Comcast Business today became the first major U.S. cable operator to announce a software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) play. Comcast Business chose Versa Network’s SD-WAN technology, and today it’s beginning a beta trial with plans to offer a commercial service later this year.
One thing that makes its move into SD-WAN different than that of other service providers is that Comcast Business doesn’t have to worry about cannibalizing its MPLS revenues as it doesn’t offer MPLS.
“Comcast always looks to the future,” said Kevin O’Toole, SVP of product management for Comcast Business. “MPLS is a backward-facing investment. We’re not going to do that.”
Instead, Comcast is timing its beta trial and subsequent roll-out of SD-WAN with its Docsis 3.1 upgrade. All the major cable operators have been working on the Docsis 3.1 protocol for the past several years. It will allow them to offer 1 gigabit speeds over their existing hybrid fiber coax (HFC) connections.
The company also offers a range of fiber-based Ethernet services across the country. Comcast’s SD-WAN overlay will handle a variety of Internet connections, including LTE.
“Any broadband Internet access media is a viable solution for connectivity for our SD-WAN,” said Jeff Lewis, Comcast Business VP of connectivity. “In our world we deliver that via Docsis in our footprint.”
Outside of its cable footprint, Comcast will offer the SD-WAN with the help of third-party broadband providers.
O’Toole said the SD-WAN from Versa allows mid-market and enterprise businesses to build virtual private connections to their applications at various private data centers and public clouds and still use their public Internet for less critical traffic.
“SD-WAN allows you to operate all this centrally and consistently on a universal CPE,” said O’Toole.
Versa provides the uCPE, “which is just a computer,” said O’Toole. “You push software loads on top of that box.”
Initially, the Comcast uCPE will function as an SD-WAN router and as a firewall. The service provider’s roadmap for the uCPE includes unified threat management and WAN acceleration.
Asked what else Comcast is doing in terms of network virtualization, O’Toole said, “There’s a ton of virtualization work going on in Comcast. We’re really building a hosted platform that will help orchestrate all the VNFs customers will need down the road.”