Virtual CPE deployment- A Sprint or a Marathon?

So you are in a sprint mode for deploying virtual CPE ( Customer Premises Equipment)?

You, as an operator, want it  FAST. As you want to cut your CAPEX/OPEX or perhaps you want to provision services faster.

But, something is holding you:

Perhaps you are confused by the industry’s discussion on what is the right strategy for deployment. I.e. should you place virtual CPE functions on a customer site OR run them from a cloud in a central location?

After all, different vendors approach you explaining what is the best approach (in line with their product strategy)

But, let’s face it!

ETSI specifications allow placing virtual CPE functions anywhere. They can be located anywhere as long as the functions serve their purpose.

Now that all approaches are correct, what strategy you should follow?

This blog attempts to make a point that it is best for an operator to deploy virtual CPE in phases. They can start with the least disruptive approach and then move slowly to a full-scale NFV.

To understand this approach, let’s bring up the discussion of the location of virtual CPE, again.

Where to place virtual CPE?

Should virtual CPE reside at customer site (also called Edge vCPE) with all the virtual functions (VNFs) including routing security, firewall, WAN optimization placed there, perhaps running on an x86 server or a white box?

Or a Centralized virtual CPE strategy (also called Cloud vCPE) is better? When an operator’s data center/cloud hosts all customer functions.

Or a third approach which is also called Hybrid virtual CPE ? That is, some functions run from a customer site and moving all other functions to the operator’s cloud.

What is the right approach to virtual CPE deployment?

On the face of it, the Edge model seems attractive.

First, from a cost point of view, it is based on the pay-as-you-grow model. Invest at the customer site, once business comes. This is in contrast to Cloud model; which needs some scale of the data center (x86 servers)  established from day one as a shared resource for an unforeseen number of customers.

Second, the operators are already used to hardware CPE at a customer site and virtualizing the same functions on x86 server at the same location may be easy to accept and least disruptive for the operation and engineering people. Not to forget that the performance would be predictable in terms  of latency, QoS or security (which may be an issue if all the functions are moved to the cloud).

Third, unless there is a full fledge Management and Orchestration (MANO) in place (as the standards work is still in progress), there is a risk of going with the vendor preferred open interfaces for MANO. There is no guarantee that these open interfaces can gather industry momentum in future or become part of a larger ecosystem that you can benefit from. This risk is somewhat mitigated with an edge model as you may not need full-scale MANO initially. And the vendor’s experience with the FCAPS (Fault, Configuration, Accounting, Performance, and Security) for the physical CPE can help him manage the virtual CPE.

Come to think of it!

NFV is still in its infancy. The FCAPS standards are not yet finalized. Selecting the centralized or the Hybrid approach would mean running elastic services in the cloud and going to a vendor’s specific management and orchestration (MANO). In this blog here, I argue the risks of going  as an early adopter for NFV.

If you think NFV is carrier grade today, think again!

Opposition to the Edge Model

Let’s see the second side of the picture.

The edge model is opposed by some. Some even question that Edge model is NFV in the first place? They argue that NFV   needs to run elastic services in the cloud with full-scale MANO with no geographical limitations. They say that the direct benefit of putting functions in the cloud is to take benefit of shared resources of x86 servers in the cloud. Shared infrastructure means decreased CAPEX and OPEX. By running all services on the edge, an operator will lose such benefits.

Hybrid model may be the ultimate goal

The industry is reaching a consensus that a Hybrid model might be the best one, where some functions (that need performance, less latency, security) need to reside at a customer site and other functions can move to the cloud.

However as mentioned earlier going full scale Hybrid today means that the operator needs to be aware of the performance of the system in the cloud.

When you have a mix of elastic third party virtual VNFs that are chained in the cloud, you need to be sure about performance, delays, QoS, reliability and fault management. We are not talking about virtual machines in IT clouds but carrier grade telecom infrastructure. Even the open stack is not fully carrier grade today.

Therefore,

Why not start small?

Start at the edge and move to the Hybrid model

Go with a pay-as-grow and the least disruptive model.

Start virtualizing functions at the edge. This needs less testing, fewer interoperability tests, and less initial investment. This may not even need a full-scale management and orchestration. The customer will have its dedicated hardware for virtualization. As it is not a shared resource so it is much easier to implement, much easier to maintain, much simpler to troubleshoot.

Then slowly move the functions to the cloud. But for that to happen, you need to make sure that you have already selected a vendor who also supports Hybrid model.

While your customer enjoys the service at the edge. you can keep on testing the performance of the Hybrid NFV in the cloud.

Then you can move to a full scale Hybrid NFV when you are sure that:

– You can run the vendor’s own virtual functions and third party virtual functions without any performance and fault isolation issues.

– You know that you can introduce full-scale Management and Orchestration with a peace of mind that the open interfaces by the vendor have already developed a bigger ecosystem or they are already standardized by the standard bodies.

Remember that MANO is your most precious investment in NFV. virtual CPEs can come and go but you may be stuck with the MANO for a long time.

Final word

You can aim for Hybrid NFV but better to take it in phases. Start virtualizing at the edge and then move to a more Hybrid model. Dealing with clouds is not predictable.

Take your time to test, test and test. In the labs and in the production.

Take NFV as a marathon and not a sprint. You may lose running too fast.

Finally I may request to tell me your take on this issue !

16 thoughts on “Virtual CPE deployment- A Sprint or a Marathon?”

  1. Shuaib Siddiqui

    Dear Faisal,

    Many thanks for this interesting blog-entry. I really enjoy reading your blog!

