Whiteboxes have entered the networking product landscape as a part of the larger hardware and software disaggregation trend. This trend, which is also known as Network Function Disaggregation (NFD), is transforming the networking product market. Historically, network appliances have been black boxes with proprietary hardware and software sourced from a single vendor. Today, such products are evolving towards decoupled hardware whiteboxes and software components that can be sourced from a wide variety of vendors.
uCPE (Universal Customer Premise Equipment) is just one of many solution categories taking advantage of NFD. It is interesting to note that uCPEs take disaggregation one step further. Building on the hardware and software separation, uCPEs concentrate multiple software-based network functions on a single whitebox networking device. One way to picture it is: if single function boxes are on one end of the continuum, at the point of no separation. Then, uCPEs belong at the other extreme with fully disaggregated multi-function whiteboxes.
Getting back to our discussion, there are multiple reasons for adopting whitebox uCPE strategy. The need for to support new devices on a regular basis, is a common thread binding them together.
Here are some of the reasons.
In any uCPE whitebox strategy, eliminating vendor lock-in is a primary goal. This goal can be also be articulated as source diversification. With diverse sources, the managed service provider’s (MSP) purchasing team can negotiate better prices and establish robust supply chains. However, this also implies that whenever a new vendor is selected, a new batch of devices needs to be quickly and seamlessly be supported.
New devices are also expected to come from every vendor over time. We know that processing, memory and storage components will improve over time. This assumption has held true for the past decades. It has steadily followed Moore’s Law, which predicts a doubling every year in the number of components per integrated circuit. As new components are released to the market, whitebox vendors are quick to implement them in their latest models. Once again, reaping the benefits of technological advancements, requires support of devices at the pace of change.
Technology and supply chains are not the only factors, geography can also play a crucial role. In many countries, networking devices incur steep import fees. Bringing any new hardware model may also be subject to long and costly homologation processes. This means that working with locally available alternatives, which vary from one country to the next, is essential for multi-national service providers offering managed services. In this case as well, to reap the benefits of a whitebox uCPE strategy, it is necessary to support new devices from a variety of vendors on a regular basis.
Onboarding a new uCPE Whitebox
The typical approach to adding or onboarding new uCPE hardware is software porting. According to Wikipedia, porting is the process of adapting software for the purpose of achieving some form of execution in a computing environment that is different from the one that a given program. Since the process requires software engineers that adapt software, recompile and test it, the porting process can take several man months. This level of investment is prohibitive to frequent changes. It will, therefore, delay adoption of new hardware and even limit the device selection offered by some uCPE vendors.
There is another, faster approach to whitebox onboarding. This approach is ubiquitous in the world of personal computers and laptops. When we receive a new computer, the operating system is installed (not ported). The process can take anywhere from a few minutes to a half hour, during which the underlying hardware resources are identified and drivers are installed.
Since whiteboxes are essentially computers, with numerous and varied connectivity ports, we decided, at Telco Systems, to develop an installer for onboarding new whiteboxes. In the process of switching this paradigm from software porting to installation, we’ve slashed the time it takes to add a new device from months to minutes. Using our BYOD Installer wizard process, users can add any new whitebox to the uCPE Manager device catalog in just 10 minutes.
Looking back at the reasons driving uCPE whitebox strategy adoption, it is clear why installer-based onboarding is essential for success. For example, when it comes to source diversification, the benefits go far beyond avoiding vendor lock in. It provides the agility needed to establish a robust operation; one that can easily select new suppliers effectively adapting to a crisis or changing market landscape.
With our installer-based onboarding, staying at the forefront of technology is simple. Any new technology on the whitebox market, whether it supports the new low-cost processor or the latest high throughput architecture, can be instantly added helping MSPs stay ahead of the competition.
Multi-national managed service providers can increase operational efficiency with an ‘operate globally, source locally’ approach. In each country, locally available devices will be selected. This approach not only reduces costs associated with international shipping and taxation; it will also improve customer satisfaction with faster delivery.
To schedule a demo of the BYOD Installer and NFVTime uCPE solution, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.