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The service, based on Cisco's IWAN platform, lets customers connect their branch offices with both MPLS and public Internet connections. Software-defined WANs (SD-WANs), which rely on SDN fundamentals that abstract network intelligence, are gaining traction as tools enterprises can use to cut telecommunications costs, while still ensuring mission-critical data is securely transmitted. Verizon is the first major U.S. carrier to offer a managed SD-WAN service.
Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research, said Verizon's decision to support SD-WAN is a significant validation of the nascent technology. He thinks the managed service will prove attractive to enterprises eager to reap the benefits of virtualization in the wide area network (WAN), but skittish about deploying SDN technology on their own.
"I don't have to select the vendor; I don't have to manage it; I don't have to deal with the technology," he said. "I'll let Verizon do that for me."
Shawn Hakl, Verizon's vice president of enterprise networking and innovation, said that the carrier chose the Cisco IWAN platform because the platform met both its customers' needs and its own scalability requirements.
The company has collaborated with other SDN and SD-WAN vendors in the past. Earlier this year, it tested a hybrid WAN service with Viptela Inc., saying it would offer the technology to selected enterprise users. The two companies presented a case study at the Open Networking User Group conference in May, illustrating how the service helped an unnamed Fortune 100 healthcare company achieve a more agile, secure network.
Verizon and Viptela both declined to say if they are still working together. Hakl said Verizon continues to work with a variety of partners in the SD-WAN space, and he anticipates additional launches will include products and services from other vendors. He said Verizon will also be rolling out a virtualized firewall service this fall that allows users to securely connect to the corporate network over the public Internet.
MPLS is dead -- long live MPLS
Doyle said that Verizon is wise to offer a managed SD-WAN service, even if it means decreasing customers' reliance on expensive MPLS links by shifting some of their connectivity to commercial broadband. In fact, he believes that carriers must offer SD-WAN if they want to capitalize on the evolving WAN market.
"They need to deliver improved value to their customers who are clearly looking at Internet options," he said. "Over time, MPLS will erode. But, if they're controlling that and they're offering the service, then that essentially solves the problem for them, because they keep the customer and they're offering a value-added service."
Shawn Haklvice president of enterprise networking and innovation, Verizon
Hakl said Verizon analyzed the potential impact of SD-WAN on the MPLS market and decided to embrace the technology, even if it means disrupting existing product sets.
"Ideally, if customers continued to expand their bandwidth requirements, and we kept putting in MPLS and MPLS grew indefinitely, there's a theoretical, potential benefit to Verizon," he said. "But this technology is disruptive in that it allows customers more choice at a given site, and we've never predicated our business on restricting customer choice -- that's not a successful strategy. We are about helping users meet business needs, [and] either we were going to do it, or someone was going to do it to us."
Globally, Verizon follows several carriers in providing managed SD-WAN. Singapore-based Singtel offers Viptela-driven hybrid WANs, and United Kingdom-based carriers Teneo and EssentialNET each offer services underpinned by Talari Networks' technology. Doyle predicts that within five years, all major carriers will likewise add managed hybrid WAN services to their portfolios.
Meeting business needs
Hakl said SDN's viability as an enterprise networking resource will depend on the degree to which the technology meets business needs.
"People just will not implement the technology for the sake of the technology," he said. "They won't implement the technology, because they have a preference for one standards body over another. They'll implement it because it solves their real world challenge."
Hakl wouldn't identify prospective customers, but did say Verizon is receiving a steady stream of interest from organizations evaluating Verizon's managed SD-WAN -- either for proof-of-concept or full-scale deployment. Verizon is pitching the service to large enterprises, but Hakl said North American and European public sector entities have also expressed interest.
The managed Cisco IWAN service is now available throughout the United States. Verizon plans to extend it to Europe, the Middle East and Africa by the end of the year.
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