NFV has dramatically changed the perspective of how network infrastructure is established. The emphasis is the virtualization of network functions on carrier-grade appliances. While communication service providers worldwide are engaging in the transition to SDN and NFV, Virtual CPE (customer premise equipments) is one of the fastest growing use cases among all the real on-site enterprise applications. According to recent survey by iHS Markit 2016, the business opportunity of vCPE is forecasted to go beyond $1.5 billion worldwide by 2020 as service providers will leverage the cost benefits of vCPE to build their SDN and NFV applications.

Photo courtesy: iHS Markit 2016

Virtual CPE is considered as the first step to roll out SDN/NFV and has become the most prominent business deployment since 2016, and 2017 is seen as the skyrocketing period. The driving force behind the widespread of vCPE is the cost benefits. Virtual CPE is a software-defined method to deliver network services, such as routing, firewall security, and VPN functions, and this simplified network infrastructure is especially beneficial for SMEs, branch offices and retails where investments of dedicated hardware equipments, as well as other associated costs like manpower, power consumption and hardware maintenance, could be considered burdening. According to a white paper released by HP, vCPE can save costs from 18% to 24% for enterprises.

Service providers can also leverage the benefits of vCPEs. The virtualized network deployments can rapidly simplify and accelerate service deliveries. Network devices can be remotely configured and managed to add new services or adjust existing options through software approaches. With vCPE, the reductions of time-consuming installation and maintenance, as well as the budgets for dedicated hardware equipments, can dramatically improve enterprise competitiveness.

Virtual CPE architecture can be implemented in either centralized or distributed approach, or even a mix of both, which is called “hybrid”.

Centralized Mode

In the centralized implementation, vCPE is used as a VNF (virtualized network functions) and is implemented on a carrier-grade computing hardware appliance in service provider data centers. The carrier appliance will run as router, firewall, VPN and all other network related services. For instance, in the diagram above, VNF is implemented within Lanner’s HTCA-6200, a carrier-grade compute hardware, and the integration will function as the centralized vCPE in the data center to deliver all the network functions and services such as edge routing, firewall and UTM.

The major benefit of centralized approach of vCPE is the large-scale economical advantage because it allows service providers to share resources with their customers in a centralized serviceability. Today, many web/cloud service providers adopt this approach as it is not necessary for them to run many local access networks. Thus, major web service/cloud service providers in the world prefer to run aggregate network so that a centralized vCPE deployment best fit their bills.

Distributed Mode

On the other hand, there are carriers who prefer their applications in the distributed manner. In the distributed approach, vCPEs are deployed based on customers’ premises. For certain communication service functions, the NFV infrastructure is better as distributed geographically and hierarchically in order to optimize resources and efficiency. For instance, in telecom and broadcasting fields, the traffic today is occupied not only by voice and photos, but also video and audio contents that come in much larger file size. This will further limit the bandwidth in a centralized NFV. Therefore, a distributed, multi-hierarchy NFV where many vCPEs are distributed geographically based on customer premises, could benefit certain industries by offering network offloading during the streaming, more-distributed authentication and traffic routing to a closer peer point to reduce latency. In the diagram above, Lanner’s NCA-4010 is deployed as a vCPE appliance in a distributed approach to run VNFs like SD-WAN and next-generation firewall.

Hybrid Mode

Some operators may mix both centralized and distributed infrastructures for their specific applications. In that case, provisioning and management of vCPEs and VNFs are critical as most of the virtual CPEs are based on open source software, such as Open Stack or Open Switch. In the diagram above, Lanner’s FW-7525 is adopted as a vCPE appliance as edge routers while HTCA-6200 is performing centralized functions such as firewall and UTM in a hybrid approach.