Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Net Appliances Emerge to Handle Data Deluge 

Network infrastructure has had a hard time keeping up with the data explosion and surging demand for real-time capabilities as everything but the kitchen sink is networked.

Incremental progress has been made via open and virtual networking efforts that have yielded next generation switching and routing technologies, including 100-gigabit/second Ethernet switches. But demand for datacenters that can provide more bandwidth and lower latency will only grow as network traffic soars.

Given that requirement, virtual networking appliance approaches are emerging in the form of a new type of networking equipment called universal customer premises equipment, or uCPE.

The category only emerged in 2016, but market watchers assert uCPE is gaining traction in the enterprise market. One reason is that uCPE devices can replace functions typically performed by discrete systems such as firewalls, routers and wireless LAN controllers.

Especially bullish is IHS Markit, which pegs the nascent uCPE market at $327 million by 2023, up from a mere $7 million in 2018.

Part of the attraction is uCPE’s ability to provide what the market watcher dubs “pico-clouds” that combine switching with computing and storage to perform virtualized network functions.

Vendors such as Cumulus Networks have introduced comparable networking appliances in the last two years, and VMware along with other virtual networking specialists have certified these approaches to run on their network virtualization platforms aimed at software-defined datacenters.

Indeed, uCPE processors are touted as combining networking equipment into a programmable appliance, thereby replacing other infrastructure while allowing datacenter operators to instead deploy virtual network functions in software.

“Because of its embrace of software-based functionality, uCPE can be seen as a microcosm of the network infrastructure market as a whole, where control functions are being virtualized and packet-forwarding is becoming more specialized,” Kelson Astley, an embedded processors analyst with IHS Markit, said in a research note.

To support the shift to virtualization, “uCPE devices are increasingly employing sophisticated application-specific logic coprocessors and powerful 64-bit microprocessors as their main compute processors,” Astley noted.

The market tracker forecasts soaring shipments of application-specific logic co-processors for uCPE devices, jumping to an estimated 155 million units in 2023, up from 1.2 million last year. Shipments of 64-bit uCPU processors could top 100 million units over the same period, compared to less than 1 million in 2018.

Demand for high-end processors such as general-purpose GPUs will be driven by the need to support data analytics. Shipments of those generic graphics processors, “negligible” today, IHS Markit reported, could top 1 million units in 2023.

Meanwhile, a growing list in hyperconverged infrastructure vendors are taking notice of the emerging uCPE market, perhaps transforming the co-processor segment into a commodity market as a range of products shrink average selling prices. Those networking manufacturers include Cienna Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), Dell (NYSE: DELL), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (NYSE: HPE), China’s Huawei and Juniper Networks (NYSE: JNPR).




About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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