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Quality of Service-enabled applications and services rely on Traffic Engineering-based (TE) Label Switched Paths (LSP) established in core networks and controlled by the GMPLS control plane. Path computation process is crucial to achieve the desired TE objective. Its actual effectiveness depends on a number of factors. Mechanisms utilized to update topology and TE information, as well as the latency between path computation and resource reservation, which is typically distributed, may affect path computation efficiency. Moreover, TE visibility is limited in many network scenarios, such as multi-layer, multi-domain and multi-carrier networks, and it may negatively impact resource utilization. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has promoted the Path Computation Element (PCE) architecture, proposing a dedicated network entity devoted to path computation process. The PCE represents a flexible instrument to overcome visibility and distributed provisioning inefficiencies. Communications between path computation clients (PCC) and PCEs, realized through the PCE Protocol (PCEP), also enable inter-PCE communications offering an attractive way to perform TE-based path computation among cooperating PCEs in multi-layer/domain scenarios, while preserving scalability and confidentiality. This survey presents the state-of-the-art on the PCE architecture for GMPLS-controlled networks carried out by research and standardization community. In this work, packet (i.e., MPLS-TE and MPLS-TP) and wavelength/spectrum (i.e., WSON and SSON) switching capabilities are the considered technological platforms, in which the PCE is shown to achieve a number of evident benefits.