Colt Technology Services puts revamped uCPE offering into play

Colt Technology Services announced on Thursday that it has re-launched its universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) solution to better offer virtual network functions (VNFs) to its enterprise customers.

Colt switched from using a Versa Networks-based virtual customer premises equipment solution to a network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVi) model that is provisioned by Adva's Ensemble Connector.

With Adva, Colt is able to offer its enterprise customers a networking operating system and hosting environment for VNFs, such as firewalls and SD-WAN, on lower cost off-the-shelf white boxes. While uCPE deployments have been slow to take off, the hope is that they can run multiple VNFs and cloud-native functions in production.

In addition to Colt, Masergy, AT&T and Orange Business Services have also deployed uCPE solutions, among others.

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 uCPE market is projected to grow from $7.7 million in 2017 to $1.02 billion in 2022, which is a cumulative $1.9 billion market over the six years from 2017 to 2022, according to a report last year by IHS Markit's Michael Howard.

RELATED: Colt prepares new uCPE service for blast off

Colt announced last year it was working with Adva on deploying uCPE. Colt initially targeted last October for the availability of the uCPE offering.

Colt is using white boxes from Advantech for the next generation of its uCPE service, but other vendors are being evaluated. Colt's Mirko Voltolini, head of network on demand, said in an email his company expects to have a dual vendor strategy going forward and will have an alternative to Advantech by the end this year.

Colt has spent the past few years overhauling its network infrastructure and systems in order to offer cloud-based, on-demand services to its business customers. The new uCPE offering is part of Colt's cloud-based Stratus project, which will also include NFV orchestration and virtualization of network resources across an NFV telco cloud.

Colt's uCPE service puts the network into the hands of customers by giving them the flexibility to license, manage and monitor functions in service provider or customer managed modes across a range of network options. Colt's uCPE service brings the cloud from data centers to customers' premises, which enables virtualization at the edge.

"We are going to make a slice of the uCPE available to customers and selected partners to deploy their own applications," said Voltolini, in regards to how uCPE enables edge compute. "These can be applications that require proximity to the customer environment such as an IoT gateway or an AI application."

NFV on uCPE enables users to realize the benefits of the cloud by replacing closed appliances with their choice of software that can be hosted anywhere in the network on their choice of open hardware. There have been numerous complaints about NFV not living up to its potential and some service providers, such as CenturyLink, have implemented multiple versions of NFV over the years.

Some of the hurdles for deploying uCPE solutions include cost and the fact that service chaining and orchestrating multiple VNFs on a uCPE is something that service providers are still figuring out.

VNFs in particular have been an area of contention for NFV deployments. Service providers have complained that each vendor's VNF is unique to that company, which means they take longer to on-board, while vendors have said they can't make VNFs for each individual service provider.

RELATED: Common NFVi Telco Task Force publishes reference model and reference architecture for unified framework

Earlier this year, the Common NFVi Telco Taskforce (CNTT) was formed to create and document a common NFVi framework in order to speed up the deployment of VNFs across the entire telecommunications stack.

"The one thing above all is the fact that NFV is still difficult from the vendor interoperability standpoint," Voltolini said when asked if there were any lessons learned from Colt's deployment of uCPE. "You need to engage the supplier of the uCPE virtualization stack and the suppliers of VNFs to work together as a multiparty to resolve integration issues. Not all the suppliers are fully cooperative due to competitive positions so we had to act as a mediator."

Colt's uCPE offering is available across its entire footprint.