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Carrier Networking Network Function Virtualization (NFV)
5 minute read

3 Important Things to Consider When Going "All In" on Universal CPE

We highlight three major things you need to be aware of if deciding to move forward with a Universal CPE solution where NFV is utilized. We felt compelled to explain these thoughts based on the testing that we did in our Advanced Technology Center lab around a uCPE and multi-vendor VNF design validation testing exercises we did for one of our customers.

In This Insight

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ATC Insight

Do you have a "Red Line" to the OEMs or Vendors?

Coming out of our testing, we figured out that you really need to to have deep technical level OEM or Vendor partnerships to be successful with uCPE solutions that contain several vendors.

An example we faced in our lab were the different caveats and roadmaps around integration between the different OEMs and their solutions which could potentially impact a go-forward design, maintenance, ongoing support, and the ability to manage a uCPE solution effectively.  We were specifically working with one of the Cisco business units around a feature that we wanted in our design that was still on a beta release that was targeted for customer release in 2020.  The key here is that the Palo Alto business unit (we were also working with) had other ideas on when that specific Cisco code would be supported by their Palo Alto code.  Both Cisco and Palo Alto are not wrong here.  They are simply beating to their own business drums.

The key here is that there is no governing body that holds all the OEMs or Vendors accountable to a set of standards or time frames for development, release, and certification for interoperability.  There is no particular incentive by the OEMs or Vendors to prioritize this interoperability testing and certification.

You must have deep relationships with your OEM or Vendor technical counterparts to really paint a true picture on whether a uCPE multi-vendor solution will really be viable for a multi-year strategy.

What happens when you need to troubleshoot?

Another major thought around uCPE and the use of VNFs in service-chaining has to do with the nature of troubleshooting and what specific expectations a customer might have versus the reality of troubleshooting efforts when something is not working in production. 

When several OEMs must be consulted to understand if their feature-set, code, or solution is the culprit of something not working correctly, in our experience in our lab you can feel like the OEMs are not coming to the table to really help, but instead focus on blaming other OEMs in a troubleshooting effort.  You must really take this into consideration if you are troubleshooting a production outage and it is severely impacting the business.  Having deep technical relationships and the ability to troubleshoot with key stakeholders at the OEMs or Vendors is going to be a key to solving issues from troubleshooting.

You need to look for any documentation from the OEMs or Vendors on how they support Third Party solutions in troubleshooting efforts.  Sometimes vendors like Cisco will have documents that outline their support model for multi-OEM solutions.

A Testing Environment is Key

In our ongoing tests we needed to consult with the vendors (Cisco and Palo Alto) as we encountered bugs.  The discussions around bugs (found in testing) of course lead to roadmaps and any gap awareness between different OEM or Vendor solutions interoperability.  It was clear that certain feature sets need to be tested between their products because compatibility could be compromised as code levels are updated.  

With so many potential possibilities of OEMs or Vendors integrating in a uCPE and VNF solution, it is almost impossible for OEMs or Vendors to test compatibility with every single Vendor or OEM on the market. Having the ability to do ongoing testing in a facility like WWT's Advanced Technology Center or (ATC) is key to maintaining the solution over its full lifecycle in production.  It is only a matter of time until a code level must be upgraded or updated for new features and security patches.  Being able to regression testing to root out any bugs before deploying new code in maintenance windows is a necessity.  This is where the ATC Lab Services team can help!

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Technology Under Test

The overall technology we tested in the Advanced Technology Center was Network Function Virtualization or (NFV).  The deeper or more tactical technologies that were addressed in our tests are specifically Universal CPE or (uCPE) and Virtual Network Functions or (VNFs).  The OEMs or Vendors that were attached to these technologies being tested the Proof Of Concept were Cisco and Palo Alto.

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Documentation

At the time of this writing 11-16-2019, the last time the document had been updated was January 29, 2019.

It is great that Cisco puts this type of document out for public consumption, but you can see that ten months have gone by without an update.  There really is no incentive for Cisco to aggressively update this document if there is no customer demand for it, or if other Vendors do not want to comply with Cisco in terms of VNF partnership.

We also do not see much detail in the market right now (outside of Cisco) where vendors have tried to operationalize and standardize platforms or relationships regarding Network Function Virtualization.