    What are your thoughts on cloud vCPE if supported by SDN/NFV acceleration hardware (in the cloud), e.g., using some sort of flow processing NIC. May be this way the unpredictable performance and QoS concerns of cloud vCPE could be addresssed. Surely, the vCPE VNFs have to be placed on particular servers in the cloud which contain SDN/NFV accelerators.

  2. Thanks Faisal for the clarification; I think mentioning enterprise grade CPEs in the blog would eliminate the confusion, as the term CPE usually inclines one to think of the consumer CPE.

    I agree partially about business customers, as a vCPE could potentially provide significant advantages to communications service providers, especially those who offer managed business services. vCPE allows such providers to migrate the majority of WAN functionality to remote locations/ data centers. Most common WAN services for business customers are firewalls, NAT, VPNs & routing. So as a business case I would expect the sub-functions of the business CPEs to be virtualized & the pCPE (physical CPE) will still play its role at the customer premises.

    Moreover; what is your take on TR-069, since it has been around since 2004; What do you say about those Business customers who use their CPEs predominantly to leverage broadband services from their respective service providers. TR-069 became a de facto standard to help operators stay competitive and has done remarkably well to be accepted & adopted worldwide. A significant step into the future for TR-069 has come in the past year or so, as cable operators have made public announcements about deploying TR-069 in their networks.

    All these are major factors in the longevity of TR-069, and now BBF.069 certification is helping take the protocol to more operators and widening its use from provisioning and network diagnostics to machine-to-machine (M2M) applications & IoT (Internet of Things) applications

    Far from just having a great past, TR-069 shows all the signs of having a great, and significant, future too.

    So what is your take on TR-069 enabled pCPEs vs vCPE?

    1. Ali, to answer your question: any vendor-neutral and open standard has a place in NFV. It’s just a case of how TR-069 is adapted to the virtual environment. Perhaps its too early to say that. But I totally agree with you TR-069 has become a defacto standard

  3. & to add to my previous post, the TR-069 can be deployed as SaaS; hosted or non hosted platform; and most of the time on servers (like x86); vCPE as it may seem is yet another case study of VNF and NFV orchestration but this time targeting the CPE & fixed access broadband sector. But VNF are more attractive to other nodes of the network in particular storage devices; routers & switches

    1. Ali, Thank you for your comments.

      As i explained in the comments replies,a CPE definition is not limited to just small cheap broadband box we use at consumer site today. It is a consumer premises equipment and can also mean a router/firewall/WAN optimizer/switch when it comes to a business customer. So to interpret the article correctly, the definition of CPE needs to be looked from broader perspective.

  4. Hi Faisal

    First of all; a very intriguing article on a topic that has created quite a bit of hype within the industry in recent times; with several vendors, incumbent operators & industry think tanks taking to podiums and discussing at length this topic. A webinar was conducted not too long ago by SDxCentral too; yet they failed to convince their audience about a plausible business case that would catapult the vCPE concept into orbit.

    Although it is correct to point out that operators & service providers would like to see their TCO go down; & that they would like to have services provisioned faster; my take is that vCPE does not give anything extra to the already available solutions / propositions.

    1) CPEs hardly cost around the $100 mark, so compared to other network nodes they are not the entities giving operators a CAPEX headache. There are also business models around that help service providers overcome any CAPEX issues once they go beyond a certain sale figure.

    2) Service providers are facing many challenges as they look to support exponential increase in new devices, new applications & services. With the number of growing videos & mobile related services, IPv4 exhaustion, operational support, back office billing & in some cases inter-operability; the OPEX may be a real culprit in managing TCO figures; yet globally accepted & standardized solutions are already in place to help operators tackle this.

    In particular the BBF tools available offer such; examples include TR-069 CWMP, which can be used as a remote platform not only to allow faster & zero touch provisioning but can help with back office operational support, billing, customer care & trouble shooting; but it also allows for an even efficient customer retention package scheme and allows service providers to ramp up their CEX targets. There are tonnes of programs out there that provide certified inter-operability both with xPON & xDSL CPEs and L2 network switches (OLT / DSLAMs) (e.g. BBF.247)

    Therefore, I believe that the vCPE does not offer that edge that it promises in other domains of the telecom network.

    Looking forward to hear your feedback on this.

    1. Thanks Ali , for your very insightful comments. I agree with some of your points when it comes to consumer CPE. But here, we are talking about general vCPE which can include both business and consumer one. The requirements and scale for both are different.

      I always say that vCPE for business has stronger business case than the consumer one.

  5. Krishnanand Kamath

    Dear Faisal, Thanks for blog, you have a talent for stating things very simply!

    Can you qualify your thoughts relative to enterprise & residential settings? IN a residential scenario, I believe the vCPE will be the platform delivering (sense of) security, privacy and reliability for smart home services that Cloud based vCPE will not…

    Again, excellent blog! Thanks,

    1. Thanks Krishnanand ! that you liked the blog !

      You said it correctly, I see that some intelligence need to be present at the edge. it could be a CPE right at the home of a subscriber or could be a shared resource close to a community. Other functions that that may not need strict latency requirements could move easily to a more centralized cloud. This balance can be shifted over time, once an operator is more comfortable working with a cloud.

  6. Dear Faisal,

    I am very confused on NFV, especially in the vCPE 🙁

    What I think is that in case of Edge or Hybrid or Full Cloud, the client will still need some hardware to connect with the Service Provider so in that case how can we achieve a Full Cloud any ways.

    Dont we have only two choices of Edge CPE or Hybrid?

    Do we really have a third option, how it will physically work?

  7. I came to the same conclusion back in August 2015, and it was very well accepted by customer, I’d like to review some material that I put together then with you if possible. BTW, Do you have any article about a TCO model for the vE-CPE Use Case?

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