Over the past five years the field of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) has matured from a conceptual implementation of virtualization to a viable implementation for communications infrastructure. Expanding on the concepts of SDN, communications providers increasingly see the value of transitioning their infrastructure from applications running on dedicated hardware and instead virtualizing and operating these same applications in software as Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) that run on standard whitebox servers.
This NFV revolution is happening at the same time as the network itself is changing. With the development of new IoT use cases and increasing demands for bandwidth-heavy and latency-sensitive use cases, the network has expanded, with storage and compute being done at multiple points from the operator core to the customer site.
With this change in the network architecture and the increasing virtualization of networking functions, customer service providers are looking to run functionality much closer to the user than in the past.
One of the first commercially viable applications for NFV and Edge Computing is the area of Universal Customer Premise Equipment (uCPE). Originally a term coined by AT&T, uCPE allows customer service providers to offer their enterprise and SMB customers enterprise functions as VNFs on a white box server or more commonly on a purpose-built device running at the customer premises.
Generally, customer service providers will manage their uCPE offerings for end customers from the cloud, utilizing zero-touch provisioning of VNFs onto uCPE devices. The most applicable enterprise services managed in a uCPE include routing, firewall, WAN optimization, and SD-WAN.
uCPE addresses a number of enterprise challenges. Traditionally customers have implemented enterprise functions from vendors offering their own software running on their own dedicated hardware. As a result, enterprise IT has had to deal with a ballooning of the number of different devices in the enterprise network, each with its own management system. Switching costs between vendors were high, as was the challenge of scaling out applications.
For the enterprise and SMB customer, uCPE provides choice and flexibility. As services are run as VNFs on commodity hardware, customers can tailor services from a variety of vendors. Instead of being tied to a particular vendor's hardware, customers utilize commodity whitebox equipment. Customers avoid vendor lock-in while benefiting from a single management environment to run the VNFs.
For communications service providers, uCPE allows them to offer a range of new value-added services and business models. As a result, IDC forecasts that the market for uCPE and vCPE (which combines VNFs running at the customer site with VNFs run in the cloud) will grow to more than $3B by 2021.
But key challenges remain for scaling out implementation of uCPE broadly. Many of the current solutions are geared towards large enterprises. However, the larger untapped market is in small and medium businesses. For these implementations, service providers face the challenge of providing CPE devices that fit a wider variety of power and performance needs at a logical TCO.
At Arm, we see a strong opportunity for the Arm ecosystem in uCPE devices. As an architecture that scales along the network from the device to the datacenter, Arm-based solutions are well placed to provide the combination of flexibility that the market is looking for. As such, we have identified uCPE as one of the keys to Arm's strategy for Edge computing.
Two areas stand out specifically. First, security is a major consideration. uCPE solutions combine VNFs from different vendors as well as cloud management and possibly a combination of VNFs running on-premise and in the cloud. This means that both north-south (i.e. from the cloud to the premise) and east-west (from one VNF to another) security becomes critical. Customers are looking for true end-to-end security solutions.
Another challenge is resource management on the box. Because VNF management solutions and the VNFs themselves can monopolize processing, there is a need for a multi-core environment and one which leverages processor offload capabilities that can enable a larger number of VNFs running per device efficiently
We see a strategic opportunity for Arm in uCPE, working with our hardware partners and players in the uCPE space who are able to fully leverage the capabilities of Arm-based processors can provide in security and efficiency.
Which is why we are proud to announce our partnership with Telco Systems to develop telecom-grade Arm-based uCPE systems for enterprises and SMBs.
Telco Systems is a leader in uCPE, providing end-to-end solutions for operators and managed service providers to offer VNF services to their end customers. Telco Systems has developed NFVTime, a suite of software components that can turn whitebox servers and custom-built CPE devices into functioning uCPE offerings.
The NFVTime platform includes:
Components of the NFVTime system. Light blue elements are open source. Darker blue are the components of the Lifecycle Management Suite
Telco Systems was one of the first software partners to see the value of Arm-based systems for uCPE. Working with Arm and our hardware partners they have developed NFVTime for Arm, uCPEs that utilize both the Marvell Armada 8040 (Arm V8) and NXP LS2088-A (A72) chipsets on CPE boxes from leading ODMs such as Nexcom and CyberTAN.
Telco Systems has demonstrated enterprise functionality on these devices, with VNFs such as 6Wind vTurbo Router and Trend Micro VNF inspector. Performance tests against comparable x86 solutions show significantly better throughput on the Arm-based devices.
As part of the new agreement Arm and Telco Systems will collaborate on a strategic, multiyear development program to productize the existing Arm-based prototypes and develop advanced, service-ready uCPE and NFV Edge solutions.
Telco Systems will focus on the development of performance acceleration solutions that utilize Arm’s competitive technological advantages as well as those of our SoC vendors. The focus will be on containerization of VNFs and cybersecurity solutions based on Arm TrustZone. These new solutions will also serve as the foundation for future Arm-based Edge compute, IoT and MEC solutions.
We see the partnership with Telco Systems is an opportunity for Arm to make an impact in one of the leading NFV and Edge use cases and to help lead the ecosystem in the development of a platform that strongly utilizes the Arm advantage.
More information about Universal CPE and the work Arm has done with Telco Systems can be found in our uCPE white paper.
Download the white paper