On the surface, it would seem as though Comcast Business is a bit late to the SD-WAN party, but Wednesday's launch illustrated its measured approach to SD-WAN in particular and SDN in general.
Comcast Business' SD-WAN service is available as a VNF on its SDN-enabled ActiveCore platform that will include more VNFs -- such as unified threat management, advance security and WAN optimization, among others -- down the road.
While a host of service providers -- including AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink and Level 3 Commutations to name just a few -- already have skin in the SD-WAN game, Comcast Business' Kevin O'Toole, senior vice president of product management, said his company's offering is different on several levels.
Comcast Business' SD-WAN service is a fully hosted, fully orchestrated solution that is paired with the service provider's DOCSIS 3.1-based gigabit service, which will be available across Comcast's entire footprint by the end of the year.
The other differentiator for Comcast was its decision to not offer MPLS services to its customers, which most of the telcos have done. That gave Comcast a clean slate when it started developing its SD-WAN service.
"One of the things we like about the opportunity here is that SD-WAN and gigabit were born to go together," O'Toole said. "They are like chocolate and peanut butter. When you are doing gigabit in the last mile, it changes the conversation. We love the fact that we don’t have to deal with a lot of stuff in the rearview mirror. We don't deal with the MPLS stuff and we don't have to deal with the any legacy TDM.
"We think it gives us a pretty unique voice in the market where we can stand and point to where the industry is going and not talk about where it has been."
With that said, O'Toole explained that Comcast Business recognized that there's going to be a hybrid WAN phenomenon where customers will need a bridge out of the old MPLS world and into the new SD-WAN world. For example, the SD-WAN service can switch between a customer's MPLS and the SD-WAN IPsec tunnels to do routing and prioritization of applications if an MPLS link goes down.
"We're going to be very supportive every step of the way to make sure those hybrid WANs function," he said. "But we think the world is going to SDN and that's what we want to stand for."
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Like competing SD-WAN services, Comcast Business delivers bandwidth to branch offices across multiple locations, but can do so at scale with its last-mile gigabit service. Comcast Business SD-WAN blends secure IP-VPN, application-aware routing and network firewall together.
"It's an integrated package," O'Toole said. "We don't unbundle the router and firewall so when you buy SD-WAN from us, you get the software router and the software firewall. It's one skew for us."
Comcast Business' SD-WAN service also benefits from Comcast's ability to operate on a large scale, which includes its nationwide backbone, cloud environment and capability to innovate on CPE, O'Toole said.
Once customers board the ActiveCore platform, they can tap into a mobile app for their iPhone and Android devices that gives them near real-time visibility into what is going on with the SD-WAN services in their networks.
"We really wanted to take a forward-looking view of this focused on orchestration, gigabit speeds and a really wonderful digital experience," O'Toole said. "Being between gigabit and SDN, we're in a generational moment in the industry where a whole lot of things are going to change. I think everyone walking into this should have a pretty good degree of humility on how it's going to play out."
O'Toole said that following the SD-WAN beta trials, which spanned verticals such as hospitality, retail, sports, medical and automotive, Comcast Business is already serving multiple customers -- some with nine or ten branch sites -- and "we're talking to very large name brand customers."
Aside from the SD-WAN technology -- Comcast Business's vendor of choice is Versa Networks -- O'Toole said his team learned a lot about what customers want from SD-WAN and SDN.
"In our beta journey, those discussions gave us very specific feedback on things that we hadn't thought about before," he said. "My team and I say we have this roadmap with the VNFs I mentioned, but we're focused on listening to our customers. I will assure you that some of what we're thinking about right now will be replaced by what our customers say they really want to make this platform hum. The beauty of software is that it's agile, and we intend to be just that."
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation