Based on the number of “virtualized” CCAP systems announcements, one could make the assumption that all software-based CCAP systems will offer similar benefits. But nothing can be further from the truth. It’s important to recognize that there are two very different approaches that vendors are taking to develop their CCAP systems, and they yield very different benefits for the cable operator.
The first approach is simple and straightforward: A vendor takes their existing CCAP code and deploys it on a virtual machine, running on generic server technology. We refer to this approach as “lift and shift.” A virtual machine implementation is relatively quick for a vendor to implement; however, this approach results in only limited benefits. By enabling CCAP to run on data center servers, scaling flexibility is improved. Capacity expansions can be deployed in fine grained increments versus larger dedicated CCAP hardware platforms, which results in space, power and cooling efficiencies.
The downside of a “lift and shift” approach is that it lacks the ability to leverage the most powerful benefits offered by modern software frameworks, languages and architecture. Simply migrating an existing code base built with legacy tools and languages to run on virtual machines results in the same lifecycle management challenges that we know today. The effort to test, deploy and scale is rarely improved, and in many cases results in greater levels of complexity and performance challenges.
The other approach to virtualization is based on Cloud Native techniques. Over the past few years we’ve witnessed the tangible benefits stemming from this approach driven by web-scale players. Increased feature velocity, improved quality and balanced deployment risk management are some of the key areas of improvement. A Cloud Native approach employs the use of microservices, automation, telemetry and orchestration, coupled with continuous integration and delivery processes, to deliver an exceptional operation experience. Infrastructure equipment, and CCAP in particular, are now poised to leverage the proven track record of the Cloud Native computing for the benefit of cable operators worldwide.
With a micoservices architecture, each service is isolated from every other service, using a “container” construct. Micoservices are often described as modular, composable, fine grained elements that do exactly one thing. By design, these containers are thoughtful about intended purpose, state, modularity and leverage of messaging. This enables the microservice to be independently optimized and evolved without impacting other parts of the system. Automated testing of microservices is simplified and more comprehensive resulting in a higher quality code base. Finally, microservices are connected together through the use of power lightweight messaging technology, and they are coordinated through orchestration frameworks that enable the complete system to function as intended with a high level of reliability. When coupled with powerful telemetry capabilities, a microservices architecture holds the promise to simplify the complete test, deploy and operate lifecycle for CCAP infrastructure.
The downside of a containerized approach is borne by the vendor, not the cable operator. It is not realistic to take traditional CCAP code—which has evolved over a long period of time and has been written in legacy programming languages—and break it apart in order to containerize it. Most traditional CCAP software cannot and should not be directly reused. Instead, the vendor must undertake a more complex and substantial software development effort to build a containerized CCAP system, service by service. While this is a much greater investment for the vendor, once this major development effort is complete, the vendor also benefits down the road by being able to test and release new functions to its customers much faster than before and at a much higher level of quality and reliability.
At Cisco, after examining the customer benefits of a microservices approach, we chose to make the significant investment in a fundamental rewrite of our software leveraging our substantial expertise in DOCSIS and video. We are confident this investment will yield substantial benefits for our customers as they continue to evolve their architectures to meet the unrelenting customer demand for more bandwidth.
All software-based CCAP systems are not alike. Once you know the architectural tradeoffs, its easy to see that the operational, reliability and feature velocity benefits of microservices approach are overwhelmingly greater than a lift and shift approach.
Cisco’s approach to preparing cable operators for the multi-cloud world is a game changer – helping them transform their networks with a comprehensive hardware portfolio and top to bottom software integration. With a successful move to IP, operators will be able to improve the economics of network operations and offer new services with more agility, including mobile, with better network performance. Shifting CMTS and CCAP functions to the cloud is an important step for our customers to attain the velocity they want and need along with scalability, resilience and simplification they require.
For more ways on how Cisco is helping accelerate the deployment of multicloud solutions, check out today’s Cloud Native Broadband Router announcement, web site, the recent announcement of the Cisco Container Platform (CCP) and partnerships with leading cloud operators.
I’m excited about the transformation the cable industry is undergoing and passionate about delivering the solutions and technologies that enable our customers to simplify and improve profitability. Come visit the Cisco booth at ANGA COM next week – Hall 7, #E20 – to continue the conversation. You can also visit our cable access solutions site to learn more about how Cisco is leading the disruption in the industry with our technology innovations.