An introduction to universal customer premises equipment (uCPE)
uCPE (or Universal Customer Premise Equipment), is a general purpose platform that integrates compute, storage and networking on a commodity, off-the-shelf server, allowing it to provide network services (such as SD WAN, firewall etc.) as virtual functions to any site on a network. uCPE is the equivalent of a “Cloud for network services”, but at the customer premise.
Over the years, network service providers have continued to utilise virtualisation techniques to decrease operational expenditure, time-to-service and to create new value-added services. This has driven an increase in the computing capabilities required on networks, in order to run these different Virtual Network Functions (VNF).
As virtualisation is becoming more commonplace across the industry, general purpose processors in customer-edge equipment has grown with it. This means now that where once networks would rely on, or be limited by, specialised hardware to deliver services – a router, a firewall, a WAN optimiser – either some or all of that functionality is now delivered virtually as software.
Now all these different VNFs can run on a universal CPE, placed in a central or branch location.
Universal CPE is to telco networks what the App Store is to Smartphones. Neutral, 100% software, and always driving new applications.
How did we get to uCPE?
Traditional customer-premises equipment (CPE) relied on hardware-based functionality known as Physical Network Functions. These consisted of provider-owned, specialised hardware devices, that perform dedicated network functions, that would then be deployed to customer premise or data centres.
Having to comply with this model can be a challenge for businesses when opening new branch offices or adopting new network functions in their existing IT infrastructure or switching vendors. Enterprise needs to carefully source the appropriate solution, find the right hardware, negotiate with a suppliers, send network technicians on site to provision and configure the CPE. The whole process is not only time and resource-consuming, but expensive.
In contrast to this, uCPE model, changes this physical demand into software-based functionality that resides in generic hardware and a vendor agnostic virtualization platform. This model allows the consolidation of specialised devices into one general purpose box, much like how different personal physical items such as radio, camera, calculator, GPS device, music player etc. are converted into software functions (or apps) and consolidated into a smartphone.
uCPE is the next step in an ongoing evolution of the intelligent network, and one that puts more control into the hands of the end customer. Moving to virtualisation is a key part of digital transformation and has obvious benefits, from lower costs to easier and quicker deployment and the ability to move much faster.
Network Function Virtualisation
Network Function Virtualisation provides a new way to create, distribute and operate networking services. It is the process of separating network functions from dedicated hardware appliances so that they may run in software on standardised hardware. These functions (such as a firewall or intrusion prevention) become virtual network functions (VNFs).
The virtualisation of network services via software enables operators to:
- Reduce capital expenditure by lowering the need to purchase purpose-built hardware
- Reduce operational expenditure through reduced equipment running requirements (e.g. space to house, power to run etc.), and simplifying roll-out
- Accelerate time-to-market to new opportunities
- Lower the risk of rolling out new services by allowing providers to trial and evolve, or even roll back services as the customer needs them
- Be more agile and on-demand, driving a better customer experience.
The Impact of uCPE
Today customers are expecting a lot from their network, both in terms of performance and bandwidth but also when it comes to flexibility and responsiveness.
While cloud computing ushered in the era of virtualisation for enterprise IT and LAN infrastructure, bringing about a significant shift in how IT services are deployed and consumed, the impact was barely felt in the WAN side of things until SD WAN, and even this was largely within the service provider domain.
If virtualisation is being introduced for enterprises in the enterprise IT and LAN infrastructure, why not for the WAN?
With the uCPE model, network functions can be consolidated using software-based virtual network functions (VNFs) running on top of a single universal vCPE (uCPE) appliance. The VNFs may reside inside an on-site hardware device, in an enterprise data centre, or in the cloud.
VNFs can also be distributed between the uCPE and the cloud in a hybrid model. When combined with Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) where the uCPE auto-installs and configures itself at power-on, both businesses and service providers can simplify operation, reduce Capex and Opex and speed up service delivery accordingly, no matter whether installing new offices or implementing a new network function or changing vendors.
Key takeaways of uCPE
1. Shared resources reduce upfront & running costs
When using Universal Customer Premises Equipment, the same server can be used for multiple network functions. This cuts down initial capital expenditure and overall operation expenditure long term.
2. Catalyst for innovation & services on-demand
uCPE brings the power of the cloud to the telco network and such an open programable platform drives innovation. As network functions are software-based (rather than hardware based) it is easier to initiate new functions. Such a Software-centric uCPE solution means services can be turned up on-demand.
3. Automate and simplify operations
Standardized protocols in the data, control, and management-plane in uCPE can streamline and simplify network integration and operation and drives automation
4. Software-defined networking & infrastructure
Software-defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) belong alongside uCPE. Providers can deploy their virtualised services on a low-cost platform that enables the deployment of a wide variety of VNFs. Customers will be able to scale bandwidth, speeds and additional applications as they see fit, on demand.
5. No dedicated appliances for WAN services
Taking advantage of virtualisation, the uCPE platform avoids the need for dedicated appliances for WAN services such as SD WAN, firewall, WAN optimisers etc., replacing them with equivalent software-based VNFs. Combined with orchestration capabilities, the uCPE platform provides software-based dynamic control, allowing Service Providers to deliver on demand WAN services.
Key terms demystified
Network Function Virtualization (NFV) : It is the generic term used for the process of separating network functions from dedicated hardware appliances so that they may run as software on standardised hardware. It is the initiative to convert hardware-based network functions into software application These application are VNF (see below)
Virtual Network Functions (VNF): are virtualized tasks formerly carried out by proprietary, dedicated hardware. VNFs move individual network functions such as firewall, SD WAN out of dedicated hardware devices into software that runs on commodity hardware.
Universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE): is a general purpose platform that integrates compute, storage and networking on a commodity, off-the-shelf server, allowing it to provide multiple VNF at the at the customer locations. VNF runs on uCPE
Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI) : encompasses all the different hardware and software components needed to enable and support Virtual Network Functions. This would include operating systems, servers, hypervisors and any other physical or virtual assets that form the platform for supporting NFV and hosting VNFs. NFVI could be at any location in the network: at the customer premise, in the edge, or in the network core.
Our uCPE solution
We have partnered with other market-leading vendors to roll-out our uCPE solution globally. Colt uCPE solution consists of a generic hardware platform, a vendor agnostic virtualization layer and host of different virtual applications or VNFs.
VNFs for SD-WAN and Firewall services are already available. Our uCPE technology portfolio is continuing to develop, with VNFs for new network services and vendors added frequently. Please contact your Colt account executive for the latest catalogue of applications supported by Colt uCPE.
Find out more about what our uCPE solution can do for you and your business.
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