PARIS -- MPLS, SDN and NFV World Congress -- Orange Business Services has begun offering a "universal CPE" to customers as part of its deployment of on-demand services based on investment in SDN and NFV technologies.
Strictly speaking, the universal CPE offering is at trial stage, but those trials are with "real customers," says Stephane Litkowski, a network architect with Orange, and represent "a kind of early service availability."
Speaking at this week's MPLS, SDN and NFV conference in Paris, Litkowski said the operator's goal is to launch a global service next year.
The need to develop a universal CPE -- essentially a next-generation CPE incorporating virtualization capabilities -- has received a lot of attention at the French operator, which last July said its ambition was to introduce the technology by the end of this year.
The universal CPE would be a platform for new types of virtualized service. Orange Business Services has also spoken about using it to replace all of the 400,000 CPEs it currently maintains at customer sites worldwide.
"The goal is to provide complementary services but not replace what we are doing in the network," Litkowski told attendees at the event today. "We know that doing WAN [wide area network] optimization in the network does not make sense and that it needs to be at the customer site."
But the development of a universal CPE has proven far from straightforward. Last year, Orange complained that solutions from most vendors were still too expensive and that it also needed something "powerful enough to add services virtually without having to change the box."
Having issued a request for information at the start of the year, Orange says it has now been in consultations with about 20 suppliers on the universal CPE project. "The market is complex -- there are lots of vendors and lots of ways of thinking about this," says Litkowski.
Nevertheless, two trials are currently underway with actual customers, although Orange has not divulged details of the vendors it is using.
In one, Orange is looking into service chaining with three virtual network functions (VNFs) -- one for standard routing, another for security and another for WAN optimization.
Meanwhile, a separate trial is focused on intelligent routing. "It's looking at how I can put critical traffic on one network path and non-critical traffic on another," explains Litkowski.
The update follows Orange's rollout of network-as-a-service offerings under the Easy Go brand last year. (See Orange Plots Mass Network-as-a-Service Rollout, Orange Plots Wider Rollout of NFV for SMEs and Orange Unveils NFV-Based Offering for SMBs.)
The broad objective of the move, which has enormous implications for Orange's future business model and modus operandi, is to satisfy growing customer demands for speedier service delivery and more control over the applications they use.
The first services introduced under the Easy Go brand have focused on network security, covering functions like firewalls, web filtering and application security control, but Litkowski says the operator is working to introduce new features, as well as extend coverage.
"We now have service availability in 75 countries but the footprint is increasing and more service options are coming," he says.
Earlier this month, the telco revealed plans to launch an SD-WAN offering late this year in partnership with complink Riverbed Technology Inc. (Nasdaq: RVBD), whose SteelConnect software will be integrated with the Easy Go platform. (See Orange Adds SD-WAN to Hybrid Net Strategy.)
Besides using SDN and NFV to address new customer demands, Orange also wants to take advantage of the technologies for internal efficiency purposes.
One "pain point" on the infrastructure side, according to Litkowski, is the issue of lifecycle management. There are so many "dependencies," he explains, that managing upgrades in specific areas usually necessitates lots of communication with and between different vendors.
The hope is that Orange will be able to work in a more independent manner in future, says Litkowski.
— Iain Morris, , News Editor, Light Reading