AT&T is looking within to broaden its SD-WAN reach, which will include the launch of the company's own network-based SD-WAN offering later this year.
AT&T mentioned its network-based SD-WAN service, which combines hybrid networking with multiple types of network access, in October when it announced the company's over-the-top SD-WAN offering last year, (See AT&T Boards SD-WAN Bandwagon.) AT&T worked with VeloCloud Networks Inc. on its initial SD-WAN service and is using VeloCloud's software for the network-based SD-WAN service that it's developing internally.
According to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, speaking on AT&T's first-quarter earnings call, AT&T is hard at work developing its network-SD-WAN product, which will allow the telco to cover more of the business bases.
"On the SD-WAN, yeah, it's real. It tends to be real down-market … and you should assume that we're developing the capability ourselves, because it's a viable offer down-market," Stephenson said according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the earnings call. "We're seeing some effect from it. It's not material yet, but we think it's a legitimate capability. We need to be there; we need to have it. And so up-market, the traditional VPN capability is always, we think, is going to be the enduring capability. But down-market, we're going to have to be prepared to compete with this kind of offering."
"Down-market" would include small-to-midsized businesses, as well as the branch offices of larger enterprise customers. AT&T's "up-market" SD-WAN is geared towards larger enterprises and includes multiple connectivity options.
To find out if the new SD-WAN capabilities mark a shift in AT&T's virtualization strategy or an addition to the existing one, Telco Transformation contacted Rick Hubbard, senior vice president of networking product management at AT&T Business. He explains how it fits into the company's goal of achieving 75% virtualization by 2020 and helping businesses meet their own goals by making it easier for them to evolve their networks from hardware-centric to software-centric.
Telco Transformation: Does this mean that AT&T has already begun the process of developing its own SD-WAN capabilities?
Rick Hubbard: Yes, we are expanding our SD-WAN offerings. There is potential for businesses large and small to benefit from this technology. It's a good fit for better utilization of bandwidth for small to medium type sites within larger enterprises.
We've been in the static SD-WAN space for a long time. Our IPSec solution -- AT&T SD-WAN-Static, also known as AT&T Network-Based IP VPN Remote Access (ANIRA) -- has 100,000 global endpoints.
In late 2016, we launched our dynamic AT&T SD-WAN over-the-top offer in collaboration with VeloCloud. This is a device at the customer premise, [it's]transport agnostic, [it] can support AT&T or another carrier's network, with policy-based routing for optimal use of two network connections. For a customer with similarity across sites and looking to deploy SD-WAN at all locations, the AT&T SD-WAN over-the-top solution may be a good fit. It's available in 52 countries.
TT: What about the current situation inspired the investment in developing your own SD-WAN capabilities now?
RB: We recognized the need for virtualization in our own network. We've invested heavily over the last five years, and we're planning to virtualize 75% of our network by 2020. Virtualizing our own core gives us credibility to do software-defined networking on the edge -- extending our work to the customer edge. After all, our core is our lifeblood, so by virtualizing that we feel confident about the edge.
Our emphasis on the importance of a hybrid networking approach guides our commitment to offering a diverse set of solutions and network access options to meet different enterprises' unique needs. To that end, those solutions are making it easier and faster for our customers to combine software-defined networking, widespread mobility and cloud-based services.
As a trusted advisor to our customers, we know their networks and are supporting their evolving needs. We understand networks aren't pure or uniform across sites. IT managers will be equipped to find a solution that's right for their business needs by demanding a virtually seamless customer experience, across various products, industries and regions.
TT: Which capabilities are you working on, and when do you anticipate that they would be ready?
RH: Later this year, we expect to launch our dynamic AT&T SD-WAN network-based offering. If a customer has multiple site types with varying reliability, performance and bandwidth needs, the AT&T SD-WAN network-based solution can be ideal. Our solution will offer an integrated customer experience and provide customers with flexibility, allowing a combination of SD-WAN sites with non-SD-WAN sites across a customer's WAN. It will connect SDN capabilities in our network to customer premise SDN appliances.
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TT: What does that mean for your customers? Can you talk about the impact of SD-WAN on AT&T's MPLS service?
RH: It's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Customers will be able to pick and choose which sites to implement based on site specific needs. In this solution, SD-WAN will be a virtual network function -- using VeloCloud software -- that will run on a designated AT&T FlexWare device. Since we believe most medium to large customers will keep critical sites on MPLS, we want to integrate the SD-WAN endpoints and the MPLS endpoints on to one network so they don't have to manage two.
Our growing SD-WAN portfolio only strengthens our MPLS service. SD-WAN and MPLS is not an either/or conversation, it's both. [See AT&T's Hubbard on Intersection of SD-WAN & MPLS.] Hybrid connectivity is essential. Customers don't want to run multiple networks. They will have all kinds of sites, but MPLS will be at the core of a lot of those networks.
We recognize some of our customers will adopt SD-WAN and want to help them optimize their networks and then manage the migration. Most customers will not move critical sites to all broadband Internet connectivity, so MPLS is still part of a viable SD-WAN.
SD-WAN works well with your existing MPLS network, but it can also replace MPLS at some sites. SD-WAN can be easily added to your existing MPLS network, by supplementing your existing MPLS with a broadband connection. This will give you the opportunity to scale your MPLS to suit your needs. It also allows the ability by application to choose the MPLS connection or broadband connection, or to have the SD-WAN feature pick the connection that provides the best overall network performance for that specific traffic.
SD-WAN allows customers to combine the reliability and performance of the MPLS network with the lower price of the broadband connection. At the most basic level, SD-WAN with multiple WAN connections enables businesses to get higher speeds at a lower price point across multiple locations, like branch offices. Specifically, businesses are supplementing or replacing MPLS connections with less expensive broadband connections.
Site types and more importantly, site needs, must determine the best fit. A recent study conducted by 451 Research for Cato Networks found that 62% of CIOs implementing SD-WAN and 56% of those planning to implement expect their MPLS investment to remain the same or increase.
TT: Beyond the current offerings, would you be able to share with us AT&T's vision for the future of SD-WAN?
RH: Our belief is that a hybrid networking approach can serve enterprise needs now and well into the future. Our customers continue to stress that they're looking to spend less on hardware and the network, and we're focused on developing solutions that can enable them to do so.
SD-WAN is key to helping many businesses large and small evolve their networks from hardware-centric to software-centric. It's most relevant as businesses move more applications to the cloud and look for ways to implement cost savings without sacrificing bandwidth and network performance across multiple locations.
— Ariella Brown, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation