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Setting the Standard for SD-WAN

WAN Summit

By Jayne MillerJul 19, 2019

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SD-WAN technology is evolving rapidly. With new technological developments, service offerings, and marketing promises, how does the industry start to sing from the same songbook? And how do consumers wade through ever-changing tech speak?

MEF—the industry association comprised of companies that share an interest in connectivity services—has these questions on their mind.

In late May, the consortium released a final draft standard that seeks to clearly define an SD-WAN service and its various attributes. The organization is planning to formally publish this standard during its Annual Members Meeting in late July.

MEF CTO Pascal Menezes was kind enough to sit down with us to discuss the new standard, its relevance to enterprise users, and next steps for SD-WAN standardization and market development.

JM: Thanks for taking the time to dig into this technical document with us. To start, could you tell our readers what exactly is included in this SD-WAN standard?

PM: Sure. MEF’s SD-WAN Service Attributes and Services standard (MEF 70) describes requirements for an application-aware, over-the-top WAN connectivity service that uses policies to determine how application flows are directed over multiple overlay networks irrespective of the underlay technologies or service providers who deliver them.

We define service attributes that describe the externally visible behavior of an SD-WAN service as experienced by the subscriber. We also define the rules associated with how traffic is handled and key technical concepts and definitions like an SD-WAN UNI, the SD-WAN Edge, SD-WAN Tunnel Virtual Connections, and Underlay Connectivity Services.

JM: Why is this something that MEF wanted to do?

PM: We set out to define an SD-WAN service to address a big obstacle impacting SD-WAN adoption: the lack of common language and terminology among ecosystem stakeholders.

We set out to define an SD-WAN service to address a big obstacle impacting SD-WAN adoption: the lack of common language and terminology among ecosystem stakeholders.

This work is a key part of our initiative to define, deliver, and certify dynamic and assured communications services across automated networks worldwide.

Today’s SD-WAN market shares similarities to the early days of the Carrier Ethernet (CE) market before standardization and certification took hold. There is a lot of excitement about performance/price advantages and greater flexibility—but there is also a huge need for education and alignment on terminology to increase market efficiencies.

Standardization will enable all industry stakeholders to use the same vocabulary when buying, selling, and delivering SD-WAN services. And we expect standardization will help accelerate SD-WAN market growth. This is exactly how MEF drove creation of today’s $80+ billion global CE market. 

There is lot of excitement about performance/price advantages and greater flexibility—but there is also a huge need for education and alignment on terminology to increase market efficiencies.

JM: With that in mind, how long do you think it will take for the industry to align on standards? And how will you measure that?

PM: Different service and technology providers will have their own pace, but I think companies will want to align to the standards because of the confidence that this helps instill in customers. 

I think companies will want to align to the standards because of the confidence that this helps instill in customers. 

We already have dozens of service provider and technology companies who have voiced support for our work and contributed to standards development. This includes players like Comcast Business, AT&T, CenturyLink, Orange Business Services, Verizon, Fujitsu, Nokia/Nuage Networks, Cisco, Spirent, Amdocs, Silver Peak, and others.

We’re also starting to draw the attention of some big purchasers of WAN services. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with the technical leaders of one of the largest buyers of connectivity in the world about aligning on MEF SD-WAN terminology, similar to what they have done with MEF-defined CE. 

As far as measurement goes, another important part of the story will be SD-WAN certification that leverages our experience in certifying CE worldwide. MEF is on track to launch our pilot MEF 3.0 SD-WAN Certification program in 2019. This certification will test a set of service attributes and their behaviors defined in the SD-WAN standard and described in detail in the upcoming MEF 3.0 SD-WAN Service Certification Blueprint.

JM: Does the MEF standard deal with interoperability among SD-WAN technology vendors?

PM: No. We want to be clear that we’re not creating SD-WAN protocols for vendor equipment interoperability standards. We’re focused on defining an SD-WAN service with its attributes and policies that describe aspects of the SD-WAN service behavior or capability. This is regardless of how the provider or their SD-WAN vendor implements the service.

JM: How about security. Can you elaborate on where that fits in?

PM: SD-WAN benefits end customers by enhancing their applications network traffic. The appetite to combine application protection with network efficiency is high. Hence, MEF is focused on defining the first standard description of a security service. Security done wrong actually could negate SD-WAN benefits in speed and availability.

Among other things, we’re defining threats, security functions, and security policy terminology and attributes. We’re also describing what actions a security policy should take in response to certain threats.

MEF’s current SD-WAN Application Security Services project defines the policy criteria and actions to protect applications—application flows—over an SD-WAN service. Among other things, we’re defining threats, security functions, and security policy terminology and attributes. We’re also describing what actions a security policy should take in response to certain threats.

The threats being addressed can come from within the SD-WAN subscriber’s network or externally from the internet when connecting to public clouds and other internet hosts. One key area the project is addressing is defining zones whereby the enterprise subscriber defines a grouping of subnets, using business function naming, and where unique security policies are applied. 

Examples include a point-of-sales (POS) terminal zone. This is where POS terminals are segregated from the rest of the network to protect payment transactions connecting to a data center from being scanned and having information stolen. 

Another zone could be a guest Wi-Fi zone where visitors are allowed access to the internet, but are segregated from the corporate network. For each zone, security policies would be applied for various defense postures.

JM: So then what’s next for SD-WAN standardization?

PM: We’ve already begun work on the next phase of SD-WAN standardization – MEF 70.1. This work will cover things like complex service attributes related to application business importance and prioritization, connectivity to private/public cloud services, and underlay network characteristics.

We’re also progressing other standards work on application security, intent-based networking, and Lifecycle Service Orchestration APIs for SD-WAN services.

If this is of interest to your readers, MEF’s Enterprise Advisory Council (EAC) is an excellent opportunity for enterprises to learn more about, and influence, MEF work related to SD-WAN, application security, service automation, and other initiatives. The EAC is as a collaborative council of leading enterprises designed to strengthen the channels of communications among end-users, service providers, and vendors involved in digital transformation initiatives.

We have a limited number of seats remaining open on the council for large to multi-national enterprises, and participation is free. Enterprises can learn more about this program by contacting eacinfo@mef.net.

We also encourage service end-users to attend our MEF19 networking event  at the JW Marriott LA LIVE in Los Angeles November 18-22. We’ll have a special track on Tuesday afternoon on “Empowering Enterprise Digital Transformation with MEF 3.0.” This effort is supported by the WAN Summit team, which includes TeleGeography and Capacity Media. SD-WAN will be a major focus of the program content, as well as the popular MEF 3.0 PoC Showcase.

 

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