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SD-WAN and vCPE: Bust or Boom?

SD-WAN and vCPE enable service providers to tap into the power of SDN and NFV to seize new opportunities in the business or enterprise market. But commercial success relies upon more than the network, it also relies on the ability to scale operations. With the right approach, service providers increase their operational excellence and more fully use their networks to extend their market reach, serve more enterprises, and expand their service offers, while reducing their time to meaningful revenue.

Addressing new demands with SD-WAN and vCPE

Enterprises want more services for less cost. Many seek to reduce equipment costs by switching from expensive physical customer premises equipment (CPE) to software-defined WAN (SD-WAN) appliances and virtual CPE (vCPE). They want dynamic, flexible access to more services, such as security, public cloud, internet breakout, unified communications, etc., without being held back by rigid MPLS architectures. They also want faster response and lower support costs, which is accomplished with automation, shifting functions to the service provider’s data centers, and getting self-care capabilities.

Service providers want to address these demands by migrating their hardware-centric enterprise services to software-centric Dynamic Enterprise Services. With SD-WAN, providers overlay virtualized enterprise services on a physical network, even out-of-region using another provider’s access network. With vCPE, providers replace complex hardware-based, on-premises services with services delivered as part of a managed service offer that is integrated with the underlying transport network. For both, they enable new sellable services and automate setup and operational processes.

A well-designed Dynamic Enterprise Services solution enables service providers to:

  • Reduce their time to revenue by shrinking service integration timelines.
  • Serve more customers, by addressing a broader variety of enterprises and by improving provisioning efficiency.
  • Easily add new services for installed base upselling. Services such as voice, security, collaboration, etc., are easily deployed using Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) and orchestration.
  • Dramatically improve their operational excellence with analytics, automation, and closed-loop operations per TMForum Zoom.

Deploying SD-WAN and vCPE: Challenges for operators

Most service providers aren’t set up for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). For example, the deployment of SD-WAN and vCPE brings challenges to every part of the service provider’s business. An October 2016 paper by ACG Research analyzed 14 challenges that service providers must solve when deploying Dynamic Enterprise Services. Briefly stated, these 14 challenges are:

Business challenges

  • Increasing revenues: Service providers need to reverse the trend toward flat and declining service revenues. Mobile services are reliable revenue generators but growing bandwidth demands and costs threaten profits.
  • Controlling OPEX: Complex and siloed deployments increase operating costs and reduce profits. Service providers must find ways to streamline and simplify their service operations.
  • Expanding the addressable market: The key is to reach more customers within an existing service area, connect new customers outside the traditional service area, and sell them more things such as voice, collaboration, security, connectivity to public cloud, internet breakout, etc.
  • Boosting service velocity: All service providers want to roll out services faster. They succeed by moving away from hardware-based, product-siloed services, which take months or years to launch.

Technical challenges

  • Customizability of solution: Service providers expand the reach and scale of their services by tailoring them for individual customers. They need solutions that are easy to customize.
  • Adaptability of solution: Service providers need the ability to modify and enhance their solutions. This includes performing tasks such as adding services and replacing VNFs.
  • Simplicity of solution: Complex solutions reduce profitability. Tools such as automation, standardization, abstraction, visualization and open APIs help service providers simplify their solutions.
  • Flexibility of deployment options: Service providers need to host functions on enterprise premises, in data centers, or on branch office hardware. Flexible deployment options help them reach more customers and keep costs in check.

Operational challenges

  • Scalability of solution: Service providers need solutions that scale in many dimensions, from deployment and instantiation to performance monitoring and assurance. Without calling on more personnel resources, the entire service lifecycle must operate at scale.
  • Service management and assurance: Real-time monitoring and management capabilities, which include analytics and closed-loop processes, help service providers meet service-level agreements and customer expectations.
  • Legacy OSS/BSS integration: Most service providers migrate to SDN and NFV in phases. To migrate economically, they need an efficient method that integrates the new system with the service provider’s existing legacy OSS/BSS.

Organizational challenges

  • Workforce skills: Networks based on SDN and NFV use new protocols, data models and open interfaces. Service providers need expert partners that can help their workers scale their productivity by developing essential next-generation skills and capabilities.
  • Organizational silos: Service providers want to embrace DevOps to improve reaction times and to roll out new services faster. To succeed, they need to break down silos that limit opportunities for their teams to collaborate.
  • Product silos: Many service providers build organizations around specific products and services. To become more agile, they need to build more efficient organizational structures and use virtualized services to support collaborative strategies.

