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What to know about choosing a vCPE platform

Service providers are opting for virtual CPE and its resulting benefits, but choosing the right vCPE platform is essential to get the most out of it.

Service providers are rapidly deploying virtual customer premises equipment, or vCPE, as the way to deliver flexible...

managed business services. Leading providers are exploring their options in terms of virtual application suppliers and the location of network and application intelligence to drive new services. Service providers can deploy vCPE using a number of leading platform options, including Intel servers, ARM-based platforms and routers.

Providers deploy customer premises equipment (CPE) to connect to their networks and access a variety of network services. Virtual CPE is a new way to deliver broadband services to business customers by virtualizing CPE functions. This enables routing, network address translation (NAT), VPN or firewall functions to be performed at the service edge or the data center, rather than on the customer's premises. Virtual CPE for business services leverages the broad migration toward virtualized applications embodied by network functions virtualization (NFV).

Virtual CPE provides significant advantages to providers that offer managed business services. By leveraging NFV and vCPE, providers can rapidly introduce new services without deploying new hardware at customer locations. Additionally, vCPE can improve remote management capabilities and reduce operations costs, as well as allow providers to deploy wide area network (WAN) functionality at the appropriate location in the network -- anywhere from the network edge to a centralized data center.

Options for a vCPE platform

Providers can choose from a number of different vCPE platforms to link the customer site, or branch, to services at the edge or data center. Here are some of the options:

Commercial off-the-shelf servers. Intel x86 architecture is the standard for commercial servers that power many network and telecom applications. Intel x86 provides the flexibility to run a wide range of IT and network applications at the customer premises, the network edge or at the data center. Intel's Open Network Program is its reference architecture for the integration of NFV applications on x86 hardware platforms. The Intel Network Builders community has several dozen providers of software applications for a complete range of vCPE applications.

ARM-based platforms. ARM Holdings is a British-based semiconductor supplier known for its dominance in the delivery of CPUs for mobile phones. ARM is promoting the use of its 64-bit designs for networking and telecom applications. Broadcom, Cavium and NXP, among others, have licensed 64-bit ARM to deliver semiconductors designed to optimize NFV applications.

For example, NXP recently introduced its ARM-based QorIQ NFV platform, which provides a balance of compute and networking capacity for core and edge applications. QorIQ supports a full complement of vCPE applications, including routing, firewall, SD-WAN, NAT and VPN.

Routers. Routers are the most common device connecting the branch to the WAN. Routers can provide a variety of vCPE platform functionalities. For example, Cisco ISR routers -- with optional x86 server blades -- power its iWAN products, which include SD-WAN and security functionality.

Requirements for vCPE platform applications and ecosystems

A vCPE platform must be adaptable to a variety of application and customer requirements. For example, the platform must:

  • Support a range of price points, some at very low cost;
  • Deliver strong compute and network capacity;
  • Run a full suite of vCPE applications and be compatible with leading NFV management and organization options; and
  • Be future-proofed so it can be upgraded and support changing application performance requirements.

In addition, the vCPE platform must have or create a broad ecosystem of partners and system integrators to continue to improve vCPE capabilities.

Virtual CPE platform recommendations

Although vCPE does require some physical hardware at the branch or remote location, a vCPE platform allows service providers to remotely deliver and manage a variety of WAN features. To support future requirements, providers need platforms that can host a variety of applications as they roll out more complex managed WAN services. Service providers face several challenges for deploying vCPE, including:

  • Supporting and managing multivendor interoperability -- applications, platforms and orchestration.
  • Reducing or constraining support costs. These include remote management tools to eliminate expensive truck rolls.
  • Delivering vCPE options for a variety of business sizes, vertical markets and branch requirements.
  • Linking vCPE orchestration to existing operations and business support systems.

Service providers must choose from a number of vCPE platforms and from applications offered by NFV suppliers. They also must determine the architectural tradeoffs of where to host specific WAN functionality -- premises, edge or data center.

Virtual CPE is definitely an application where one size does not fit all. Each platform option has specific tradeoffs in terms of cost, compute, network capacity and application support.

Next Steps

Why are carriers choosing virtual CPE?

How vCPE helps managed business services

The essential guide to NFV

This was last published in August 2016

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