uCPE MythBusters: All uCPEs are created equal


Not true! Let’s break it down to find out why …  

Universal CPE (uCPE) is a broad and overloaded term, and it’s important to differentiate and understand the different types of uCPE available today. Our view is that uCPE consists of software virtual network functions (VNFs) running on a standard operating system hosted on an open server.

That means a uCPE should include some or all of the following capabilities:

  1. Runs on general purpose, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware
  2. Can host any type of third-party VNF
  3. Zero-touch deployment and activation of service
  4. Open APIs for automation 
  5. Support for centralized operations and management 
  6. High throughput data path
  7. Embedded networking capabilities to support a variety of access networks

As shown in the figure above, we typically see a few different flavors of uCPE, which are distinguished by how completely these baseline functionalities are implemented and the availability of additional features to provide richer service offerings to end customers. We can choose an appropriate set depending on the deployment requirements. It’s typically not easy to migrate from one model to the other. So, the choice of the right model needs to be taken based on flexibility, dynamic control, performance and price. 

As the market stands today, uCPE offerings can be classified into the following three types:
uCPE Basic

Many operators make a first step into virtualization with software appliances – software applications running directly on a COTS uCPE hardware device, i.e. bare metal. If your immediate need is to avoid introducing yet another custom bare-metal appliance into the network, then a uCPE Basic model fits well. It’s a smart choice in today's world because it decouples the hardware from the software, giving you choice in both. 

Macroeconomic situations like trade wars and pandemics are forcing companies to introduce solutions that can provide supply-chain flexibility and freedom from vendor lock-in. The uCPE Basic model can help you to achieve just that.

Since the objective is primarily to run network services on a COTS-based network appliance, the functional requirements for the uCPE Basic model typically includes:

  • Ability to run network services that are mostly static and single function (i.e. the customer orders a specific firewall or SD-WAN application on a uCPE and it remains the same throughout the lifecycle)
  • Similar data throughput performance numbers as compared to a hardware or software appliance
  • Ability to efficiently package all functions in minimal hardware configuration to optimize cost

Technically the above requirements will be translated to: 

  • No cloud management infrastructure needed on the uCPE, as the network service is mostly static and can be run directly on a hypervisor like KVM 
  • Reduced footprint for hardware, as only minimal or limited NFV capabilities to support

uCPE Standard

The uCPE Standard model gives you a good option to strike a balance between flexibility, dynamic control, no vendor lock-in and price. It comes with all the features of the Basic model described above, plus the flexibility to orchestrate and dynamically manage the network services. 

The promise of uCPE was more than just moving network services to general purpose hardware. It was to also have the flexibility to orchestrate network services dynamically based on customer orders for specific services. The network service chains can also be edited later while running to insert new services or update existing services.  This model enables spinning up monitoring VNFs on demand for service assurance and troubleshooting. The uCPE Standard model builds on the Basic model by giving you greater flexibility.

The Standard model also supports running multiple WAN edge network services in a single uCPE box that are typically deployed on multiple bare-metal appliances. For example, SD-WAN plus firewall or firewall plus WAN optimizer plus router, etc. These services can be enabled or terminated dynamically, as the customer chooses. 
Technically the above requirements will be translated to:

  • Availability of open, cloud management infrastructure
  • Ability to dynamically orchestrate day-1 network services – can be just one network service or multiple network services  
  • Ability to dynamically edit live running network service chains – including “insert”, “update” or “delete” network services, change network parameters or network ports of existing network services

uCPE Premium

The uCPE Premium model delivers the full power and potential of universal CPEs as an edge cloud platform. It comes with all features of the Standard model plus the ability to provide tenant space hosting for end user applications. The tenant spaces can be configured on the same uCPE used for communications services, or using additional boxes subtending to the primary uCPE hosting the communications services.

Tenant spaces open plenty of options to offer infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings at the service provider edge. It can host virtual machines or containers (CNFs) running custom applications along with the other network services, managed or unmanaged. The Premium uCPE platform provides the necessary traffic isolation, infrastructure management and security aspects. This makes it ideal for offering PaaS solutions for IoT, 5G and other verticals.

Technically the above requirements will be translated to:

  • Ability to define tenant spaces, manage tenant isolation, capacity planning and provisioning 
  • Ability to orchestrate and managed multi-tenant compute node clusters
  • Ability to orchestrate and service chain VMs and/or containers

Pick the right model for the job

We can see that different types of uCPE deployment models exist today. The capability and purpose for each type varies widely, according to the application. But how can you be sure you pick the right one?

When picking a uCPE vendor, choose someone who can offer the full range of solutions, and has a track record of success. They can help you build a holistic vision and strategy for uCPE adoption.  You can then plan, select and deploy the right set of functionalities and capacity at the edge.

One size doesn’t have to fit all. Welcome to the world of optimized uCPE!

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