FINALLY: Metro Ethernet Forum defines standard for SD-WAN

International networking standards body metro ethernet forum (MEF) has published the industry’s first standard for SD-WAN. The MEF first floated the idea of an SD-WAN standard back in 2017, gathering requirements and feedback from SD-WAN industry luminaries (including hardware makers Cisco, Silver Peak, and Huawei along with managed service providers such as Colt and Verizon), and the long-awaited document finally delivers a common definition for managed SD-WAN services.

The MEF’s published SD-WAN standards document describes the requirements for an “application-aware, over-the-top WAN connectivity service that uses policies to determine how application flows are directed over multiple underlay networks irrespective of the underlay technologies or service providers who deliver them.” The goal for creating this industry standard is to enable service and technology providers to focus on providing a core set of common capabilities. From there, a wide range of companies can build on the standard for differentiated offerings, helping ensure maximum flexibility for customers.

Describing boundaries, not deployments

While the MEF’s publication represents significant progress to codifying standards for the wildly-popular technology of SD-WAN, it only describes the behavioral model—not the implementation. Far from actually telling an enterprise exactly how to deploy SD-WAN, the MEF is suggesting a common definition of the service. This is largely because every SD-WAN vendor speaks a slightly different language with their own proprietary vocabulary when it comes to the technology. As more vendors begin to speak the same common language about the technology, network architects, software engineers, and technicians can work inside that standard to deliver better managed SD-WAN experiences for customers.

An example real-world benefit of the MEF’s new SD-WAN standard: A wide array of companies can start building open standard APIs that support what customers and providers need to create automated provisioning. Although SD-WAN deployment currently takes only days or weeks depending on the complexity (as opposed to the months it typically takes to set up legacy MPLS networks through carriers), the MEF SD-WAN standard promises to enable deployments that can take minutes to hours.

In addition, the MEF standard promises to bring clarity to an already a well-known feature of SD-WAN: network analytics. The MEF SD-WAN standard also promises to define service attributes for application flow performance and importance, SD-WAN topology, and connectivity.

Provider and customer benefits

Although the majority of both SD-WAN hardware makers and service providers have signed onto the MEF standard, enterprises wanting to deploy these standardized SD-WAN components on their networks might have to wait up to six months due to the lead times required by original equipment manufacturers and industry supply chain logistics. However, for the managed SD-WAN service providers who participated in the MEF such as Verizon in the USA, Fujitsu in Asia, and Colt in Europe, their managed SD-WAN services will likely see solutions using those standards implemented much sooner.

Curious about how the MEF’s published standards will benefit your SD-WAN deployment? Connect with one of our consultants to learn more.