I’ve always thought it ironic that despite being called SDWAN, most vendors lead with hardware appliances in accounts. That said, we continue to see a ton of innovation at the WAN Edge, and SDWAN is certainly going mainstream at this point, with deployments by thousands of customers. However, the next wave of WAN Edge innovation is all about vCPE. In practice, this effort is being driven by carriers, as they want to deliver multiple services to their customers (beyond just transport) to make more money and retain influence.
They also want to increase agility in their networks and spend less with their commercial network vendors (don’t we all). So, they’ve been working on vCPE and NFV for a while, and we’re now seeing early market delivery of vCPE-based offerings with AT&T FlexWare and Verizon VNS as examples. And many more our coming, as we predict that By the end of 2018, more than 80% of global Tier 1 carriers will offer vCPE-based platforms as part of their service portfolios, up from less than 5% in mid-2017.
Simply put, vCPE is a platform that can house multiple network functions. Given this is the WAN edge, typical functions include WAN Optimization, routers, firewalls and SDWAN. So, while most SDWAN deployments to date have been purpose-built appliances, SDWAN in 3 years will be much more heavily vCPE-based (really cementing the S in to SDWAN!). This will continue to blur lines, as you can also run network functions on non-vCPE platforms including Cisco routers, Riverbed appliances and even some SDWAN platforms. So, it helps to have a definition, and we define a vCPE platform as meeting these requirements:
- Able to host multiple different VNFs
- Able to host VNFs from multiple vendors (i.e., vendor-agnostic)
- Provide logical and secure separation between VNFs
- Able to connect to multiple different transport technologies and services (i.e., transport-agnostic)
- Must support integration with orchestration systems for deployments, configuration, ongoing management and life cycle management
- Must support policy-driven service chaining for multi-VNF integration
Note: Don’t sleep on service chaining, which entails selectively steering the traffic thru the various functions, in a dynamic fashion. That is what makes vCPE more compelling than just running a bunch of VMs on a server. It is also one of the hardest things to get right, as many carriers will attest to. Our latest research on vCPE is here:
Summary: vCPE is an early technology that offers several benefits compared with traditional, appliance-based solutions. By using vCPE-based solutions, infrastructure and operations leaders responsible for network planning can improve agility and flexibility, and reduce key network expenses by 30%.