Cisco's cloud-native broadband router could be a game changer for cable

Cisco announced the debut of its cloud-native broadband router, which is a containerized, software reboot of traditional CCAP hardware.

The new cloud-native broadband router is notable on several levels, the first being that it's further proof that Cisco has moved beyond its roots as just a vendor of hardware boxes.

With cloud-native, carriers can split disaggregated systems into even smaller, independent microservice functions that can scale up or down as needed. Cloud-native also improves efficiencies while allowing operators to turn on new services in a fraction of the time it takes today.

Web-scale providers—mainly Google, Facebook and Amazon—have largely pioneered cloud-native through the use of containers, microservices, automation, orchestration and continuous integration.

Cisco said its new cloud-native router was "built as a set of microservices using standard tools such as Kubernates for container orchestration and Docker for creating, deploying and operating containerized applications."

Conventional converged cable access platform (CCAP) hardware was designed to reduce rack space, lower powering and energy consumption, and improve redundancy across a converged services platform by merging the functions of  cable modem termination systems (CMTS) and dense edge QAMs onto a single platform.

Cloud-native takes some of those CCAP concepts even farther by minimizing requirements for space, power, cooling and onsite maintenance by shifting CMTS and CCAP functions to the cloud with software.

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In a blog post, Cisco's Sean Welch, vice president and general manager, cable access business unit, said there were several approaches to virtualized CCAP systems.

"The first approach is simple and straightforward: A vendor takes their existing CCAP code and deploys it on a virtual machine, running on generic server technology," Welch wrote. "We refer to this approach as 'lift and shift.' A virtual machine implementation is relatively quick for a vendor to implement; however, this approach results in only limited benefits. By enabling CCAP to run on data center servers, scaling flexibility is improved. Capacity expansions can be deployed in fine grained increments versus larger dedicated CCAP hardware platforms, which results in space, power and cooling efficiencies."

But the downside to the "lift and shift" approach was that it lacks the ability to leverage the benefits of offered by software frameworks, languages and architectures.

"Simply migrating an existing code base built with legacy tools and languages to run on virtual machines results in the same lifecycle management challenges that we know today," according to Welch. "The effort to test, deploy and scale is rarely improved, and in many cases results in greater levels of complexity and performance challenges."

Cisco's new router was designed from the ground up "with a composition of multiple services that are elastic, resilient and flexible to support multicloud architectures."

The router features open standards-based modular software for agile feature development and deployment. It also has real-time monitoring, analysis and remediation capabilities, including Cisco Cross Network Automation.

Cisco's new cloud-native broadband router is a shot across the bow of other CMTS and CCAP vendors, including Arris, Casa Systems, Huawei, and Harmonic. While those companies are no-doubt working on their own cloud-native implementations of CCAP, for now at least, Cisco has the bragging rights.

It remains to be seen whether cable operators are ready to jump into cloud-native architectures with both feet, but they are steadily moving towards cloud and IP-based networks.