When we talk about network function virtualisation (NFV) and universal customer premises equipment (uCPE), we are talking about replacing dedicated network appliances such as software defined wide area network (WAN) boxes, routers and firewalls with software virtual network functions (VNFs) running on a standard server. NFV and uCPE enable choice in software and choice in hardware, empowering operators and communication service providers (CSPs) to select best-of-breed components and escape vendor lock-in. It also provides the ability to add new services without changing the hardware. In short, NFV and uCPE bring the power and speed of the cloud to the telco network and the customer site.
An enterprise that has problems with managed services delivered by appliances can change its firewall provider. Doing so means swapping a physical device at every site in every country with a corresponding service. Or perhaps the enterprise can add a new service, which results in the same drawbacks. How can the customers get additional flexibility in their solutions, including on-demand additions, moves and changes, without having to manage the solutions themselves?
The end user can get a managed service based on a virtualised uCPE solution delivered by a CSP. With managed uCPE, enterprises get the benefits of network virtualisation without the associated complexity. This approach moves the problem from the end user to the CSP. But how does the service provider ensure that its service level agreement requirements are met?
The simplest option is for the service provider to resell a turnkey solution. This turnkey solution may be assembled, integrated and delivered by a solution supplier, a value-added reseller (VAR) or a system integrator. In many cases, the turnkey solution supplier will provide support.
The turnkey model looks a lot like the old single-supplier model in the sense that you write one cheque for the entire appliance-based solution. But there is one big difference between the two – the virtualised solution is open and uses standard VNFs. This means the enterprise is not locked into a single-vendor implementation. It can go back to the original integrator, or it can secure assistance from a different supplier, or even do it itself.
Think of this situation as being similar to buying a house. The original builder may engage with a variety of contractors such as architects, carpenters, masons, electricians and plumbers. The buyer will write one cheque to the builder, but when it is time for repairs, updates or expansion, it does not have to go back to the builder. The buyer can engage with any qualified contractor, or do the work itself.
This approach applies to buyers that may have some of the needed expertise, but not all. Perhaps they understand virtualisation but not the VNFs or maybe they have expertise in high-level operational systems but not in managed devices. In either case, they can choose to engage with one or more suppliers for design and integration services.
Some examples of these services are:
- Network design
- Service design
- Solution implementation
- Meeting security requirements
- Building service cloud templates
- Benchmarking performance
- Integrating with external third-party systems.
With this approach, the customer receives the needed help, but still has involvement in the overall design and support process.
Do it yourself
With this model, the operator acquires, integrates and operates the entire solution. This approach requires broad and deep expertise in all aspects of the solution. It is also only practical for Tier 1 operators that see uCPE and edge compute as strategic to their vision. So, they are willing to make the required investment in people and time to realise that vision.
Even in this case, the operator may choose to engage in professional services from time to time. This is especially true if it is in the process of expanding its team, or if it needs help with surges in demand.
Advantages of NFV and uCPE
NFV and uCPE offer powerful advantages for end users and CSPs. They can optimise their services, change components to reduce risk and supply chain issues, and move much more quickly than with fixed appliances. However, there is some complexity that comes with an open and multi-vendor system. Further, there is no approach that is right for everyone.
By choosing to work with suppliers and integrators that support an open approach, enterprises can find the way that works best for them and be prepared to change it if necessary. The world is always changing, and you need to be able to respond quickly.