China Unicom and Cisco Collaborate to Deliver Cloud + Network Capabilities

Glen Hunt – Principal Analyst

Summary Bullets:

Segment Routing Deployed in a Backbone Network: Cisco and China Unicom collaboration, a two year endeavor, enables the operator’s nationwide MPLS VPN network to support on-demand services. Cisco notes that this represents China’s first Segment Routing (SR) deployment and leverages its SDN technologies to provide an end-to-end solution. SR also helps mitigate the use of more complicated IP protocols (like RSVP-TE), which is a big advantage and leverages the power of SDN’s centralized management model. .

Advanced Vendor Services Accelerated Delivery: Cisco’s Advanced Services teams provided full life cycle support and coordination with China Unicom and third-party suppliers, and tackled SDN, NFV, cloud computing, ultra-broadband networking, and related technology issues for the operator. The use of vendor supplied services has always been part of the “vendor – operator” model, but virtualized technologies pose additional time-to-market issues such as mastering new technologies and dealing with the complexity of integrating multiple components.

The announcement by Cisco and China Unicom represents a tangible example of how current infrastructure networks can be transformed to deliver flexible cloud-based services by exploiting new routing and networking techniques, such as segment routing which aligns well with centralized management and control (i.e., SDN) paradigms. What makes the solution significant is the combination of multiple technologies, SR, SDN controllers, service orchestration, and the ability to quickly compute optimal traffic paths through an IP network using a path computation engine (PCE). Individual components on their own cannot deliver the resultant end-to-end solution, which supports China Unicom’s ability to offer a range of named cloud-based services (Cloud Network Connection, Cloud Networking, Cloud Broadband, Unicom Cloud Shield, Intelligent Boutique Video Network, and Boutique Financial Network) which it noted in a joint press release with Cisco.

The duo noted that the project was ongoing for two years and leveraged the vendor’s advanced services capabilities from inception, an indication of the complexity in bringing all of the components together to achieve multiple goals. Key metrics include support of multiple vendor equipment (routers), retention of high availability characteristics using SDN controllers from multiple vendors, and improved operational efficiency by using Cisco’s proven Network Services Orchestrator (NSO).

Cisco and China Unicom are not alone in leveraging new technology and advanced professional services capabilities needed to help transform legacy MPLS networks into more flexible cloud-based service delivery platforms. A key advantage is that segment routing is an emerging standard which is driven and supported by major router vendors (Cisco, Nokia, Juniper, Huawei, and others). SR reduces network complexity because it moves some, but not all, forwarding state from the network to the packet, requiring the network to maintain just enough state to route the packet form segment ingress to segment egress, while the packet maintains enough state to route the packet from segment to segment. With respect to the end-to-end solution, many vendors have equivalent PCE and orchestration capabilities and/or participate in one or more ecosystems, such as Ciena’s Blue Planet, ADVA’s Ensemble, Nokia’s NSP, and Juniper’s Contrail. Additional operators and vendors are/will be leveraging these new networking technologies to construct similar, but unique, network solutions that will serve future networking needs while preserving their existing MPLS-based network infrastructure investments.

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