More and more cable operators are looking to software to stay competitive. The goal is to offer faster broadband speeds and more services. Purpose-built, capacity-limited hardware systems simply can’t match the benefits of a software-based architecture that is built around a virtual CMTS (vCMTS). Here are some important questions you should ask when evaluating vCMTS solutions.
1. Does a software-based approach improve business agility?
In traditional cable access networks that are built around a CMTS or CCAP, you’re locked into the hardware-bound limitations of the technology. In that context, upgrading your network is both expensive and time-consuming. There’s an especially hefty time penalty to account for when adding on capabilities or correcting issues discovered over the deployment life cycle.
With a software-based solution, adding capabilities and resolving technical issues may take only days or weeks, rather than months. A software-based vCMTS solution, like Harmonic's CableOS® solution with Core vCMTS, can be deployed depending on your choice of architecture: centralized or Distributed Access Architecture (DAA).
In most cases, the addition of new capabilities and increased capacity are achieved with a simple software upgrade and adding a new service group. It merely requires using the spare capacity in an existing server or adding 1-RU COTS servers. The migration to a software-based CMTS is also simple. A vCMTS Core connects to the same back-office and cable modems already deployed and can operate side-by-side with existing CMTS equipment. CLI and SNMP capabilities provide operational familiarity and also help to ease the transition.
2. What functionality is actually in the software?
A software-based vCMTS needs to have management, control and data processing that is entirely implemented in the software. Otherwise, you can’t truly take advantage of software-based benefits, such as operating on COTS-based servers and the agility to support future capabilities with a simple software upgrade.
Most CMTS products that claim to be virtualized aren't truly software-based, nor fully virtualized. Their developers have simply ported a few functions from the CMTS to software, or they use the term virtualization to talk about orchestration. In that case, you’ll still have to deal with the challenges of a hardware-based infrastructure.
With a truly virtual cable access solution everything but the physical layer of the access network is implemented in software. By disaggregating modular software components, you can scale and deploy feature upgrades. You can even add symmetric or multi-gigabit services without having to replace hardware. You can modify your control and data planes through software as well. For example, when you address low-latency gaming requirements. None of these advantages are possible with a hardware-based platform.
3. What is cloud-native, and how does it benefit my operation?
A cloud-native solution enables the use of containerized microservices. These are single-purpose applications that are not dependent on hardware. Most importantly, they can scale and function independently of each other. Cloud-native does not necessarily mean that applications are running in the cloud, but instead, it refers to software containers that are elastically deployed on COTS servers. That makes them more reliable, easier to deploy and safer to upgrade.
True cloud-native solutions benefit from microservice technologies. With a cloud-native solution, you can dynamically orchestrate upgrades and changes without having to upgrade the whole system. Cloud-native capabilities also enable the use of smaller operating domains, the release of canary upgrades to individual service groups, and A/B testing, all of which give you the ability to roll-out new features faster without jeopardizing the stability of your entire network.
4. What can I expect from a vCMTS when it comes to scaling my operation?
Scalability is a major advantage of a cloud-native solution and allows operators to grow more quickly and efficiently than previously possible. A software-based approach also eliminates the real-estate concerns associated with adding a new hardware-based CMTS. At 13 RU or larger, they eat up a lot of space.
Virtual cable access solutions really shine in this arena. From small-scale to the largest cable networks, virtual cable access solutions with vCMTS just scale so simply, and in any context. For example, when scaling deployment in a rural area, cloud-native, virtualized solutions offer both blazing-fast performance and the ability to easily add service groups. For deployments in large metropolitan areas, they can scale for a massive number of new IP addresses that can be supported and expanded independently of bandwidth, which is a major time-saver.
5. How do I monitor a virtualized cable access network?
Compared with hardware, the software offers superior automation, monitoring, and orchestration tools, allowing you to better manage your broadband business. It even allows you to spot and address potential issues before they affect customers. Harmonic's CableOS Central takes network monitoring a big step further. With our web-based telemetry dashboard, you get a complete picture of your network’s performance without having to look across multiple systems. For example, if broadband consumption is exceptionally high for a particular service group, you can address this potential bottleneck before it affects your customers.
Harmonic is the leader in virtual cable access and video delivery technologies. Our CableOS solution is the leading cloud-native solution on the market and is field-proven, serving more than 1 million modems worldwide in both centralized and DAA deployments. Do you have more questions about vCCAP, vCMTS, and R-PHY? Contact Harmonic today and we can talk about virtualizing your cable access network.
Yaniv Ben-Soussan is the Vice President of Cable Access Solutions & Marketing at Harmonic, leading the company’s cable access business and product strategies. He has over 12 years of experience in the cable, satellite, broadcast and internet industries. Prior to joining Harmonic, he held various engineering positions at HOT. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication Engineering from the Holon Institute of Technology in Israel.