Universal CPE (uCPE) is a solution that, after more than four years of development, is set to take off in global markets beyond the early adopters. uCPE brings the benefits of network virtualization into the enterprise, using standard server technology with solutions developed for software defined networks (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV). In this blog, the first of a new series on uCPE, I take a look at why communications services providers and enterprises should invest in uCPE-based services and the business opportunities these are already bringing to the early adopters.
Enterprises vary enormously from small businesses to global companies, and may have a single location or be distributed across many sites, and yet each of these sites has the same fundamental requirements of connectivity, security and access to cloud or remote services. Today many enterprises use dedicated boxes for WAN connectivity, firewalls and LAN connectivity. A uCPE-based solution can replace some or all of these dedicated boxes with a flexible server system hosting multiple virtual network functions (VNFs) and remotely managed to meet current requirements at that location.
Many enterprises have moved to software defined WAN services (SD-WAN) where a communications service provider remotely manages multiple physical connections to ensure an agreed quality of service (QoS) without using relatively expensive leased lines. SD-WAN services typically offer a mix of high-speed Internet connections for accessing cloud services, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) connections for high priority services, and LTE or 5G wireless connections as a backup. Most SD-WAN services today are provided through dedicated SD-WAN boxes however uCPE systems can provide the same connectivity with support for additional services and flexibility.
Source: Earlswood Marketing
As shown above a uCPE system will support Ethernet Internet, MPLS and LTE/5G WAN connections, and LAN connections to local workstations, servers and storage. The uCPE is based on standard x86 or ARM processors and may be a branded or white box system. The uCPE software platform includes a Linux-based operating system and NFV infrastructure (NFVi) software to support the orchestration and management of the virtual functions needed at that location. The virtual functions will usually be managed by the communications service provider and can be best of breed VNFs or generic functions supplied as part of the uCPE platform. The virtual functions running on a uCPE system may include an intrusion prevention system (IPS), firewall, router, SD-WAN, VPN/NAT and switching.
First generation uCPE systems integrated Intel Atom or Xeon-D processors and can be easily characterized as micro, extra small, small, medium or large based on the processor and network interfaces. The next generation are more varied with new Intel Xeon-D processors becoming available and several white box uCPE suppliers integrating AMD or ARM based processors. A key challenge for uCPE solution providers and service providers is sizing the uCPE systems needed to support the likely functionality required at each location.
AT&T has been the leading carrier pushing SDN and uCPE. By September 2019, 75% of AT&T’s MPLS tunnel data traffic was under SDN control and the company’s AT&T Flexware uCPE-based service, launched in 2015 as AT&T Network Functions on Demand, is available in over 200 countries. AT&T Flexware offers small and medium sized uCPE systems and a large library of VNFs from leading vendors. AT&T has released code that is running today in AT&T’s production network for the open source disaggregated network operating system (DANOS) hosted by the Linux Foundation. The AT&T code will be supported by IP Infusion to accelerate the market adoption of uCPE solutions. Other carriers that are offering uCPE-based services include BT, Colt, Orange and Verizon.
uCPE solutions are now readily available and provide significant opportunities for both communication service providers and their customers. Enterprises can eliminate the need to buy individual networking devices and no longer need to directly manage these boxes. This should result in lower capital spending and reduced total cost of ownership, and, with the flexibility enabled by using virtual functions, allows them to upgrade their connectivity services as their business develops. Communications service providers can expand their service offerings beyond physical connections or SD-WAN, to include cloud services, networking functions, IT functions and on-premise network management, opening up new revenue streams.