First, they’re offering managed services by working with equipment vendors to deploy equipment into end-user customer enterprise networks. This is very similar to a managed customer premises equipment (CPE) instance where the service provider manages the SD-WAN service for the customer. While this is now the most familiar managed services approach involving SD-WAN, it does require the installation of devices at head-ends and customer branch offices, sometimes out of the operator’s footprint.

Second, they’re combining SD-WAN with network functions virtualization (NFV) to build overlays using traditional broadband access to the edge of the operator’s network, either at an E-NNI or an internet POP. (This approach is popularly called ‘vWAN’.) By tunneling their out-of-footprint traffic back to their network interconnects, operators get around the need to build more head-ends to aggregate offnet traffic and manage remote CPE devices.

The growing popularity of SD-WAN services and the availability of gigabit internet is creating a significant opportunity for cable MSOs, wrote Heavy Reading contributing analyst Craig Leddy in a recent post about broadband service changes for the cable market during 2018. “SD-WAN is the catalyst for a fundamental shift in cable’s relationship with business customers and its marketplace strategy,” Leddy wrote.

What’s the appeal of SD-WAN?

Broadly-speaking, SD-WAN is appealing to cable MSOs because:

It potentially helps them deliver feature-rich, differentiated services at the network edge.
It’s useful for better serving enterprise customers.
It’s a way to expand their service areas, with the opportunity to establish a nationwide presence.
That last point is worth looking at more closely, because hybrid SD-WAN in particular (adding SD-WAN options to existing links or broadband circuits) allows business service providers to serve regional and national customers with branch offices outside the footprint typically serviced by more traditional Type-II circuits (using circuits from another provider to complete end-to-end service delivery). This means cable MSOs can compete nationally outside their existing footprint, against each other or incumbent telcos.

There are a couple of ways to make that happen:

Partner with value-added resellers (VARs) and cloud-based operators like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure to deliver these types of services to the end-customer.
Have the customer procure broadband services from a local access provider and attach the managed service appliance there with low-touch provisioning and automation; in this way, the operator builds SD-WAN service back into the cloud.
SD-WAN also allows applications to choose the best path based on network availability and performance. By using a combination of metro Ethernet, broadband, and leased line services, application performance can be affected by a combination of latency, jitter, and bandwidth constraints. As the methods of access into the cloud become more diverse and disparate, it becomes more important for operators to understand all aspects of network and application performance; without this understanding, it isn’t possible to properly manage the customer experience.

Customer experience assurance and SD-WAN

However, when an operator goes outside its footprint, visibility into network performance and customer experience can be a challenge. For service assurance to scale with cable MSOs as they branch out into new service areas in this way, it must be flexible and able to easily deploy across diverse infrastructure. Being vendor agnostic and virtualized will make the process of deploying end-to-end SD-WAN service assurance much easier.

Accedian’s SkyLIGHT suite of solutions can provide end-to-end visibility into the SD-WAN service with the flexibility of the various topologies that will emerge as SD-WAN evolves. Using Accedian’s years of experience in the service provider environment and recently added layer 4-7 monitoring and reporting for network and applications performance, operators can fully assure that their network and cloud-based services are meeting agreed performance objectives. Most importantly, they can confidently control the end-user customer experience.