Choosing the right SD-WAN and vCPE solutions

The best SD-WAN and vCPE solutions provide capabilities that help service providers address these 14 challenges. Here are key capabilities that every service provider should look for in evaluating solutions.

Scaling up operations

The only way to serve these new solutions is with efficient automation. It increases service velocity and the ability to sell, fulfill and assure more services to more enterprises. What’s needed are the scaled automation of:

  • Enterprise self-care, using portals or Customer Relationship Management (CRM), so they don’t have to wait to add, configure or change services.
  • Abstraction of details using open APIs and new visualization methods, which reduce complexity for the service provider’s workforce.
  • SDN’s centralized policy and control, which connects sites, branches, applications and services, shapes bandwidth to reflect changing traffic levels, etc.
  • VNF automated lifecycle management, including openness to third-party VNFs.
  • IP/optical network’s abstraction, automation and intelligent control for carrier SDN.
  • Service fulfillment and service assurance.

Rapid integration

Most service providers choose to integrate the new service into their existing OSS/BSS environment. Consequently, the ability to rapidly integrate the new solution with existing OSS/BSS is paramount.

Furthermore, service providers may have existing VNF suppliers, policy managers, or other elements, which they prefer to keep operating. Or they may require the flexibility that comes with an open system. The ability to do a rapid integration of such elements into the new system is a critical business objective.

Therefore, what’s critical for success is an architectural strategy that enables rapid, open integration.

Adaptable, robust, and scalable solution software

Flexible deployment options and suitable cloud orchestration are essential. VNFs may be deployed anywhere, and VNFs may also have to cope with diverse types of hardware, while providing carrier-grade performance.

Service providers maximize their reach and revenue potential with solutions that let them offer SD-WAN as a network overlay or vCPE as part of a managed service. Solutions that support a wide range of branch connectivity and managed network services can help generate new revenue. Solutions that support centralized or premises-based deployments address the needs of a broader range of enterprises.

Fulfillment and assurance

Service providers benefit from suppliers with significant real-world experience deploying, integrating and operating commercial-scale SDN and NFV deployments. This experience helps service providers evolve their service fulfillment and assurance processes to address the scale, demands, and expectations associated with virtualized services.

Service fulfillment

The clear separation of hardware from routing and service control in SDN and NFV makes it possible for service providers to reduce operational costs while launching innovative new services. Service providers need to support the new complexity of virtual and physical network elements, handle the anticipated volumes of enterprises, and manage the variable service mix of Dynamic Enterprise Services.

To achieve the promised cost reductions, service providers need an integrated approach that uses a scalable, catalog-based fulfillment system, with automated orchestration.

Service assurance

Service providers face new service assurance challenges when they deploy SD-WAN and vCPE services. For example, they need to collect, correlate, and aggregate data across a service chain that spans physical and virtual resources in a variety of locations. Automation is essential with dynamic services, because the ability to analyze and manage the service experience in real time is required.

Service providers keep costs in check and customers happy by enhancing assurance with automation and analytics, for processes such as fault and event management, service-level agreement monitoring, network and service testing, and performance management.

A look ahead

Service providers realize meaningful business results from Dynamic Enterprise Services, including SD-WAN and vCPE, by solving the scaling challenges in operations and the network. They achieve scale through a careful, structured assessment of the fourteen challenge points listed above, and by applying the tools of automation, integration, openness, and robust software. Nokia supports this scaling with our Dynamic Enterprise Services solution, which is a turnkey solution that fully integrates the network, service, business and operational layers, and includes rapid, open integration for the inclusion of other vendors’ elements. Its integration architecture enables the solution to be readily integrated into existing OSS/BSS environments, for which we offer help with our Consulting Services and Transformation Services.

Edmund Elkin

About Edmund Elkin

Ed’s passion is market development, which for him these days means the 5G core. Based in Naperville, Illinois, he is enthused about what’s next for telecom that helps improve people’s lives and their societies. Previous experiences include AT&T and the US Navy. He holds Bachelor and Master degrees in Electrical Engineering.

Tweet me at @EdElkin1

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