Intel joined the white box universal customer premise equipment (uCPE) party today with a reference architecture for uCPE based on Intel chipsets.
And a lucrative party it is. IDC forecasts worldwide spending on uCPE and virtual CPE infrastructure hardware and software to reach $3 billion by 2021. In a January report, IHS Markit found 85 percent of operators plan to deploy physical uCPE at a location to run virtual network functions (VNFs).
White boxes also ranked No. 1 in units shipped (24 percent) for data center servers during the fourth quarter of 2017 and No. 2 in terms of revenue market share with 17.6 percent, or $3.54 billion, according to IHS.
The new Intel Select Solution for uCPE will allow customers to run VNFs at both enterprises and branch offices, said Dan Rodriguez, vice president and general manager of the communications infrastructure division in Intel’s data center group. This saves time and money for service providers and their enterprise customers deploying firewalls, virtual routing, intrusion detection and prevention systems, WiFi, and SD-WAN, he said.
“It’s an opportunity for communication service providers to deliver managed services to the enterprise,” he said. “The way enterprises can look at this: when they select a universal CPE approach, this will help them simplify their deployments by moving to a software-defined approach. It’s based on Intel recipes that have specific hardware, specific operating systems, as well hypervisors that we know are configured in a way that can deliver the right components.”
The uCPE design is based on the Intel Xeon D-2100 system-on-chip processor announced earlier this year. “This processor is built for performance density; it has very strong performance per watt, so customers can run these multiple workloads in a very efficient fashion,” Rodriguez said.
Intel isn’t saying which software vendors’ operating systems or hypervisors would work with the recipe. But a handful of OEMs — Advantech, Lanner, Premier, Silicom, and Supermicro — are already building products based on the new Intel Select Solution. These technology partners will bring products to market in the second half of 2018, according to the chipmaker.
The products will be “hardened solutions,” based on an Intel uCPE reference design, as opposed to traditional white boxes, said Bryan Madden, director of marketing, Intel Network Platforms Group.
“This is to spur a broad range of ecosystem innovation and encourage solution choice and differentiation,” Madden said. “The goal for our Intel Select Solution brand is to accelerate time to market of ecosystem solutions that are verified as meeting our configuration requirements and performance benchmarks.”
SD-WAN and uCPE
And while it’s too early to say which operators will sign on to use the Intel-based white boxes, Rodriguez points to service providers that recently demonstrated SD-WAN on top of Intel chipsets at the RSA Conference last month.
“AT&T was showcasing how they can deploy a number of enterprise services via the SD-WAN,” he said. “They showed how by better managing the WAN and packet loss you could improve quality of experience. Verizon partnered with Versa and showed a more automated way to provision services with this software-defined infrastructure.”
Additionally, Citrix demonstrated multi-cloud security based on Intel architecture. It used SD-WAN on the edge and also a virtual platform in the cloud.
To be clear: these companies aren’t using an Intel-based uCPE product. “However, SD-WAN and uCPE: I look at these as sister categories because they really go hand in hand,” Rodriguez said.
It’s also too soon to tell if Intel’s recent security vulnerabilities will make service providers shy away from white boxes based on Intel processors.
When asked how the processor protects customers from Spectre and Meltdown, or similar security flaws in the future, an Intel spokesperson said: “Xeon D-2100 will be supported by regular system software updates aimed at protecting partners and customers from the security exploits.”