Universal CPE (uCPE) is a flexible solution that can support all the network connections and functions an enterprise will need, however not all uCPE systems are equal. A key challenge for communications service providers is choosing the right uCPE systems to meet the current needs of an enterprise, and the likely future needs, without over provisioning and incurring the additional costs that would involve. Following the initial enthusiasm for uCPE there is now wide range of mature uCPE systems available from both OEMs and ODMs, and new opportunities to use systems based on the latest processors from leading vendors.
uCPE systems are generic network appliances that can be provisioned with virtual network functions (VNFs) to support the networking functions required in a typical enterprise office. uCPE systems are usually supplied and managed as part of a complete communications and cloud services solution. A uCPE system consists of a uCPE hardware platform and uCPE software, including operating system and network functions virtualisation infrastructure (NFVi) for provisioning and managing the VNFs. In this blog I take a look at the types of uCPE hardware available and the main processor options.
The processors used in uCPE platforms need to run similar software to standard server processors but they also need to support integrated networking interfaces and cover a much wider range of performance requirements. The first Intel processors to integrate Gigabit Ethernet interfaces were the Intel Atom C2000 family introduced in 2013. These processors have 2-8 Atom cores and support the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) for networking functions and Intel QuickAssist Technology for security and encryption acceleration. For more demanding uCPE applications Intel has subsequently introduced the Atom C3000 series with up to 16 enhanced cores and, in February 2020, the Atom P5900 Series with up to 24 Tremont Atom cores. Two alternatives to the Intel Atom processors for small uCPE systems are the Marvell Amada 8000 family and NXP LS series processors which have 2-8 ARM v8 cores (ARM Cortex-A53 or ARM Cortex-A72).
The Intel Xeon-D series are server-class processors with 4-16 cores and two or four 10GE interfaces. These are widely used in medium and large uCPE systems. The Xeon D-1500/1600 series processors are based on the Broadwell microarchitecture and the more powerful Xeon D-2100 series processors are based on the Skylake microarchitecture. Intel is expected to introduce a new generation of Xeon D processors based on the Ice Lake microarchitecture during the second half of 2020 which will provide a significant boost in performance. Alternatives to the Xeon-D processor are the AMD EPYC 3000 processor, which is used in a number of medium/large uCPE systems, and high performance ARM v8-based processors.
Source: Earlswood Marketing
uCPE platforms are usually a 1U rackmount or desktop chassis with a single 2-16 core processor. As shown above the processor is connected to SSD or HDD storage and a number of M.2 or other slots for WiFi and LTE or 5G wireless connectivity. In larger uCPE systems the processor is connected through an Ethernet switch to the network interfaces. uCPE systems have 4-24 Ethernet LAN ports and 2-4 WAN ports for Internet or MPLS connections.
AT&T has been one of the leading proponents of uCPE and the AT&T Open CPE Network Compute Platform Specification was approved by the Open Compute Project (OCP) Telco Project in 2017. This specification defines five Open uCPE models including micro, extra small, small, medium and large. The smaller systems specify Intel Atom processors and the larger systems specify Intel Xeon D processors. Although very few systems exactly follow these open specifications most of the existing uCPE systems are in alignment with one of models.
So, in conclusion, there is already a wide range of uCPE systems from very small desktop systems to 1U rackmount systems that are very close in performance to a single socket server. The next generation of uCPE systems with the latest Intel Atom or Xeon processors, AMD EPYC processors, or processors using ARM v8 cores, will support higher performance, greater integration and will be more cost effective for the most demanding uCPE applications. In the next blog I will take a look at the uCPE software options that allow communication service providers and enterprises to take full advantage of these hardware platforms.