3 Steps to Build a Flexible and Cost-Efficient uCPE Platform

By Tomas Hedqvist

A scalable uCPE platform with Advantech FWA-T011, FWA-1012VC, and FWA-3050 and Enea NFV Access
Example of a sclable uCPE platform provided by Enea and Advantech

While SD-WAN is experiencing a serious hype, service providers have begun to show great interest in basing SD-WAN offerings on uCPE solutions. Why is this? Why do service providers take such an interest in uCPE?

The quick answer: cost-efficiency + flexibility.

But service providers also see something more than just a low-cost infrastructure platform for SD-WAN in uCPE.

If you go from single function appliances to a uCPE based solution, you will not only reduce opex and capex, but also gain an agile platform that allows the service provider to offer any kind of managed services to enterprise customers, including SD-WAN. Service providers see it as a start of a revolution for how to provide services to enterprise customers and consumers.

Building a flexible and cost efficient uCPE solution

If you want flexibility, you have to let go of legacy solutions with tightly coupled application specific hardware and software, and turn to open and scalable solutions that adapt to evolving business needs. Open components with standard interfaces and COTS hardware prevent lock-in, and lets you build the best price/performance ratio.

You also need to make sure your uCPE solution is scalable. Not all branches in an enterprise network need the same performance from the uCPE. Some may only need to run a single VNF with modest throughput, while large site or a head office may need multiple VNF chains and lots of bandwidth.

With flexibility and scalability in mind, let's take a look at 3 key considerations for building a modern uCPE solution.

1 – Selecting hardware

Starting from the bottom of the stack, selecting hardware is fundamental task. Hardware represents a significant part of the costs for the enterprise network (and if you can get rid of expensive MPLS to reduce connectivity cost, then it will have an even bigger impact on your margins). In large-scale deployments and for service providers offering managed SD-WAN solutions to many enterprises, it is key to have the most cost-effective hardware in to keep overall costs down. That requires a scalable offering from a good white box specialist.

Advantech for example, offers a slim entry-level CPE with 2 cores and 2GB of memory, a specification that no doubt keeps costs down for deployments that may only need to run a single VNF, and the product portfolio scales up to many-core Xeon devices capable of running multiple chains with different VNFs at high throughput.

2 – NFVI software

The NFVI software layer also needs to scale so you can deploy it on both low-end and high-end hardware. Scalability is a requirement if you are to maximize the fit in every location for a cost-effective network. This is where data center virtualization software like OpenStack is NOT adequate: too big, chunky and complex. A good virtualization layer for uCPE should scale down all the way to entry-level devices to enable the full range of a scalable hardware offering.

You probably also want the NFVI layer to support a broad VNF catalogue, and this typically comes with an open platform. Limited VNF support means that you minght not be able to select your favorite or "best-of-breed" VNFs. If you are an enterprise user you are not likely to change all your VNFs at once, but you still want to evolve with changing needs or other business reasons. If you are a service provider catering to a large number of customers with diverse needs, you need the NFVI to support a broad VNF catalogue to provide attractive offerings.

3 – uCPE Management

One of the major challenges with virtualization at the customer premise is to ensure efficient and centralized management with automation and secure zero touch provisioning. The management function must be available for slim devices for your solution to scale, and it should not be overly complex to work with. Again, solutions originally developed for the data center tend to have a poor fit with the customer premise. Therfore, you can look at uCPE management based on NETCONF as a more effective approach.

Conclusion

Service providers are looking to build flexible and cost-effective uCPE solutions using scalable and flexible uCPE platforms based white box hardware and an open virtualization layer designed for the customer premise. Advantech and Enea offer a scalable uCPE platform with a broad portfolio of on-boarded and verified VNFs from leading vendors.

See Solutions from Enea and Advantech