Much of the virtualization focus in the early part of this year has been on the virtual CPE, a theme which is set to continue at Mobile World Congress. But while many of the interesting trials are being done by mobile and cable operators, one of the first commercial breakthroughs has come from the WiFi community, and managed hotspot provider Boingo Networks.
Boingo is in the early stages of virtualizing its network of hotspots to reduce the need for hardware roll-out and support traffic more efficiently. As WiFi networks move towards carrier-class performance and become highly strategic to operators such as cablecos, they need to adopt the same kind of optimization and QoS techniques which are more familiar in cellular. And many are looking at the cost efficiencies and flexibility of doing that on off-the-shelf hardware.
So Boingo is deploying Procera Networks’ PacketLogic/V solution to shape network traffic and improve the customer experience at WiFi hotspots, with the supplier claiming that the latest release of the software can match the raw performance of a hardware CPE, achieving 150Gbps on an off-the-shelf Intel platform.
The WiFi provider has installed PacketLogic/V to apply granular profiles to traffic, delivering classes of service that are tailored to different customers. This is part of the company’s recently announced Smart Network initiative which includes the roll-out of NFV (Network Functions Virtualization) in several areas.
“Procera’s platform is a great fit for our NFV-driven architecture,” said Boingo CTO Derek Peterson, in a statement. “Their ability to deliver a fully virtualized PacketLogic solution enabled Boingo to achieve the ROI that we needed for our business model. We evaluated hardware-based solutions, but they did not meet our cost or deployment flexibility requirements.”
Smart (Secure, Multiplatform, Analytics-driven, Responsive and Tiered) is all about matching quality of service to different users – or in Boingo’s case, roaming partners such as cablecos too – in order to use network resources more efficiently and target them where they are most needed, while improving the customer experience, especially for high value customers and services. The company sees virtualization as a way to increase the dynamic aspect of this goal while controlling costs.
Boingo’s first NFV deployments were in five US airports including Dallas/Fort Worth.
PacketLogic/V delivers the full suite in a software-only form, and the vCPE element supports Procera’s DPI (deep packet inspection), analytics and actions tools in an ‘as a service’ offering (the hardware-based versions are still available too).
Meanwhile, the vendor said separately that it vCPE options were now achieving the same raw performance as their hardware equivalents. Procera has harnessed the virtualization trend aggressively to move out of its original DPI niche and towards a far broader customer experience management play, which can optimize the network based on traffic flows or individual users or applications.
Head of marketing Cam Cullen said that it was important to address the perception that software-based solutions would necessarily involve a performance compromise, before engaging in many high level contract discussions. An important element of that has been Procera’s participation in Intel’s Network Buildings program, which has helped identify and address any issues which were impacting performance. That program has helped Procera increase performance, on an Intel Xeon E5 v3-based platform, by 40Gbps to hit the 150Gbps target.