As organizations across China increasingly embrace digital technologies and the cloud, private line services for enterprise customers such as finance, healthcare, and OTT players have given carrier revenue a welcome boost. However, those same trends of digitalization and cloudification mean that carriers can’t meet customer demand by offering standard old-school private connections. Customer requirements for private line services go well beyond simple high-speed, high-quality connectivity. Today’s private line customers need everything from dynamic bandwidth upgrades and ultra-low latency to agile provisioning, cloud access and flattened network architectures.
For example, medical imaging companies require inter-data center connections that can handle exponential traffic spikes on demand. Meanwhile, finance companies that deal in securities and futures require not only highly reliable bandwidth connectivity, but also ultra-low latency to enable transactions in milliseconds – the delay of a single millisecond can cost $1 million in trading losses.
At Huawei’s Better World Summit last week, Li Zhuangzhi, technical director of the Network Department at China Unicom Shandong, explained in a presentation how the operator is able to meet those demands for its private line service with an intelligent, flattened optical transport network (OTN).
FAST and furious
Shandong Unicom’s “SD-FAST” service was launched in the first half of 2019, adding intelligent optics to its OTN solution that has been in the works since 2016. The “FAST” acronym represents the four main selling points of the solution: flexible provisioning, agile bandwidth, self-service and time-visible (i.e. ultra-low latency).
Li explains that the flexible provisioning aspect features one-stop automatic service provisioning, which shortens the provisioning periods from days to hours, and automated resource checking to ensure the necessary resources are available.
For Shandong Unicom, flexible provisioning also means making sure CPEs get to customers fast, Li said. “Devices are prepared in advance through material procurement and migration. The devices are stored in warehouses in Jinan and Qingdao for emergency local use, and can be transferred to other cities within two days, whereas previously it could take up to 20 days.”
Intelligent provisioning and O&M enables the CPEs to connect and configure themselves automatically, while the proactive management and control platform implements fault warnings and fast recovery.
SD-FAST’s agile bandwidth feature enables customers to adjust bandwidth rates on demand. This can include reserving extra bandwidth for scheduled events expected to generate huge traffic spikes (for example, the November 11 “Singles Day” online shopping festival) or simply provisioning extra bandwidth in real time to respond to unexpected traffic bursts during peak hours.
Li said SD-FAST’s self-service capabilities extend beyond bandwidth adjustments. “Customers can install an app on their mobile phones to implement online order placement, make time splits adjustments, and check the provision in progress, as well as performance indicators of the service.”
Meanwhile, Li said, Shandong Unicom is delivering latency requirements by building “ultra-low delay circles” – geographic circles designed specifically for Shandong’s economic belts. While SD-FAST guarantees <10ms latency point-to-point anywhere in the province, Shandong Unicom has also created a 1-ms latency circle for Jinan, Qingdao, and Yantai, a 3-ms delay circle for Qingdao and Jinan, and a 3-ms delay circle for the Shandong Blue Peninsula Economic Area.
Behind the scenes
As for how Shandong Unicom actually achieved all of this, Li explained that the secret lies in two key aspects, starting with a flattening and integration of its OTN at multiple levels – from the town, county and municipal level all the way up to the provincial and national backbone. Meanwhile, the NMS of each vendor in the city is integrated to deploy a set of controller platforms in the provincial company .
The result, said Li, is an intelligent, integrated OTN network with wide coverage of low latency, high security and high availability” that also requires 40% less space and 30% less power consumption. It also reduces latency 30% whilst improving efficiency 60%.
The other key aspect in the intelligent OTN is, of course, the intelligent bit – in this case, an intelligent management and control platform that divides into four layers: forwarding (OTN network), management and control (iMaster NCE, DC Controller), orchestration and operations (OSS/BSS).
“As the ‘smart brain’ of OTN optical networks, this not only implements full lifecycle management and awareness of OTN networks, but also integrates SDN controllers and orchestrators with BSS and OSS to streamline the full production process of private lines, automating site-to-site and site-to-cloud private lines to support commercial implementation of the selling points of SD-FAST,” Li said.
Real-world use cases
Li concluded with several real-world use cases to demonstrate how the capabilities of the SD-FAST service aren’t theoretical – they’re delivering the goods right now.
For example, Shandong Unicom helped a commercial bank in Shandong flatten the production network for each city in the province. For context, the bank has to connect 2,500 sub-branch outlets in Shandong (at around 10 Mbps per outlet) to its provincial backbone network via its city branches. The goal was to eliminate the municipal layer and connect the sub-branch outlets directly to the provincial network.
“The solution was to reuse live-network resources, and use MSTP + OTN private lines,” Li said. “This established a flattened bank access network, improving network security and reduces O&M costs.”
Shandong Unicom also enables universities in the province to use OTN private lines to access the China Education and Research Network (CERNET).
And in the healthcare sector, Shandong Unicom and Shandong Medical Imaging Research Institute implemented OTN private line to help the institute expand the province’s medical imaging cloud market.
“The OTN provides high-bandwidth and highly reliable private lines to ensure an optimal experience with healthcare cloud services,” Li said. “It also provides one-stop cloud-network services, reducing enterprise operation costs.”