Comcast Business debuted its managed SD-WAN service in 2017. The service provider selected Versa Networks SD-WAN technology and relies on a universal CPE (uCPE) approach to deliver the service to its customers. Going forward, Comcast is focusing on new opportunities to update its SD-WAN to meet customers’ growing expectations of the service.
According to Jeff Lewis, vice president of product management at Comcast Business, the most important aspect of Comcast’s SD-WAN offering is the orchestration layer. “The ability to provide multiple VNFs [virtual network functions] to a common uCPE is tantamount to success in the SDN world,” he said. “It’s not just an SD-WAN story, it’s really the SDN story.”
Comcast Business is currently working toward helping its customers run more VNFs along with its SD-WAN. This approach supports customers that want multiple options for services and applications including additional SD-WAN vendors and virtualized firewalls.
Lewis said the company is looking “very, very carefully at the structure of a universal CPE,” including cost points. He expects that Comcast will have a cost-effective, uCPE platform that supports multiple virtualized services within the first or second quarter of next year.
Then, shortly after or in parallel with the platform’s launch, Comcast is working to enable additional virtualized services that align with SD-WAN. Lewis was vague but said these are things that will serve as products unto themselves. “Some will require store and compute on uCPE, like a virtualized SPC [scalable process cluster] VNF, and we’re working with virtualized cloud-based WiFi.”
Versa Networks’ SD-WAN is a VNF on Comcast’s existing platform, which means Comcast has the ability to bring on additional SD-WAN VNFs. According to Lewis, “We are absolutely exploring the potential of adding others into the portfolio. But candidly, we don’t really see a need.”
Security is an application that is becoming increasingly important to enterprises when deploying SD-WAN. Comcast currently offers a stateful firewall as part of its managed service. But as the provider continues to virtualize its platform, there are ways it plans to upgrade its security offerings. It is in the midst of technical trials for virtualizing Layer 7 firewall capabilities as well as virtualizing unified threat management solutions to incorporate it onto the single uCPE platform. This is expected, said Lewis, to be in market trial before the end of the first quarter next year, with general availability expected before the second half of the year.
Comcast is focused on bringing all the virtualized services to a universal CPE appliance on the customer premises. Running all these VNFs locally, allows the provider to optimize on performance Lewis said. “Bringing those types of applications into the cloud and running them virtually on the cloud we believe is potentially dangerous in the near term because you really have to optimize performance on a customer-by-customer basis.”
Lewis sees the SD-WAN market as leveling out in terms of product. “We believe the game now kind of goes into the vein of who can execute [SD-WAN] with excellence better than anyone else. We believe the ability to support things like virtual CPE is very important.”
One of the ways Lewis says Comcast is seeking to execute its SD-WAN is in user experience. The provider launched a mobile app earlier this year. The app pulls API data off Versa controllers and from key infrastructure within Comcast’s underlay and transport services for display on its management portal. Unlike the desktop portal, which allows customers to make configuration changes the mobile portal, today, is read only.
Comcast is also releasing a set of customer-defined triggers in the first quarter of next year. Triggers provide customers with the means to interface network devices and manage network configuration and policy. With the customer-defined triggers, users will be able to react to the network devices and pieces that are important to them. The provider currently offers packaged sets of triggers that the customer can’t control.