Comcast Beta-Testing SD-WAN Offering In Collaboration With Versa Networks

Comcast is beta-testing an SD-WAN product that will pair its high-speed connectivity offerings with SD-WAN capabilities in collaboration with Versa Networks.

The SD-WAN product, which is being beta-tested with a limited group of channel partners and business customers, unites connectivity and SD-WAN in a turnkey offering, Craig Schlagbaum, vice president of indirect channels for Comcast Business, told CRN.

Comcast's SD-WAN offering will be the first of several it plans to offer using its software-defined networking platform, which partners will be able to sell, said Jeffrey Lewis, vice president of product management leading the SD-WAN launch. Comcast chose Versa Networks' Cloud IP Platform for its SD-WAN offering because it needed a provider that could scale rapidly and operate in a multitenant carrier environment, he said.

SD-WAN is starting to replace the $10 billion MPLS market, which translates to an "enormous opportunity" for the channel, according to Schlagbaum.

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Comcast's combination of widely available broadband access and more than 1 million lit buildings around the country, combined with SD-WAN, is a more compelling offering than legacy T1 MPLS connections that many carriers still have in place today, he said.

"The network assets we have, along with scalable and economical bandwidth, make our [SD-WAN product] an attractive offering for customers to migrate off of MPLS in favor of SD-WAN," he said.

Expert Technology Associates (ETA), a telecommunications solution provider and Comcast Platinum partner, already is selling SD-WAN to its enterprise customers today via partnerships with pure-play SD-WAN providers. But the Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based company believes that Comcast's SD-WAN offering could be a great fit for at least 60 percent of its customers, said Bill Quinlan, founding partner of ETA.

"Customers are looking for a truly ubiquitous play," he said. "Comcast has a little bit of a leg up because they have the big bandwidth that these customers are looking at. Once customers get their hands on this, they aren't going to go backwards."

Many of ETA's customers using MPLS today for connectivity between their branch office locations are looking into SD-WAN. Because Comcast can offer Gigabit speeds, its SD-WAN offering will be especially attractive to businesses as they move applications to the cloud, Quinlan said.

Comcast's SD-WAN product will use its various connectivity options, depending on the service area, including broadband and fiber-based Ethernet services, as well as Business Internet 1000, Comcast's DOCSIS 3.1-based Gigabit internet service.

Partners offering managed services and business customers will have direct access to a portal to manage and control SD-WAN deployments and hybrid networks in real time. The offering can "interact and integrate" with existing offerings, which can help customers migrate some or all of their networks off their existing MPLS networks, Lewis said.

The SD-WAN product will not only be appealing to Comcast's agent partner base, but it will also help attract VARs, a new, untapped partner community for Comcast, Schlagbaum said.

"VARs have shied away from selling pure connectivity, but now with SD-WAN we think we'll attract a new group of partners that have historically not gotten involved with selling connectivity," he said.

While the SD-WAN product will target midmarket and enterprise customers, partners will be able to sell the software-defined products that will follow Comcast's SD-WAN service to their small-business customer base, Lewis said.

"Our view is the long play, he said. "Partners will be positioned to sell more virtualized services down the road beyond SD-WAN."

The new SD-WAN offering is painting Comcast in a different light because it shows the company branching out from its connectivity provider roots, said Drew Lydecker, president and co-founder of Avant, a Chicago-based master agent and Comcast partner.

"Now, [Comcast] is able to come on board and not only provide internet access for the SD-WAN movement, but also have an offering of their own, bundled with their connectivity, which is exciting," Lydecker said.

The SD-WAN beta will continue throughout the summer, followed by a rollout to both channel partners and customers later this year, according to Philadelphia-based Comcast.