Here Comes Virtual CPE!
An exciting application of SDN and NFV technologies is emerging into the mainstream in the last couple of months, and boy is it a popular topic in blog posts. This topic of growing interest is virtual customer premise equipment (vCPE). If you are still a little in the dark with regard to what exactly vCPE is and how to virtualize something that has to sit at the customer premise for you to hook a wire into then keep reading!
The vCPE idea is quite simple in concept even if it can be complicated to actually implement. The idea is that there will still be a piece of hardware sitting at the customer premise but, instead of a specialized device that houses some pretty sophisticated services, this hardware will be a less intelligent device that functions only to connect to the provider network and give an avenue to extend the provider cloud into the premise. For example, it could be a low cost server appliance running Linux, if we are talking a business environment; or it could be a low priced wireless access point that has been flashed with a particular version of firmware that allows it to establish the connection back to the network, if we are talking about the home. In either case the hardware piece of this puzzle will establish a tunnel into the network that will allow the service provider to extend their virtualized environment into the premise. The network functions you commonly expect to reside on the CPE, such as NAT and firewall functionality, will be supplied by a virtualized CPE stack that is housed in the cloud. To the end customer this will appear to be no different than today. The real benefits will be to the service provider themselves.
This extension of the cloud and network into the premise will provide a few key benefits. First of all the service provider will gain greater visibility into the home/office of the customer than ever before. Ever called your service provider and all they could do was test to the cable/DSL modem and that was about it? If the problem was beyond that demarcation point you were on your own, or you could call your friendly neighborhood help desk vendor to try and help you out…for a fee. In the not too distant future the service provider will be able to see your internal network and assist you in ways you are not accustomed to, which raises privacy questions that we won’t go into here. Rest assured, they are being addressed as we speak by the service providers going down this route.
A second benefit will be the ability of the service provider to manage things like security and firmware updates centrally. Ever been worried that your home network is vulnerable because you don’t know how to upgrade your wireless router’s firmware? Maybe you don’t even know what firmware is? Your service provider will be able to handle that for you soon. Other benefits include things like being able to roll out new services to customers without having to replace hardware at the premise, even new services that have yet to be defined.
Want some evidence that this is growing in popularity now? Check out these recent posts on Light Reading and SDx Central just within the last month to month and a half:
The bottom line here is that, whether you are ready for it or not, vCPE is coming. Your competition is working on it even if you aren’t, so it is time to get on it and get on it fast. This is one thing you don’t want to get left behind on!