CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) has made another step in its virtualization journey by introducing a new fully managed software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solution.
Given the fact that SD-WAN service is most relevant to multi-site businesses like the retail segment, a key element of the CenturyLink service is providing simplicity in adopting SD-WAN.
CenturyLink's SD-WAN bundles all of the necessary elements including site connectivity, equipment, software licensing, configuration, performance tuning and monitoring with a management and analytics portal. A business customer can manage their own policies or have CenturyLink manage them.
While CenturyLink will provide necessary broadband or MPLS connections in its own territory, the reality is that it may be serving customers that have locations outside of its wireline footprint. To combat this issue, CenturyLink can manage connectivity from a wide range of cable and telco providers as part of an aggregated solution.
Eric Barrett, senior director of network product management for CenturyLink, told FierceTelecom that it can coordinate with multiple broadband partners to take the guesswork out of business customers' hands. Typically, a retail customer would have to coordinate with hundreds of different broadband providers to get connectivity for their locations to support SD-WAN, for example.
"We're putting together partnerships with third-party broadband providers," Barrett said. "If we can't give you MPLS or broadband access from our own network, we'll go out and find a better deal with a broadband provider and take on the management of that."
In addition to broadband, CenturyLink will deploy a software-based platform at each customer premise from Versa Networks and build a multi-tenant controller and director infrastructure at the POP (point of presence) level. All of this is then bundled into a SD-WAN bundle service package.
Additionally, customers can build standalone SD-WAN networks or pursue hybrid approaches that seamlessly integrate MPLS and SD-WAN connected sites.
But given the challenges of enabling a business to transition to SDN, CenturyLink is letting businesses engage in a proof-of-concept program.
Under this proof-of-concept program, CenturyLink will provide the customer-premise devices, access to a management portal and full customer support for up to five sites to showcase the benefits of using SD-WAN.
"The proof of concept is as much for our customer as for us," Barrett said. "A lot of customers are interested in this but because it's a new technology they are not ready to say 'hey, I have 1,000 locations, where do I sign?' and it's hard to understand it without a proof of concept program."
Set to be generally available in the third quarter, CenturyLink's SD-WAN service is in over 10 enterprise customer trials.
Barrett said that it will likely see a lot of customers continue to engage in proof-of-concept for SD-WAN over the next year.
"This allows businesses to test out the technology and get comfortable with it and then move forward," Barrett said. "We believe that the predominant thing we're going to see for the next six months to a year is people trying to get better understanding of the technology."
Besides the proof-of-concept, the other potential differentiator is the multi-tenant element of CenturyLink's SD-WAN service. This element allows a service provider to install a SD-WAN software device at a node and serve multiple customers.
"A lot of the other vendors that we have seen have chosen a non-multitenant model, which means for every customer you have to build a director and controller infrastructure for them," Barrett said. "What this means is you have to sell them managed hosting or colocation in a data center and if you're going regional you have to do that multiple times."
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