In this article

Cable modems have been household fixtures for the better part of a generation as multiple system operators (MSOs) compete to deliver ever richer content for voice, data and video to home and business subscribers. 

At the heart of the cable delivery infrastructure is the cable modem termination system (CMTS) hardware located in a headend facility. It serves as the intermediary that manages the upstream/downstream traffic between everyone's home cable box and the wired world. On one side of the CMTS are the high-capacity Ethernet connections to MSO and Internet resources, and on the other side are the thousands of individual logical connections to the MSO's subscribers.

As cable technology has evolved over the years, those systems have advanced as well, through analog and digital formats, and now utilizing Distributed Access Architecture (DAA) to provide broadband and high-definition video streaming services to MSO subscribers. But, the exploding demand for bandwidth is beginning to outpace the capabilities of traditional cable modem termination systems.

In response, virtualization is expected to play a vital role in the future of cable delivery by improving performance, speeding service velocity, delivering the bandwidth required while making optimum use of limited hardware space, and lowering energy costs. WWT, a longtime advisor and solution provider in the cable industry, supports virtual CMTS (vCMTS) by investing in a practice to help MSOs plan, design, configure, optimize, and operate a virtualized DOCSIS delivery platform.

While virtualization is recognized as the future of cable modem termination technology, some are concerned the transition to this new model is complex and are hesitant to take immediate action. WWT is simplifying the path to vCMTS by teaming with longtime technology partner Intel in applying Intel technologies to build a reference vCMTS solution in the Advanced Technology Center (ATC).  WWT offers a portfolio of the services needed to ease integration for our customers.

New bandwidth demands are overloading traditional CMTS hardware  

A single CMTS unit actually consists of multiple integrated components working together, and a midsize MSO might have dozens of individual CMTS arrays serving their subscriber base. Their challenge is to fit more and more termination hardware into limited far-edge data center facilities, and they're quickly running out of room to expand in order to meet increasing bandwidth demands. What's more, if a legacy CMTS appliance malfunctions, the MSO must arrange repairs or replacement from the CMTS hardware vendor – and until the work is completed, the provider must deal with service slowdowns, outages, and dissatisfied customers.

Today, with the emergence of popular streaming services and 4K video content, the demand for ever more robust networks is accelerating to breakneck speeds. That demand increased further with the pandemic, as families began repurposing their home Wi-Fi networks for such activities as distance learning and remote working – and, this demand is expected to continue even after the pandemic as the work-from-home model gains more permanence.

In addition, the growth of 5G networks will place prodigious new demands on MSOs to stay competitive. In short, a high-performing vCMTS solution is likely to be a requirement for the future.  

WWT and Intel collaborate on an ideal vCMTS deployment model

More network architects are looking at software-based solutions on industry-standard servers to increase agility, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. The best-known methods, configurations and knowhow for deploying optimized, virtualized cable modem termination systems model currently in development by WWT and Intel will enable MSOs to replace expensive, purpose-built hardware with common, off-the-shelf servers occupying a smaller footprint and consuming less energy for lower total cost of operations – on the order of 20X more efficient and occupying 7X less space.

This jointly developed vCMTS implementation practice is enabled by an array of integrated Intel technologies, including:

  • Intel-designed software that provides a Kubernetes-orchestrated reference architecture for vCMTS deployment, custom-built from the ground up for WWT to demonstrate the data throughput capability of vCMTS software on an Intel CPU platform. Intel optimized this reference vCMTS data-plane software to enable optimum cable workload performance on the Intel platform.
  • Intel® Xeon® Scalable processor-based platforms serve as the foundation for a powerful data-centric solution. These processors are designed for upstream and downstream packet processing performance across a range of MSO use cases.
  • Intel® networking technologies, such as 100Gbe Ethernet adapters to deliver the accelerated speeds required for vCMTS performance.

Crucially for MSOs, the WWT and Intel-designed vCMTS deployment model is scalable, enabling operators to spin up a new instance quickly, as needed, minimizing downtime.

WWT helps ease the path to vCMTS  

For space-constrained MSOs, migrating to a high-performing, reliable and scalable vCMTS solution is all but inevitable –  yet it can also be a complex undertaking that many are hesitant to begin. Deployment is only the first step; special skills are required to maintain the solution at peak efficiency.

WWT can help bridge the skills gap by training MSO staff in the newest technologies, simplifying their migration to a more flexible and cost-effective vCMTS system that can rise to the challenges of increased content streaming and gigabit connectivity in a gigabit world with cable operators charting a path for 10G in the coming years. Through careful planning and expertise gained through years of experience serving the cable industry, WWT implements solutions based on the proven reliable data center performance of Intel technology.  

Advancing vCMTS with Intel® technology and the ATC  

This proposed vCMTS implementation practice is just one example of how WWT consistently focuses on the leading edge of innovation, evaluating the latest technologies to develop new solutions that improve performance and address customer challenges.

Critical to this evaluation process is WWT's unique Advanced Technology Center, a collaborative ecosystem of physical and virtualized labs to design and showcase integrated solutions, educate visitors and enable positive business outcomes for customers and partners worldwide. Intel technologies play a key role in most WWT solutions showcased in the ATC. 

We invite you to check out more information around the WWT Intel vCMTS Dataplane Lab for yourself, and reach out to your account manager for more information on scheduling time to discuss how this solution may benefit your environment. In addition, vCMTS solution developers are welcome to join WWT and Intel in collaborating to help the cable industry transform their access networks.