers to directly control their network resources on demand. Figure 1 indicates the top 5 purchasing drivers and top 5 deployment challenges when trying to deliver dynamic connectivity services.

SD-WAN: Threat or Opportunity

Some CSPs and MSPs may view SD-WAN as a threat to their existing connectivity services such as MPLS VPNs. In January 2017, MEF and Vertical Systems published a report of 58% service provider and 42% technology provider respondents with job responsibilities including product management, product planning, product/technology development, network/systems architecture, engineering, and professional services. In the report only 4% of respondents viewed SD WAN as a competitive threat while 45% viewed SD-WAN as a strategic opportunity. 37% viewed SD-WAN as both an opportunity and threat.

Fundamental Characteristics of SD-WANs

No industry standard definition exists for an SD-WAN. SD-WAN implementations have incorporated WAN technologies and functions that have been developed over the years such as VPN, WAN Optimization, IPsec tunneling, hybrid WAN, deep packet inspection, policy management, QoS performance monitoring and analytics while incorporating newer SDN, NFV, and Service Orchestration technologies. The latter three technologies provide the integration and service deployment automation that has made SD-WAN Managed Services so compelling. SD-WAN Managed Services are a specific use case for a MEF Third Network service using overlay networking technologies to deliver agile, assured and orchestrated application-driven connectivity services.

Click here for additional details on the Fundamental Characteristics of SD-WANs

SD-WAN Service Components

The SD-WAN managed service components include the following. The MEF is further defining these components so this paper will provide some high level functionality. Subsequent MEF publications will articulate more details as they are further defined. This section will illustrate where each of these service components fit into MEF’s LSO Reference Architecture.

  • SD-WAN Edge
  • SD-WAN Controller
  • Service Orchestrator
  • SD-WAN Gateway
  • Subscriber Web Portal

Using the generalized MEF LSO Reference Architecture from Figure 2, we can overlay each of the SD-WAN Service Components to understand their placement in the architecture and the associated LSO RA interfaces with which they must interact. To simplify the discussion, this paper will only discuss a single provider domain and thus not discuss the Sonata and Interlude interfaces which are used for inter-provider communications.

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SD-WAN Managed Service Use Cases in the LSO Reference Architecture

A number of use cases support the development of implementation of SD-WANs.

Click here for additional details on SD-WAN Use Cases.


While the networking industry is embracing SD-WANs but SD-WAN terminology, deployment scenarios, solution architectures, and open, standardized APIs have yet to be standardized. A common SD-WAN vernacular would enables buyers, sellers and users to more effectively communicate requirements and intent while open, standard APIs facilitate and accelerate SD-WAN implementations. SD-WAN benefits for service providers and subscribers are many. CSPs and MSPs are working towards introducing SD-WAN managed services to address enterprises’ desire to outsource their managed network services.

MEF views SD-WAN managed services as a specific use case delivering on its Third Network vision of agile, assured and orchestrated connectivity services. MEF has created SD-WAN service projects to educate the market and build reference implementations using open, standard LSO APIs. This paper introduces some of this work. More will be introduced including Proof of Concept showcases demonstrating different SD-WAN reference implementations using LSO APIs plus additional market education through webinars, white papers and workshops at industry events.


Resources For Evolving To Third Network Services

MEF has published a series of white papers to help CE service providers make a smooth transition to Third Network services that are orchestrated and assured over combined physical and virtual networks.  These include: