Virtual Central Office 2.0: It takes a community

The central office plays an important role for service providers: as the termination point for subscriber connectivity, it’s the last physical interface with residential and business customers for service delivery. As service providers attempt to deliver services closer to the customer by leveraging computing capabilities at the edge, the central office is poised to play a key role in their digital transformation journeys. But there’s work to be done in central offices to prepare them for this role.

There are more than 10,000 central offices in the United States alone, and no two are the same. Each houses a mix of equipment, including switches, routers, gateways, and services, and supports a range of termination points, including copper, fiber, cable, and gigabit passive optical network (GPON). They are a source of high capital and operational expenditures for service providers. In other words, they’re ripe for virtualization.

Early attempts to create a virtualized central office (VCO) resulted in piecemeal approaches, or proprietary solutions, because components were built to address specific needs rather than taking a holistic approach to the service provider’s longer-term requirements. By adopting commodity hardware with virtualized functions, providers can keep up with their markets much more readily.

Building a virtual central office

With that in mind, and with access to the latest orchestration tools and newest features in OpenDaylight SDN controller, in-built capabilities for a VCO were demonstrated last summer at the OPNFV Summit in Beijing.

In the demo, Red Hat partnered with companies including Cisco, Cumulus, Ericsson, F5, Intel, Lenovo, Mellanox, Netscout, and Nokia to deliver a community version of a VCO in which the local branch consumer premises equipment (CPE) hosted on the keynote stage in China connected live to the VCO located in Lenovo’s lab in Raleigh, North Carolina.

It was a successful demonstration of a virtual CPE use case: an end-to-end business service providing local breakout traffic to the internet and remote VPN connectivity to the virtual router in the central office. The version 1.0 demo—also replicated in a demo booth throughout the event—showcased the power of open-source communities to enable rapid industry collaboration (the demo was put together in less than a month) and innovation.

VCO 2.0: bringing mobile to the virtual central office

The group now plans to demonstrate version 2.0—virtualizing the central office for mobile services—at the Open Networking Summit (ONS) Europe, September 25-27, in Amsterdam. There, Red Hat and more than 10 of its partners will focus on the implementation of virtual radio access network (vRAN) as well as the virtualized mobile packet core elements via virtual evolved packet core (vEPC) which represent a minimum viable mobile access network configuration.

This is an important step as services providers chart a path to 5G. Today’s central office needs to be virtualized and turned into a standardized approach that can be rolled out to all central offices.

Over a common VCO platform, service providers can deliver value-added services to mobile subscribers, enterprises, and residential customers as well as services that support over-the-top (OTT) applications. VCO 2.0 will demonstrate the delivery of mobile services, as well as 5G features and functionalities such as vRAN and network slicing.

The demo—hosted at the Linux Foundation Networking booth to the left of the main entrance at the RAI Amsterdam Convention Centre—will showcase the power of open-source communities to collaborate around one of the industry’s most pressing use cases. The team will provide a portfolio of assets to the community to help replicate the demo in their own environments. You can learn more about the VCO demo details on the project website. And if you’ll be at ONS Europe this week, make sure to stop by and check it out.

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