Universal Customer Premise Equipment, or uCPE, is set to play an important part in Software Defined Networking (SDN) strategy. But what is it, how does it work and why is it so relevant to SDN?
For some time the network infrastructure equipment organizations have on their premises has consisted of multiple different, specialized pieces of kit, typically from multiple suppliers. A business might buy its router from one vendor, firewall from another, WAN accelerator from somewhere else and wireless LAN controller from yet another. This has long been an area of contention for customers, because it can be complicated, seems unnecessary and of course is not very cost-effective. So, what if organizations could have one piece of all-purpose hardware on-site to support all of these network functions across your whole network?
The uCPE model and its relationship to SDN
SDN is very much about simplifying things within an increasingly complex network. By only using virtualized network functions (VNFs) when you need them, you retain resources and don’t waste time, bandwidth and money. uCPE brings similar evolution and benefits.
By placing two or more network functions on a universal piece of hardware, organizations immediately reduces the capital they need to spend on equipment, and, crucially as with SDN, over all it simplifies delivering crucial network functions to end-users. In a time when VNFs are helping IT to make delivering services to end-users more flexible, agile and on-demand, having the ability to do it all from one centralized box on one premises is a big bonus.
What a uCPE platform must deliver
There are a number of capabilities that a uCPE platform must be able to deliver. Given that customer premises vary greatly in size, a uCPE offering must be able to support a range of price points while still delivering strong computing and network capacity. In one of our previous SDN articles we mentioned a use case of a company in Africa which needed to set up branch offices quickly and easily without any loss in performance, connectivity or security; uCPE can be the ideal way forward for them.
A uCPE platform must also be able to run a full suite of VNFs and support other leading NFV management and orchestration options. This basically means that the uCPE platform needs to be future-proof so that it is capable of being upgraded on-demand and can support changing application performance requirements over time. And finally, to be successful and deliver the desired benefits, the uCPE platform needs to have or to grow a wide ecosystem of partners and system integrators to help deliver a process of continuous improvement in its capabilities
The price factor
We do however need to be honest about price at this point - naturally that is one of the most important things to our customers – and uCPE is not as price attractive as we would like it to be, yet. But we are confident that will change. Already organizations can look at uCPE and realise that they benefit immediately by avoiding hardware installation costs, shipping costs of physical kit and so on – but there is more to do. And Orange is working with vendors to see how we can continue reducing the CAPEX necessary for uCPE and to make it still more appealing to organizations.
The benefits laid out
Overall, the benefits that uCPE can bring are big and potentially transformational for many organizations. The simplified hardware installation means easy mixing and matching VNFs across multiple company sites. It also removes the need for proprietary network appliances and as such for multiple skillsets, making administration much easier.
You can deploy, reconfigure and amend network functions as you need, across multiple sites, quickly and conveniently and without the need for hardware changes; in summary, one device is able to perform any network infrastructure function - you just need to tell it what to do.
The right partner
At Orange we see uCPE becoming a major trend with service providers, and Orange is currently among the leading pack. In the longer term we see a uCPE offering as giving customers a large range of VNFs from which to choose – effectively a catalogue of VNFs – which could be Orange VNFs or other vendor VNFs or even, at some point, customer VNFs too. We believe that when we can, we should have the VNFs inside the network – that is the way that we can help customers to a more agile, cost-effective way forward.
We are also looking at trials for virtual routers for Ethernet, where customers do not need to install a physical router on site – they can have a virtual router that they manage themselves, giving them more control.
So while uCPE remains a limited release for a few customers at the moment, Orange has high hopes for it. As we continue to work with more suppliers we expect unit costs to come down, enabling us to deploy uCPE on a wider basis – out goal is global use of uCPE for all customers by 2018.