The enterprise has long struggled with the intricacies of connecting branch offices and other remote sites to centralized data facilities. Not only does navigating the WAN require a host of third-party providers, but the terminal equipment at individual sites is often complex, expensive and difficult to maintain.

But with the advent of the cloud as a means to support production workloads, not to mention even more disparate resources on the IoT edge, the need to simplify wide area networking is no longer just a helpful development but a competitive necessity.

Networks gone virtual

This is the primary driver behind SDN, NFV and other forms of virtual networking on the WAN. By converting to an abstract, software-defined architecture, long-haul networking becomes much more flexible and much easier to troubleshoot and manage. But even these advanced technologies are only marginally helpful if networked sites are still relying on complex, platform-dependent hardware. In the modern era, nothing less than a low-cost, universal networking device is warranted.

Enter the new field of universal customer premises equipment (uCPE). This new class of network device is described as the jack-of-all-trades for service providers and the enterprise. It is a converged solution that puts compute, storage and networking on a commodity, off-the-shelf server, allowing it to provide NFV, SD-WAN, virtual WAN and a host of other services, including security, to virtually any site on an extended network.

According to IHS Markit, the uCPE market is expected to top $1 billion in 2022, which is remarkable considering that it commanded barely $7.7 million as late as 2017. Its advantages over existing network devices are compelling:

  • It streamlines network architecture by incorporating functions that were previously handled by dedicated systems, including application delivery, resource optimization and firewall management.
  • It cuts capital costs by replacing proprietary equipment with generic hardware.
  • It simplifies network management by allowing local or remote provisioning, monitoring, service upgrades and other tasks.
  • It supports multiple VPNs on a single, streamlined hardware footprint.

While this is likely to improve networking performance in the data center, it is expected to really shine on the network edge, says Nemertes Research’s John Burke. The ability to deploy services faster and at locations that are closer to end users should unleash a wave of innovation influencing everything from recreation and ecommerce to healthcare and finance. This should also streamline network infrastructure across the board because organizations will be able to field a single, integrated virtual network architecture from the data center right to the customer’s home.

Tomorrow’s technology today

We can already see this environment taking shape. ADVA’s recent collaboration with Dell EMC to unite the Ensemble Connector with the Virtual Edge platform delivers a ready-made uCPE solution that employs a consolidated management stack and a full suite of more than 50 VNF configurations. Already, this system is being used by Verizon to push a number of software-based services to its customers.

As the data universe continues to spread across multiple platforms and geographic locations, networking will become the determining factor in maintaining performance and delivering robust user experiences. Today’s patchwork of switches, routers and individualized management environments was designed to accommodate the data loads of yesteryear. For the future digital services market, networks must become more streamlined, interoperable and easier to deploy and maintain.

If you haven’t yet encountered your first uCPE deployment, you will soon.