Universal CPE (uCPE) solutions require software technology developed to implement software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) packaged onto cost effective server platforms configured to work with cloud-based services. The latest solutions are taking advantage of more than 10 years of development using a mix of proprietary and open source software to build flexible platforms. The key challenge in delivering the best uCPE solution for a combination of applications is choosing software components that will meet the functional requirements and run within the performance and memory constraints of the chosen hardware platform. This is a growing market and there are many hardware and software vendors that will provide complete system integration services using their own and third-party solutions.
uCPE platforms can be used to replace multiple dedicated networking boxes at enterprise sites from small offices to large office blocks and industrial complexes. In my last blog I reviewed the range of hardware options for uCPE platforms. Before anyone can select the right uCPE system hardware they need to understand the core software that will be running on the platform and the virtual network functions (VNF) that will be required for all the different physical locations to be covered. A micro uCPE platform will support just one VNF. Large uCPE platforms will typically support 4-8 VNFs. The most common VNFs running on uCPE platforms are virtual firewalls (vFirewall), virtual routers (vRouter) and software defined WAN (SD-WAN). Other VNFs that may be required include virtual Session Border Controller (vSBC) and virtual caching (vCaching).
The VNFs running on a uCPE platform may be best in class VNFs from leading vendors that are designed to run on any uCPE platform, or generic VNFs designed to provide basic functionality at the lowest cost and requiring the least system resources. Many system integrators will also provide core system software that integrates basic networking functionality including firewall and routing. This approach is less flexible but is usually lower cost and requires fewer system resources than using separate VNFs.
Source: Earlswood Marketing
The software running on uCPE platforms is usually a combination of open source and proprietary software. The diagram above shows a typical uCPE software platform with white box server hardware below and multiple VNFs running on top. Some VNFs may also run in the server provider cloud giving additional flexibility. The uCPE platform hardware may have ARM-based or x86-based processors and typically 8-64 GB memory and up to 2 TB storage. uCPE platforms usually have 2-4 Ethernet WAN ports for Internet or MPLS connections and 4-24 Ethernet LAN ports for local connections.
The software platform has four key elements; NFV infrastructure (NFVi), virtualization, containers, and network and platform management. The NFVi software provides the underlying infrastructure including carrier grade real-time Linux operating system (OS), Open vSwitch (OVS), single root input/output virtualization (SR-IOV) and Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) libraries to accelerate packet processing workloads. OVS is an open source, production quality, multilayer virtual switch. SR-IOV is a specification that enables multiple virtual functions to share a PCIe-based physical interface. There are many vendors supplying NFVi software solutions and several integrate optimized functionality including OVS to increase system performance.
VNFs are supported through a kernel-based virtual machine (KVM) virtualization solution or through a containerization solution such as docker. Most third party VNFs are now available for KVM or as containers. The network and platform management software handles the complete uCPE platform including the onboarding of VNFs. The network and platform management software may be proprietary or based on open source software such as OpenStack. Some uCPE solutions support the ETSI-defined open source framework for the management and orchestration (MANO) of NFV resources.
UCPE platforms must be evaluated as part of the complete solution including cloud services. There are many possible uCPE solutions using the software platforms and hardware systems that are readily available. Best in breed VNFs usually provide the best functionality and greatest flexibility but are likely to be more expensive and require more system resources. For many applications, platform software that integrates NFVi and basic networking functionality will be more than adequate. The biggest challenge in finding the best uCPE solution is ensuring the integration of software and hardware will deliver the functionality and performance required over a range of different location requirements. Unless you have significant resources available to evaluate the many possible combinations it is likely to be worth working with the hardware and software vendors that can provide complete system integration services using their own and third-party solutions.