Telco Systems is making a name for itself with its universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) that supports both Intel x86 and Arm architectures. Telco Systems uses its uCPE for its NFVTime offering, which includes an operating system and a marketplace of virtual network functions (VNFs) from third-party vendors. Telco Systems aims for its NFVTime to run any VNF on any white box, whether on Intel x86 or Arm devices.
The company determined from the beginning that it wanted to be hardware agnostic. “You can show us a white box, and I can certify we will be able to upload our NFVI, and it will operate from the get-go,” said Telco Systems CEO Ariel Efrati.
Efrati also said that the Arm architecture is cheaper than the x86 architecture, which makes it easier for customers to adopt NFVTime. He said that supporting both x86 and Arm architectures “definitely changes the equation.” For instance, he said Telco Systems is in discussions with a Tier 1 service provider “that’s a bit late in terms of their NFV deployment.” This service provider had been looking at x86-based uCPE, but now it’s thinking of skipping x86 and using Arm-based uCPE instead.
“We demonstrate more than 30 percent of cost savings on the hardware when you use Arm,” said Efrati. “We now have three different manufacturers for these Arm boxes.” He said one of those manufacturers can’t be named, but the others are CyberTan and Nexcom.
Efrati said there is no problem with performance between the x86 and the Arm-based boxes. “We haven’t certified thousands of applications on Arm, but Arm is actually financing that to make it happen,” he said.
IHS Markit’s most recent “uCPE Hardware Biannual Market Report” forecasts the uCPE market to increase from $7.7 million in 2017 to $1.02 billion in 2022 – a cumulative $1.9 billion market over the six years from 2017 to 2022.
IHS Markit defines a uCPE as a device providing a “pico cloud,” including compute, storage and switching capable of executing VNFs such as virtual firewalls, SD-WAN, virtual WAN, virtual application delivery controllers, and optimization appliances. The main purpose at a customer site is for a single uCPE to take the place of several network appliances and devices by executing software functions.
IHS Markit estimates that fewer than 600 units of uCPE were shipped in 2016, mostly for lab testing and a small fraction in field trials. And 2017 was tepid as an initial takeoff year with under 7,000 units shipped. However, a heavy ramp is expected from 2018 onward. Recent IHS Markit global carrier surveys on SDN and NFV reveal that 82 percent of operators polled are deploying or plan to execute VNFs on uCPE located at customer sites, with 97 percent in central offices and 85 percent in data centers.
Telco Systems’ Efrati said a lot of the uCPE solutions were developed with a certain level of naivete because they assumed the concept of “on-net.” This means that the hardware at one location will be connected via a network to hardware at another location, and that network will be owned by one operator. But that is not how networking works in may places such as the U.S., which often delineates different service provider footprints. Branches are often supported by different carriers.
“In 90 percent of cases you will not have all you branches on the same service provider,” Efrati said. There’s quite a lot of certification that must be done at the hardware level for uCPE to work in these situations.