Virtual Edge Platform (VEP) 4600 Overview| Dell EMC Networking

Following on from the previous post on SD-WAN, this post focuses on Dell EMC’s recently announced VEP range, specifically VEP 4600 – the first launch within that family.

VEP 4600 is billed as a Universal CPE. Running on an x86 platform, it is a software based solution running VNFs on customer premises. It allows hosted service providers standardization, Remote Management as well as the ability to modify the VNFs on the box, depending on customer need. In Contrast to a uCPE, a vCPE is situated in Remote DCs, running the more taxing virtual functions, while the device at customer site is a more basic hardware.

Traditionally, Enterprises have deployed proprietary hardware-based appliances with integrated software, facilitating unique functions at the WAN edge – Security, WAN optimization, LB etc. The diverse set of multi-vendor appliances is a challenge to deploy, manage and maintain. The evolving uCPE model is looking to move away from this legacy approach. The intent is to replace this array of appliances, with VNFs running on a single, universal platform, leveraging a generic architecture with no proprietary extensions or specialized hardware. This in turn enables both economy & scale.

The VEP family is a direct answer to the aforementioned challenge. It is ideal for SD-WAN and VNFs (Virtual Network Functions) like routing, firewall or deep-packet inspection. It offers hosted virtualized network functionality, with applicability for the SP Edge and Enterprise Branch. It is 1 RU in size, using Intel® Xeon® D-2100 x86-based processor which has certain optimizations focused on Networking.  Dell EMC was the first to market with Xeon-D for SD-WAN. Recently, Intel has announced its own uCPE based on the same Xeon D-2100 – A number of OEM vendors are building solutions based on it. uCPE space is seeing lots of activity of late, with AT&T and Verizon, amongst others,  focusing on their own respective solutions.

Value, Differentiation & Design Principles

VEP 4600 has been built with some key Principles & aims in mind. Following is a quick review of these.

  • Purpose-built:

    While there is a move away from the proprietary appliance towards an x86 platform, the VEP family still offers a purpose built focus on virtualized Networking and Software Defined Environments.

    • uCPE platform:

      • Chassis/Form Factor optimized as a uCPE platform.
      • 1 RU sized, using the latest Intel® Xeon® D-2100 x86-based processor. These are 14nm silicons, based on Intel Mesh Architecture focused on providing low power, high density edge computing. Intel views the D-2100 as a great fit for CPE solutions, delivering intelligent services to the edge.
    • Improved Performance:

      • QAT – Intel Quick Assist Technology:  Chipset based Hardware Acceleration. Offload to specialized chip-integrated logic engine, of features such as Encrypt/Decrypt, Crypto, Compression  etc.
      • VT – Intel Virtualization Technology: Hardware Virtualization, NFV to the Edge.
      • DPDK: Accelerated Data Plane; Packet Forwarding.
      • OOB Management direct into HW, for remote management of device (with IPMI support)
  • Future ready

    • Open:

      • Open, Standards based technology dis-aggregation remains a fundamental tenet of Dell EMC Networking’s Vision & Strategy.  It is once again on display here – x86 based platform, a choice of consumption models, a choice of overlay solutions to fit diverse needs. SD-WAN itself offers multiple layers of dis-aggregation. e.g. Agnostic to underlying transport, decoupling of the control and data plane – It enables a model of Centralized Control & Management of traffic flows, policy and conditioning, via an Application-Aware Controller.
    • Diverse Workloads:

      • VEP is not an SD-WAN only box. While it can be deployed in Baremetal model with just the SD-WAN solution, it can also be deployed in the NFVi model, offering diverse VNF building blocks around security, load balance, WAN optimization etc. There is support for KVM & ESXi Hypervisors, plus Native Linux. The consolidation of functions will make it applicable in both SP Edge and Enterprise Branch.
    •  Modular:

      • The modularity of VEP box ensures that additional capabilities can be added via mezzanine card (likely later 2018 & beyond). There are two face plates on the front, where slots for the cards reside. This enables VEP to have great flexibility with respect to the interfaces it can support in the future. for e.g. the cards could include LTE/WiFi, Carrier, PoE etc.
  • Validated choice:

    • Brite-Box

      • The Brite-box approach offers the same benefits which we have seen with our SDN Eco-system partnerships (with the likes of Big Switch, Cumulus and Pluribus) – Superior build, Support, logistics/Supply-chain, and over all experience – Dell EMC’s fingerprint plays a significant role.
    • Hardware Choice

      • VEP 4600 offers a number of configurations to achieve the best fit. choices include Scaling of CPU Cores, Memory & Storage. VEP family itself will expand in the future to offer more models besides the 4600. It will be pertinent to mention that in parallel, Dell EMC also offers other options based on for e.g. the Power Edge Server line (R430, R630).
    • Partner Eco-system:

