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ADVA Stuffs a Cloud Into Verizon's uCPE

Craig Matsumoto
5/16/2017
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Big Communications Event -- ADVA is revealing today that its software is at the heart of the universal CPE that Verizon recently announced. That software includes a bit of OpenStack, bringing the cloud platform all the way to the customer premises.

The OpenStack deployment is part of Ensemble Connector, the ADVA Optical Networking (Frankfurt: ADV) software that powers the Verizon uCPE. The uCPE is an otherwise generic-looking box, a plain server running Linux and the KVM open-source hypervisor. Ensemble Connector gives the uCPE the brains to act as NFV infrastructure (NFVi), the hosting platform for virtualized network functions (VNFs).

And the OpenStack piece packs cloud management into the server as well. It becomes a miniature cloud-in-a-box -- or an embedded cloud, as ADVA likes to put it.

What makes this unusual is that OpenStack wasn't built for the edge. It evolved with a cloud in mind -- big honkin' data centers in some far-off location. But Verizon, which presented the uCPE recently at NFV World Congress and OpenStack Summit, sees the potential to extend OpenStack into enterprise branches or even retail outlets, like a Starbucks.

"I can tell you: When we started OpenStack seven years ago, we did not think OpenStack would work in a Starbucks," said Mark Collier, chief operating officer of the OpenStack Foundation, during Monday's OPNFV workshop at the Big Communications Event in Austin.

Automating the CPE
Verizon's uCPE, which Vice President Shawn Hakl says is due to begin deployment soon, is a zero-touch appliance. Once activated, it "phones home" to download its configuration, meaning Verizon can ship the same blank appliance everywhere and deal with customization later.

"That changes the deployment speed from weeks or months to potentially overnight," says Prayson Pate, CTO of ADVA's Ensemble division. It also means Verizon or its enterprise customer can upgrade the boxes en masse.

Yes, you've heard of this before. The cable industry and even the SD-WAN world have taken to the idea of shipping self-customizing hardware to the customer premises. The difference with the uCPE is that it's an open design, Pate says.

The universal CPE is catching on. (It's the same idea as the virtual CPE we've been talking about, but more specific, emphasizing the white box nature of the hardware.) At BCE yesterday, AT&T's John Gibbons, lead member of the technical staff, outlined his company's ideas for the uCPE and suggested it could be the basis for an Open Compute Project standard. (See AT&T Wants OCP to Consider uCPE Spec.)

Verizon seems to have gone ahead and completed a uCPE, however. The carrier hasn't specified any dates, but ADVA's Pate believes deployment is imminent. "What they've said publicly is that they've got customers who refuse to take any more appliances," he says.

The smarter edge
Ensemble Connector itself is an alternative to Open vSwitch, the open source virtual switch, with extras such as OpenStack and Carrier Ethernet support available optionally. It runs in a container on one processor core in the server, leaving other cores free for hosting VNFs.

The compactness is nice, but it's the embedded cloud that makes the deployment noteworthy.

5G, fog computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the motivations for doing this. Low latency will be crucial to those applications, so carriers envision swarming the network with mobile edge computing (MEC), stuffing processors into edge devices, so they don't have to consult the cloud for every decision. Putting OpenStack in those devices would give Verizon a common control plane throughout.

"If you look at the way Verizon has talked about this as part of their Virtual Network Service (VNS), it's a cloud-centric model of networking. Now you can have a consistent model of cloud networking from the data center all the way out to the edge," Pate says.

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) is trying something analogous with Azure Stack, which uses a commodity server to extend the Azure public cloud out to an enterprise's data center.

"If you want to get the true benefits of this type of thing, you want a consistent platform to run on. That's what Verizon's trying to get," Pate says.

— Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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