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Virtualizing the Customer Premises

Simon Stanley
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Simon Stanley

Universal CPE (uCPE) solutions enable a new approach in which remotely provisioned virtual functions provide key network functionality and bring the benefits of virtualization to enterprise networks. A growing number of service providers are deploying uCPE platforms that support one or more virtual network functions (VNFs) for WAN connectivity (including SD-WAN), security, routing, switching and other functions. This approach supports WAN traffic optimisation and access to mission-critical cloud applications directly from branch and remote sites and delivers significant benefits to enterprises, including flexibility and control.

uCPE platforms are based on integrated multicore processors and have multiple Ethernet ports for LAN and WAN connections. VNFs are on-boarded and managed by uCPE platform software that provides a complete network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVi). The platform software may be built entirely from open solutions, including OpenStack, for orchestration or it may be a proprietary implementation that supports standard KVM-based or container-based VNFs. For smaller uCPE platforms, several companies provide integrated software platforms with WAN optimization, security and routing built in. The performance of uCPE platforms vary significantly from a single VNF and up to four Gigabit Ethernet interfaces to eight VNFs and up to 10 10GE interfaces.

Heavy Reading's new report, Universal CPE: The Ultimate CPE Solution?, identifies and analyzes the full spectrum of vendors delivering uCPE solutions, including hardware platforms, virtualization software and integration services. The report covers 18 vendors, identifying their key products and highlighting the advantages they hold for service providers and enterprise network operators. The report includes not only information on uCPE platforms, the multicore processors they are based on and uCPE platform software, but also offers insights into how the overall market and ecosystem is developing.

AT&T and Verizon are two of the leading operators that have been promoting the benefits of uCPE solutions. AT&T has developed its own uCPE platforms and the AT&T Open CPE Network Compute Platform Specification (Open uCPE) has been approved by the OCP Telco Project. Open CPE defines five models that roughly reflect the system sizes of the leading uCPE hardware platforms. There is significant variety in the detailed design of uCPE platforms and few directly match the Open uCPE specifications. uCPE hardware platforms are manufactured by many companies, including ADVA, Advantech, Ciena, Cisco, Dell, Edgecore Networks, Juniper, Lanner and Silicom. System integration services that can also include supplying and provisioning uCPE platform hardware are available from multiple companies, including ECI Telecom, Kapsch, RAD and Versa Networks.

Most uCPE platforms are currently based on Intel processors. The smallest systems initially used Intel Rangeley processors, but many are now moving on to the Intel Denverton processors. The larger systems have mostly been designed with Intel Xeon D-1500 processors; however, several are also supporting the latest Intel Xeon D-2100 Skylake processors. ARM is being chosen by some using processors from Marvell and NXP. We can expect more use of ARM-based processors in uCPE platforms going forward.

uCPE platform software includes operating system, virtualization, network stack and controller management. The virtualization solution is usually based on KVM, but some also support containers using Docker. uCPE software solutions are available from software specialists 6Wind, Enea and Wind River and from many other uCPE solution providers, including ADVA, Ciena, Cisco, ECI Telcom, Juniper, RAD, Telco Systems and Versa Networks. Many of the platform software solutions also support basic WAN optimization, security and routing functions for small uCPE systems. VNFs for SD-WAN, security and many other functions are available from a wide range of companies. This is a complex ecosystem with many vendors working with partners and directly with service providers and their enterprise customers.

uCPE presents a significant opportunity for system manufacturers, processor vendors, NFVi and VNF suppliers, system integrators and service providers. uCPE solutions cover a wide range of performance requirements. At the bottom end, the focus is on cost with some service providers pushing for costs as low as $200 for a basic hardware platform. The more capable small, medium and large uCPE platforms can provide huge flexibility allowing for future upgrades and enabling service providers to deliver new services very quickly. The uCPE market is expanding rapidly and service providers and their enterprise customers already have many options to choose from, including hardware platform, software and integration and deployment services.

— Simon Stanley, Analyst at Large, Heavy Reading

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