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Interview with Susan White, Head of SDN/NFV Strategy and Marketing, Netcracker.
4 Oct 2019
MEF recently published MEF 70: the standardized definition of SD-WAN services and their attributes. Combined with MEF 55—the LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) Reference Architecture—these standards empower service providers to deliver managed SD-WAN services to their enterprise customers using multiple SD-WAN vendor solutions, while supporting limitless numbers of customer sites.
Managing multiple SD-WAN vendor solutions is an increasingly relevant challenge for service providers in the SD-WAN services market. They need to provide combinations of best-of-breed, customer-preferred SD-WAN solutions in a global context. These solutions must support individual and ever-more complex enterprise requirements, as enterprises transform their business to compete in the digital economy. Enterprises are prioritizing the ability to: 1) self-configure the SD-WAN service in real-time, 2) visualize the performance of the service as well as 3) leverage the power of NFV.
To gain further insight into these opportunities, Daniel Bar-Lev, Director, Office of the CTO, MEF, discussed the topic with Susan White, Head of SDN/NFV Strategy and Marketing at Netcracker. We chatted about her company’s participation in the MEF 3.0 Proof of Concept (PoC) ‘Orchestrated Virtualized Multivendor SD-WAN Services’ to be showcased at the MEF19 event, 18-22 November 2019, in Los Angeles.
DBL: Susan, please first tell us about Netcracker.
SW: Netcracker, a wholly owned subsidiary of NEC, provides service providers with innovative, cloud-based orchestration, OSS, and BSS solutions, that align with MEF’s LSO Reference Architecture using LSO open APIs to abstract away from legacy OSS/BSS. Our focus is to help our customers launch a compelling range of digital services and expand into new markets.
DBL: What’s the significance of this PoC?
SW: From our point of view, there are three important aspects to this MEF 3.0 PoC:
- The ability to simplify service-provider offerings that have multi-vendor solutions for SD-WAN and value-added services.
- Rapidly scale the service through end-to-end automation.
- Easily introduce and change SD-WAN and value-added services during the lifecycle of the service.
DBL: Can you elaborate on what you mean by ‘multi-vendor’ in ‘multi-vendor solutions’?
SW: Our service-provider customers are increasingly using more than one supplier of SD-WAN solutions. We exemplify this in the PoC, in which we have Silver Peak and Versa SD-WAN solutions—each supporting different value-added services (such as security and WAN optimization), used in an NTT-provided SD-WAN offer. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Quite often a service provider has to support customers with very different requirements and there isn’t one SD-WAN solution that ‘fits’ all requirements.
- An enterprise may have its own preference for a specific SD-WAN or value-added service vendor.
- As service providers and their enterprise customers consolidate through M&A, they well ‘inherit’ SD-WAN endpoint solutions from different vendors.
In our PoC, we are demonstrating how to simplify multi-vendor flexibility using a single orchestration platform, as well as uCPE, to host multi-vendor SD-WAN and value-added services delivered using VNFs—so there is no dependency on hardware.
DBL: Does that mean these vendors interoperate at the data plane in a standardized way?
SW: That’s not our experience. What we are seeing is, instead of standardizing interoperability ‘east-west’ in the data-plane, vendors are beginning to adopt a standardized approach to the northbound interface of their SD-WAN controllers using LSO Presto APIs. This means that they develop standardized APIs once, which service orchestrators like Netcracker’s can use, simplifying integration and streamlining the service offering.
DBL: Tell me about the importance of scaling and how that is demonstrated in this PoC.
SW: SD-WAN services need to scale, not only to support enterprise global footprints, but also to support possibly tens of thousands of enterprise branches, offices, and mobile users. In fact, we are already seeing demand for support of huge numbers of IoT devices in the hundreds of thousands. The market is well familiarized with Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) for broadband services, in which customers plug in a box and it ‘comes alive’ automatically without any service provider truck roll. This automated provisioning is very important for SD-WAN services too, but it’s not enough. All the configuration of the SD-WAN service for thousands of endpoints has to be automated.
In addition, we also have to automate the provisioning of the service and its full lifecycle management, including assurance. There is absolutely no room for any manual processes, if you want to stay competitive in the market. And service automation starts from the user portal and flows down through the service APIs to the service orchestrator (using LSO Legato), and then through the network APIs (LSO Presto), to the low-level configuring of the SD-WAN and value-added service components. We demonstrate this in the PoC.
DBL: You mention the term ‘portal’. What does it mean in the context of this PoC?
SW: We’re demonstrating what we consider a very important aspect of managed SD-WAN services—a single window into the service offering that unifies all the multiple vendor solutions with a consistent digital user interface. The service provider can use this unified portal to add and configure new sites, set up policies, and get end-to-end service visibility through various dashboards. And through this portal, the service provider can also give varying degrees of control to its customers—from configuration to maybe just a view of how its services are performing. The portal is, from our experience, an important tool for service providers to increase their customers’ level of trust and confidence, especially when they are running mission-critical application flows and policies on the service.
DBL: I know you place a lot of emphasis in the PoC on value-added services. Can you elaborate?
SW: We’re all familiar with the term ‘service chaining’ of VNFs. What we want to highlight in this PoC is the business outcome of using universal CPEs, in combination with VNFs, in the SD-WAN service context. SD-WAN services are going to continually evolve within the lifecycle of the service. Customer needs change very quickly, and new capabilities have to be introduced into the service very dynamically. Using service chaining on the uCPE is an important aspect that we demonstrate in this PoC.
DBL: What is the digital marketplace aspect of the PoC?
SW: So far, the focus of SD-WAN has mostly been in the large enterprise segment that typically has unique requirements, which leads to ordering times lengthened by extensive interactions between the pre-sales teams of the service provider and the IT department of the large enterprise customer. In contrast, very large numbers of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB) have very clear and standard requirements that can be supported with standard product packages. This is where the digital marketplace comes into play as it’s more of an e-commerce platform with a very intuitive interface that can cater to this very large SMB market, enabling customers to select, purchase and activate SD-WAN services.
However, we are finding that large enterprises are also interested in this approach—not as way to purchase services from the service provider—but as a more efficient internal tool for various departments of the large enterprise organization (or national or regional offices) to purchase their own services with internal pricing.
DBL: Sue, what would you like to see as an outcome of this MEF 3.0 PoC?
SW: All of the participants in this PoC would like to see service providers that are in a similar position to NTT—that are already offering, or plan to offer, multivendor SD-WAN and value-added services—talk to us at the MEF19 event and, afterwards, to understand the template for multi-vendor SD-WAN services and the various capabilities demonstrated in this PoC. As well as, how they can use this template to create their own multi-vendor SD-WAN services, scale them, and differentiate their offerings with a digital user experience. I would also encourage them to read our MEF 3.0 PoC (102) White Paper .