Virtual CPE: A New Way to Connect to the Internet


Dave Wilson - HEAnet

Let’s talk about routers. What do they do? They don’t provide bandwidth - that’s the transmission equipment. You have to buy bigger routers when you upgrade the transmission, but that’s not a benefit, that’s a cost.

They don’t provide connectivity - that’s the fibre. You have to get more routers when you add more sites, sure, but that’s a cost too.

They don’t provide resilience. In fact, if you want resilience, you have to go out and buy twice as many routers.

The job of a router is to route IP packets, and that’s something that gets done in software. Admittedly, very specialised software, and it’s sometimes coded in pretty hard ASICs. But it’s a software function. And that’s something that can be virtualised.

Right now, a typical HEAnet client with resilience connections has six devices on site: two CPE that HEAnet manage, two bluenet switches that provide the connectivity, and then their own switches, routers or firewalls which continue the connection into the client’s network. That’s a lot of expensive devices, and we think we have a way to do something about this. Starting at the time of the conference, HEAnet is launching a pilot of a new service, called virtual CPE (vCPE). We’re going to take this function that is currently provided by physical equipment at every single client, and start to aggregate it in a number of larger routers closer to the core. This talk will describe the steps we’re taking, what the benefits will be, and how clients can participate in the upcoming phases. But there is more to it than this. HEAnet is also involved in developing OpenNaaS, a provisioning tool for virtual networks. When you virtualise your infrastructure like this, a lot of new possibilities open up. We’re already able to make point-to-point connections on demand, both within Ireland, and to other countries with GEANT. If you add to this the ability to deploy routing infrastructure just as smoothly, also on demand, then a lot of the expense and complexity goes away, and projects that were previously unfeasible become very attractive.

So as well as introducing this upcoming service from HEAnet, this talk will also cover the open source tools we plan to use, and the benefits that one can achieve from using them together with the point-to-point infrastructure that’s already present at almost all HEAnet clients.