      • For the first bracket of functionality offered by VEP, i.e. SD-WAN, the partner eco-system on offering has been carefully selected to maximize value & differentiation. A lot of resource and time has been invested in vetting & validating the integration of SD-WAN/Overlay solutions on these platform. More on the partners, below.
    • Ready Node Program:

      • The three partners (Silver Peak, VeloCloud, Versa) have been put through the “Ready Node” program, which provides a validated reference architecture and kit list, to eliminate risk and accelerate time to deployment. The validation itself is not limited to product itself only, but also applies to for e.g. supply chain.

DellEMC VEP4600 - hasanmansur.com

Components

A quick summary of the solution components:

  • Platform:
    • VEP Product Line
      • VEP 4600 : (Multiple Configuration Options)
        • 4 Core (Max 4 VNFs)
        • 8 Core (Max 6 VNFs)
        • 16 Core (Max 8 VNFs)
      • Other Form-factors (Future) : Models in smaller (Desktop) and larger (Server) footprint.
  • Deployment Model (Covered in a section to follow)
    • SD-WAN (Current uCPE Baremetal):
      • CPE Software 
        • Velocloud,
        • Versa
        • Silver Peak will not be a direct install, and must use a hypervisor. 
    • NFVi for multi-VNF deployments (Developing)
      • CPE Software Options
        • SD-WAN
        • WAN Optimization, Traffic Steering, QoS
        • Routing, Security, DPI
        • Monitoring, Analytics
    • Cloud NFVi/vCPE: Provider Edge (Developing)
  • Physical Connectivity/Presentation/Cables
  • HW Support

SD-WAN Deployment Model & Future CPE

Typical SD-WAN Solutions could have an affinity for a CPE Oriented approach, a Cloud Oriented approach, or what is gaining increasing momentum of late – a Hybrid approach. The approach manifests in where the L3-L7 functions are executed – locally on the customer premise, in the Cloud/DC, or in the case of hybrid – some locally (Cache and WAN optimization) and some in the Cloud (IPS, AV).  The location of these functions may change depending on whether the context is the Enterprise or a Service Provider.

In the CPE approach, the CPE box will typically provide a more dense service catalogue – Routing, Security, wired/wireless user access, Overlay termination etc. In the cloud approach, the CPE box will typically provide the basic features – Overlay termination, user access via wired/wireless, L2 etc. The more advanced features around Routing, Security, NAT etc, will be executed in the Cloud. it is certainly pertinent to place functions like cache and optimization as close to the edge, as possible.

Let us summarize the deployment models with the VEP.

  1. uCPE Baremetal: offers the SD-WAN solution as Pre-integrated & built. Deployed direct on the baremetal, this effectively renders the platform into an “Appliance”. Of the current set of SD-WAN solutions, Silver Peak would not be available as bare metal.
  2. uCPE NFVi: SD-WAN can be offered in the NFVi model. NFVi, as par ETSI (illustrated), consists of the virtualized resources, as well as the physical resources for compute, storage, and networking. The NFVi uCPE can offer a number of VNFs on top of a Hypervisor layer, complete with service chaining. The Middle-wear support comprises of
    • VMWare ESXi
    • KVM
    • Linux OS
    • Openstack
    • potential VNF Managers, complete with Middlewear – in the future. This model is already in application & development today, with SD-WAN.
  3. Cloud NFVi: vCPE – Here, the VNFs reside in the DC, while the CPE is a more basic hardware. This has relevance for Provider Edge – Private & Public Cloud.
ETSI NFV High Level Framework
ETSI NFV High Level Framework

uCPE VNFs carry a lot of traction in SP & Enterprise WAN Transformation landscape. As mentioned in the beginning of this post, the traditional model of offering such services was driven by Proprietary Appliances dedicated to each function, in all required locations. This not only resulted in higher costs, but also complexity with respect to integration and separate Management + Maintenance + Refresh Cycles. The cost & complexity would increase proportionally with scale.

uCPEs and the offer of services as virtualized functions has several critical advantages. The use of an x86 based platform allows add/change/delete of software VNFs driven by whatever the particular site’s requirements are. This in turn introduces agility, greater elasticity with scale, and Automation.

The location could be Customer Premise, Provider Edge (CO/POP), or the CoSP Cloud/Data Center.

—-

I had initially included an Overview of the different SD-WAN solutions available on VEP 4600, in this post. However, the overview grew to a size where it would merit a separate post. Subsequent posts will then look into these solutions in more detail, starting with Silverpeak.

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