Industry Voices—Raynovich: How SES is taking SD-WAN to space

SES's deployment of SD-WAN enables connections in hard to reach places such as oil rigs and ships. (SES)

Global satellite communications powerhouse SES recently launched a managed SD-WAN service, extending enterprise communications to its multi-orbit satellite networks. This is an important move that demonstrates the expanding applications of SD-WAN technology. 

It only makes sense that SD-WAN technology, whose power and popularity has been consistently underestimated, is now being extended out to satellites, which have the advantage of global coverage where terrestrial networks might not exist. SES says its services extending SD-WAN to its multi-orbit satellite fleet will provide new use cases such as terrestrial fiber trunking for network backup, seamless maritime connectivity, and IoT connectivity in the energy industry, to provide a few examples.

The key of the SES offering is that it's the first multi-orbit satellite integration of SD-WAN. SES is by most measures the largest satellite provider in the world, operating 50 Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) and 20 Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites that have different characteristics and capabilities. The GEO satellites orbit at approximately 36,000 kilometers and have latency of about 600 milliseconds, while the MEO orbit is 8,000 kilometers with latency of about 120 milliseconds. 

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SD-WAN integration with other networks, including fiber and mobile, means that connectivity can be managed as one logical asset, enabling applications to be automatically routed, secured, and optimized for the resources that suit them best. This will enable enterprise and service providers to use the satellite network as another access source for SD-WAN, which can bond and load-balance among many different types of access links, such as fiber, mobile cellular and Ethernet. 

By leveraging satellite, SES will use SD-WAN to build automated backup and load-balancing features into network access for maritime, energy, and commercial aero sectors. For example, SD-WAN can be used to build resiliency into terrestrial communications as automatic failover for fiber links. SES says its O3b mPOWER network has capacity rates up to 10 Gbps, including an IP transit service for cloud access. Another important area is IT maritime applications such as managing customer experience for passengers on cruise ships who want seamless internet connectivity hand-off between mobile networks on land and satellite access at sea. 

Another important area for satellite will be for IoT in manufacturing and energy industries. For example, an oil rig could use satellite networks to upload data to an IoT cloud service. In an interview with FierceTelecom last year, SES Networks CEO JP Hemingway explained how a satellite-enabled SD-WAN could be used to real-time data-driven decision making with its partner, IBM. 

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"These remote refineries or these remote oil and gas remote factories who can make smart production decisions by using IBM's technology," said Hemingway. "They're now able to access IBM's cloud so they can make decisions at the edge. And the edge can speak to the IBM cloud and update its algorithms when they need to. So it's a neat mixture of real-time and quasi real-time traffic over our cloud connectivity solutions."

SES, which announced its move into SD-WAN managed services last year, will be driving it with its O3b mPOWER MEO assets, which it purchased in 2016 with a nearly $1 billion investment. It has outlined the new SD-WAN use cases in a whitepaper on its website.

In its study, SES says that SD-WAN coupled with satellite will improve network reliability. It points out that research by Deloitte shows that improving resiliency and performance of network access can boost overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and economic growth. Farmers can use real-time data to maximize crop yields and outputs, for example, leading to 33% higher profits. Deloitte estimates that in low- and middle-income economies, firms in the manufacturing sector with reliable broadband internet access generate 6% more foreign sales than those without.

The expansion of SD-WAN into the multi-orbit satellite world is an exciting development and demonstrates the potential for multiple network assets and applications to be integrated using software-defined technologies. It shows how SD-WAN is expanding its market as a tool to improve network resiliency and efficiency. 

R. Scott Raynovich is the founder and chief analyst of Futuriom. For two decades, he has been covering a wide range of technology as an editor, analyst, and publisher. Most recently, he was VP of research at SDxCentral.com, which acquired his previous technology website, Rayno Report, in 2015. Prior to that, he was the editor in chief of Light Reading, where he worked for nine years. Raynovich has also served as investment editor at Red Herring, where he started the New York bureau and helped build the original Redherring.com website. He has won several industry awards, including an Editor & Publisher award for Best Business Blog, and his analysis has been featured by prominent media outlets including NPR, CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and the San Jose Mercury News. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him @rayno.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.

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