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Intel has ambitions to turn modems into virtual servers and reinvent broadband

A few cores in your modem and OpenStack driving network function virtualisation

OpenStack as VMs-everywhere wrangler

Intel's already working on ways to get OpenStack running at carrier scale. The company last year teamed with HP to create a carrier-grade version of the Helion cloud aimed at making it possible to deliver virtualised services to CPEs. HP uses Wind River's Linux in this kind of gig. And Wind River is owned by ... Intel, which has also released the Open Network Platform, a white box switch and network function virtualisation play. Oracle works with Intel on that platform.

Intel also sells Xeons to power OpenStack clouds, plus silicon to power those Open Network white box switches carriers can use to create their on-premises OpenStack rigs if they choose that route.

OpenStack's critical because it is free to acquire and scales well enough to contemplate it as the platform for deployment of many, many VMs to CPEs. Carriers might be able to do large-scale NFV and deployment of VMs to CPEs with VMware, but almost certainly at a far higher cost than with OpenStack.

This all starts to stack up (pardon the pun) interestingly if one considers the internet of things, because something has to collate and groom all the data that smart thermostats and mould-aware fridges generate before it trickles into a data lake somewhere. Intel and plenty of others reckon the CPE is the place to do that and that the people who suck data from devices will welcome a VM sitting on the networks edge to take care of business.

Software developers are going to like this because most already offer their wares as packaged virtual appliances. If x86s arrive in every home, they've got a whole new market to address.

Carriers and ISPs should like it, because they get a new chance at selling services.

Yes: a lot of ducks need to line up for this vision to become reality, but Intel has a good shot at making it happen.

The company is a past master at making life easy for kit-makers, so it probably won't be long before it creates x86-based reference designs that modem-makers can use to crank out new products. Or it can bring them to market itself through Lantiq.

Oracle and HP mean the ideas outlined above should get a hearing in the corridors of big carriers and ISPs. And software vendors seldom sneer at a new channel.

Perhaps most importantly, there's an inflection point coming up as carriers deploy and DOCSIS 3.1 to cash in on punters' desire for gigabit speeds. Those upgrades won't thrive without a new CPE to take advantage of the new carriage standards. If Intel can help to create more capable CPEs, it gives carriers turning on G.Fast or DOCSIS 3.1 a way to encourage customers of laggard ISPs to churn. Winning new customers with a better CPE might pay for itself without ever having to sell services.

Of course carriers and ISPs have a long history of flubbing value-added services and being killed by over-the-top operators. This time around, however, there are powerful players wishing them to succeed. Because if carriers succeed, the likes of HP and Oracle win too and develop the kind of deep incumbencies that are hellish to unravel.

Intel's not saying all of the above will happen, but folk there have pointed out the scenarios outlined above as eminently possible and/or desirable. And if it does pan out, what's not to like: a multi-core server disguised as a modem/router can't be a bad thing to have in the home! ®

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