Midco takes Cisco's cloud-native router on a test drive

Distributed access architecture (DAA) helps cable operators deploy more efficient Gigabit services. (Pixabay)

ATLANTA—Heading into the official start of SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, Cisco announced that Midco has deployed its cloud-native router in South Dakota.

Cisco first announced its cloud-native router, which is called cnBR, in June as a means to move toward a containerized, software version of cable's traditional CCAP hardware.

With cloud-native, carriers can split systems into even smaller, independent microservice functions that can scale up or down as needed. Cloud-native also improves efficiencies while allowing operators to turn on new services in a fraction of the time it takes today.

Midco deployed the cloud-native router in Mobridge, South Dakota, according to a blog post by Cisco's Sean Welch, vice president and general manager, service provider – cable. While Midco has deployed the new router in one location, Cisco will make it generally available at a later date, according to Welch.

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"What makes the cnBR attractive to broadband innovators like Midco, in part, is how elegantly it scales, up and down: One blade of one server is sufficient to cover a market the size of Mobridge, for instance. Less dedicated hardware, less space, power, and maintenance," Welch wrote. "With the machine-level metrics that satisfy stakeholder KPIs—both known and developing."

To date, Welch writes virtualization in cable access has generally involved running legacy code, such as CCAP, on a hypervisor on virtual machines, which Welch described as "lifting and shifting."

"However, 'lifting and shifting' something as vital as CCAP is an interim step, at best, Welch wrote. "In order to actualize the real benefits available with modern software frameworks, one must consider a microservices architecture leveraging container technology. Containerization is favored, from an engineering perspective, because it vastly improves the testing, deploying and scaling of software."

Midco was an ideal candidate for the new cloud-native router because it started deploying Gigabit-speed technologies in its footprint four years ago, and it has also extensively deployed DOCSIS 3.1 on its network.

DAA the pathway to Gigabit services

Speaking at the opening distributed access architecture (DAA) work session Monday morning at Expo, CableLabs' Jon Schnoor said that DAA was key in getting symmetrical 1 Gigabit services, and eventually 10-Gig services, deployed.

"About 18 months ago, we were doing some analysis work, and found out that about 4% of all households in the U.S. were Gigabit capable," Schnoor said to the 650 attendees at the session. "Over the past 18 months, we are now at 56% across the country. This isn't households passed, this is literally households in the U.S. That is absolutely remarkable.

"The idea here is to get to 100% and so we have to figure out a way to do that. Hopefully today you'll see that distributed access architecture is really the way to do it. We need to figure out an economical way to do it efficiently and (make it) something that's sustainable. This is really where we're at today with distributed access architecture."

Schnoor said part of the move to DAA was to get cable operators out of the "real estate market," which means building fewer locations, such as nodes and headends, to enable the Gigabit infrastructure. 

"In order to get to a 100% Gigabit capable across the country, the amount of infrastructure that has to be built out is staggering," he said. "It is expensive and it's a lot of work, and really, operators, we need to get them out of the real estate business and building (business.) Specifically, heating, cooling, and all of that kind of stuff is just remarkable (cost-wise.)"

The first step toward DAA is remote PHY, which includes removing the PHY layer from an integrated CCAP and moving it down into a node or shelf. Schnoor said the work on remote PHY was almost completed.

"Realistically, we're going to do interops throughout the next 12 months," he said. "We are going to go into spec maintenance mode. That's really to get the specifications in a stable mode to allow vendors to come up to speed and start submission for RPD (Remote PHY Device) qualifications.

"There have been test markets and there have been live markets, but in 2019 we're really going to see the ramp up of the operator deployment for sure."