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On March 14, Ovum analysts attended the first demonstration of symmetric intercarrier SDN orchestration on a live production network, held by Colt and Verizon. Both operators successfully scaled bandwidth on demand (with an approximate 15-minute lag time) to maintain streaming video quality across each other's networks, from their respective network orchestration portals. This is a notable technical achievement, but the main question is exactly how to scale and then sell this intercarrier SDN capability.

Verizon and Colt innovate, but also must commercialize

Software-defined networking's promise of network and associated network functions delivered as an on-demand service has already been realized by some operators inside their own IP or Ethernet footprints. But the industry recognizes that to grow, the as-a-service feature set must be delivered across hybrid network architectures and a multitude of carriers. This is because large enterprises use multiple carrier networks and multiple types of network services to ensure global site and employee connectivity. Therefore, the more intercarrier orchestration, the better for the enterprise customer and the industry as a whole.

Verizon, Colt, and their industry standards partner MEF (as well as many other service providers) recognize this and are working to drive the proliferation of network-to-network interconnections with the appropriate APIs to facilitate technical standards and support SDN intercarrier orchestration. These standards will address not just network services integration but also, importantly, operational functions that support the technical service. Such back-office functions are essential for the enablement of intercarrier SDN and the ability of service providers to meet customer expectations, including service automation. Additionally, any such service must eventually encompass much more than bandwidth on demand. The ability to adjust bandwidth is just one feature made possible through intercarrier SDN: enterprises will require more functionality, including SD-WAN, to support their networks across multiple providers and service types.

But when will customers expect to adopt a broader set of SD-WAN technologies? Ovum's Enterprise Network Services Survey 2017 found that 34% of large enterprises in developed markets have trialed or deployed SD-WAN in some form, and another 30% expect to work with the technology within two years. While just 12% of enterprise respondents in the survey use true bandwidth-on-demand services today, more than one-quarter of enterprises expect to adopt the technology by the end of 2019. Demand is clearly there, and Ovum contends that many enterprises will take cross-carrier bandwidth-on-demand functionality as a given once the network-as-a-service mindset becomes the norm.

However, Ovum has also found that SD-WAN adoption is primarily driven by application visibility and performance requirements and not by on-demand bandwidth flexing, which can be disruptive to budgets. Verizon, Colt, and others showcasing intercarrier SDN-based bandwidth on demand will need to move beyond the bandwidth-on-demand feature and roll out other intercarrier virtual network functions, focused especially on security and application performance, that scale naturally as bandwidth flexes. Along with broader carrier adoption, this will require a level of collaboration and standards adoption within the vendor ecosystem that so far has been painfully lacking.

And once that becomes available more widely, will customers want such levels of control, or will they assume their network supplier will manage the complexity for them? Discussions with Verizon and Colt executives at the launch indicate they are keenly aware of these open questions and the need for further provider and vendor collaboration and standards adoption. There was agreement that customers want visibility, whether or not they take full control of all levers, and that intercarrier SDN orchestration could prove just as valuable in a "behind the scenes" carrier-managed hybrid WAN scenario as in an enterprise-facing managed services scenario.

Cross-carrier SD-WAN services growth therefore hinges on the same points as SD-WAN itself: scale, applications focus, and functional integration across a number of platforms from different suppliers. Colt and Verizon, with MEF's support, have taken a critical step toward addressing the technical challenges for bandwidth on demand, but this can only be the beginning of a very long journey.


Further reading

Enterprise Network Services Survey 2017, ENS004-000012 (January 2018)

Ovum Network Services Assessment: Verizon, TE0005-001014 (October 2017)


Evan Kirchheimer, Research Director, Enterprise Services

[email protected]