2020 is still expected to be the year when universal CPE (uCPE) deployments move well beyond the early adopters. Several leading service providers have announced new, or enhanced, uCPE solutions during the last 6 to 8 months, and many others have been working on solutions. Second-generation uCPE platforms are already available and processor vendors will shortly be launching a new generation of processors using the latest silicon technology that will power third-generation uCPE platforms.
In my previous three blogs I explained why the time has come for uCPE and discussed the hardware and software components being used to build uCPE solutions. uCPE systems are generic network appliances that are provisioned with virtual network functions (VNFs) and can be used to replace multiple dedicated networking boxes in a typical enterprise office. uCPE hardware platforms are built around a single processor with Ethernet WAN ports for Internet, or MPLS, connections and Ethernet LAN ports for local connections. The benefits of software defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) are already being seen in data centers to deliver cloud services, and uCPE software platforms use the same building blocks to bring the benefits of network virtualisation into the enterprise.
uCPE-based solutions are now part of the standard services available from many leading communication service providers. AT&T’s FlexWare solution is based on small and medium uCPE devices that can be provisioned with a range of AT&T-certified virtualized functions including SD-WAN, routing, firewall, and WAN optimization. Verizon is developing second generation uCPE solutions for its enterprise solutions which includes support for virtual functions from leading vendors including Cisco, Check Point, Fortinet and Ribbon. Colt Technology Services has announced an enhanced uCPE solution hosting VNFs such as SD-WAN and firewalls. BT announced in February 2020 that it would build out its next generation of managed services using small and large uCPE devices with Intel Xeon D-2100 and Intel Atom C3000 processors respectively. Also in February 2020, Orange Business Services announced that it is developing a new line of uCPE appliances and NFV services.
Source: Earlswood Marketing
Now that there is a mature ecosystem of uCPE hardware and software solutions, attention is turning to optimising performance and delivering the best ROI. The first generation of uCPE hardware platforms were based on two processor families; the Intel Atom C2000/3000 processors and Intel Xeon D-1500/2100 processors. These processors are indicated in the Open Compute Project (OCP) Open uCPE list of models (micro, extra small, small, medium and large) and are shown in dark blue in the chart above. Most deployments so far have used these processors in small/extra small uCPE systems for branch offices and medium/large uCPE systems for main offices.
To address the need for cost-effective, small uCPE systems, a number of suppliers have developed uCPE hardware platforms using 2-8 core ARM-based processors from Marvell and NXP. These platforms are designed to provide the higher performance or lower cost than Intel Atom-based platforms. Several suppliers have also developed alternatives to Intel Xeon D-based uCPE platforms for medium/large uCPE platforms using 8 core AMD EPYC Embedded 3000 series processors and are looking at the 16/32 core Ampere 8140/8180 processors.
The next generation of uCPE hardware systems will be based on 7/10 nm processors. Intel has already introduced the 10 nm Atom P5900 series processors for mobile base stations and is expected to introduce next-generation 10 nm Xeon D processors during the second half of 2020. Amazon, Ampere and Marvell have already developed 7 nm processors for data centre applications using the ARM Neoverse processor architecture with up to 96 cores. 7 nm processors with fewer ARM cores for applications such as uCPE, are likely to be introduced during the next 6 to 12 months.
With uCPE-based solutions forming a key part of service provider enterprise services we should expect to see a significant growth in deployments through 2020 and 2021. As volumes grow, uCPE platforms will become more cost-effective and the introduction of new processors should lift the performance of medium and large systems, allowing them to run additional virtual functions. All the software building blocks needed for uCPE systems are widely available, together with a growing range of VNFs to support most enterprise networking applications. Future software developments will be focused on improving the efficiency of the NFVi platform, improving the network and platform management and easing integration challenges by making uCPE systems more open.
— Simon Stanley, Principal Consultant, Earlswood Marketing