27 Sep 2016

The continuing evolution of the vCPE

By Dr. Yuri Gittik - Head of Strategic Developments and Innovation, RAD

The emerging virtual customer premises equipment (vCPE) approach for business customers enables some of the functionality associated with conventional CPEs and other customer-located appliances to be virtualized and optionally relocated to other network locations. Most recently, a new understanding has evolved that broadens and widens its use cases and implementation options.

Firstly, there is now a consensus that vCPEs are not just deployable over a single architecture model but rather a suite of various implementation options, with and without virtualization at the customer site. The question currently being debated is how can virtualization be deployed most efficiently at the customer site.

Secondly, the telecoms industry now understands major vCPE use cases, which include IP VPNs, Ethernet services with virtualized capabilities and, somewhat surprisingly, SD-WAN as a carrier service. For many, the last of these three scenarios was unexpected, since the SD-WAN was originally designed for the enterprise alternative.


Where should Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) be located?


There are three types of architecture that can be employed to introduce virtualization:

A. With just a physical CPE (pCPE, without virtualization capabilities) at customer sites while all virtualization is located in the network/cloud.

B. With a universal CPE (uCPE, that enables hosting virtualized functions) at customer sites while virtualization is distributed between the network/cloud and customer sites.

C. With a universal CPE (uCPE) at customer sites while all virtualization sits at the customer sites.

What is critical to grasp from these different architectures is that vCPE deployment is not a cookie cutter process. These three options serve different enterprise market segments, and can even co-exist within a single customer network.


The two scenarios for launching vCPE deployment:


1. Start without virtualization at the customer site as the initial stage. This would be accomplished using a pCPE that provides tunneling and security. This option is tailored for the architecture type A. Then virtualization can be added using a stand-alone white box, or integrated with the pCPE (gray box).

2. Start with colocation of separate white box server and existing CPEs at the customer site, and then, as a next stage, collapse them into a single device to maximize performance and reduce costs. This scenario begins with a white box (basically a COTS), which runs the vendor’s operating system or the carrier’s own software to host VNFs. Later on, the white box can be enhanced with hardware-based functionality, such as performance acceleration, switching/routing, L2/L3 demarcation and other physical network functions (PNF), in addition to VNFs. This option is tailored for architectures B and C as the starting point.



Both these scenarios are equally valid. Technical and business drivers such as cost structure, target services, network architecture, use cases and other parameters will determine where VNFs will be situated. Some applications – end-to-end encryption, WAN optimization, testing, and monitoring, for example – must be located at the customer premises by definition. 

Others are simply more effective at the customer premises. There are also operational and transport issues to consider, not to mention governmental regulations and policies related to data protection.

The vCPE, therefore, has been evolving and continues to do so. Standardization by industry bodies, beginning first of all with the Broadband Forum, is yet another contributing factor in considering the vCPE as a work in progress.


Today’s reality


This is the year in which the vCPE has moved into its deployment stage. Not surprisingly, two alternative models reflecting the above two scenarios have been employed. The first – adopted, for example, by Orange and DTAG – begins with a pCPE, while virtualization at the customer site will be added later. The second – adopted other carriers, such as AT&T – begins with virtualization using a white box server.

Taken together, all of these developments provide African operators with a distinct advantage, since they will have the opportunity to carefully watch and assimilate the experience of their American and European counterparts before opting for one model over the other. In this way, they will be able to first the review the research, expertise and interoperability testing accumulated during U.S. and EU rollouts before charting their own path.


Conclusion


For service providers, vCPE’s sweet spot lies in agile service offering, while introducing advanced software-defined provisioning and customer self-configuration with ability to carry out shorter, and more flexible deployment cycles for new services. When implementing vCPE architecture, there are several options for VNF placement – in the data center, at the customer edge or a combination of both – each fitting a different scenario. When planning vCPE deployments, service providers need to consider how functionality placement affects bandwidth efficiency, security, survivability, performance, diagnostics, and last but not least, service quality-of-experience.


About the author:

Yuri Gittik is Head of Strategic Developments and Innovation at RAD. In this capacity, he is responsible for steering the innovation and leading strategic development of new RAD solutions and partnerships, with a particular focus on NFV and cloud solutions. Dr. Gittik also leads RAD’s strategic cooperation with key carrier accounts around the world, as well as R&D collaboration.

About RAD:

RAD is a global vendor of solutions for telecom service providers, power utilities, transportation systems, and government agencies. 

Their Service Assured Access solutions for mobile, business and wholesale service providers are designed to improve the way they compete: service agility to minimise time to revenue, complete visibility of network performance for greater operational efficiency, and better QoE to reduce churn.

Founded in 1981, RAD has an installed base of more than 15 million units, and is a member of the $1.25 billion RAD Group of companies, a world leader in communications solutions.



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