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MEF looks to SD-WAN standards with open APIs, orchestration framework

MEF has made the move to establish consistent SD-WAN standards for its service provider members through a set of open APIs and a lifecycle service orchestration framework.

MEF this week made public its first steps to standardize managed SD-WAN services with the announcement of its lifecycle service orchestration framework and open APIs.

MEF, once known as the Metro Ethernet Forum, was founded in 2001 to promote the use of carrier Ethernet. The California-based association now has more than 200 members, including service providers and networking companies such as Cisco, Juniper and Extreme Networks.

Underpinning the SD-WAN standards project is MEF's Lifecycle Service Orchestration Reference Architecture and Framework, which defines such functions as service ordering, configuration, fulfillment and billing. APIs are also being developed for eastbound and westbound interfaces supporting inter-provider communications.

MEF's intent, according to Pascal Menezes, MEF CTO, is that service providers will use this set of open APIs to adopt SD-WAN standards and create a consistent process of communicating among various SD-WAN components, including the controller, edge, gateway, orchestrator and user portal. MEF will not deal with proprietary vendor hardware or protocols, however.

"We're not involved in the standardizing of protocols or anything like that," Menezes said. "We're standardizing the orchestration API."

MEF's first SD-WAN standards project, Open Connectivity Services (OpenCS), aims to deliver use cases to show the capabilities of these standardized APIs for managed SD-WAN services. SD-WAN vendors Riverbed Technology and VeloCloud lead the OpenCS project, while other vendors and providers, including Huawei, Nokia Networks, Silver Peak Systems, Fujitsu and Versa Networks, have joined the project and contributed.

MEF isn't the only one pushing SD-WAN standards with APIs. The Open Networking User Group also announced an initiative -- the Open SD-WAN Exchange -- last year to develop and release APIs. ONUG intends to release its developed API at its upcoming conference in October, said Nick Lippis, ONUG co-founder and co-chair.

Industry now ready for a standards initiative

While SD-WAN took root in the enterprise, Menezes said, more service providers have incorporated the technology into their product portfolios as managed WAN services. Yet there are no common ways to address the operational and orchestration complexities associated with launching these services, Menezes said.

Industry consultant Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., said the industry has been waiting for an effort by some organization to release a set of SD-WAN standards.

"The idea that there could be symbiosis between SD-WAN and the interior infrastructure has been clear to anybody in the industry for a year," Nolle said. "But nobody has really stepped up and made that point as an official piece of doctrine."

Menezes said he believes MEF has the experience to push the project through. By now placing its focus on SD-WAN standards, Menezes said MEF can help its service provider members develop more robust offerings for their customers.

"That's where MEF plays a big role in the industry because it can now tie all these parts together and build it into a service that can be deployed and consumed by enterprise customers," Menezes said.

Establishing SD-WAN definitions

As part of the standardizations project, MEF issued a white paper that lays out definitions for managed SD-WAN service components and showcases various SD-WAN use cases. Ralph Santitoro, MEF distinguished fellow and principal author of the white paper, hopes the paper will establish common ways to describe SD-WAN features and capabilities.

"What we're doing in the white paper is saying, 'Here are some key functions that SD-WAN managed services must deliver in order to be called an SD-WAN managed service and to differentiate it from any other service,'" Santitoro said.

As more enterprise customers request managed SD-WAN services, more service providers will need to include those services in their portfolios -- perhaps for different reasons, he added. Larger providers will need to add them due to competitive pressures, while smaller providers can enter new markets without worrying about establishing networks since these SD-WAN services can run over any type of network. Regardless of who is offering the services, a standard approach will benefit both customers and providers, he said.

For now, CIMI's Nolle is reserving judgment. "I think it's technically highly relevant," he said about the group's effort to create a set of SD-WAN standards. "The question is whether the MEF has the credibility and the constituency to realize the benefit the technology could bring."

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