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A better connected world

The more we connect, the better our world

This eight part series will reveal how cutting-edge technology is changing the way we conduct our lives and connect with the world around us

  • Internet Industry
  • A Better Connected World

The Challenges Of A New Internet Era

Cloud computing, linking computing power in data centres with consumers and businesses online, has transformed how we work and play, forever. But internet companies face huge pressures to meet rising demand for data services, and the technology remains in its infancy. Leading tech provider Huawei has some of the answers.

To use an old analogy, of fairly limited value, the impact of cloud computing on IT is something like that of electricity networks on power generation. The idea, today, that any forward-looking business should retain vast physical IT infrastructure is akin to them keeping monolithic generators after the arrival of the electricity grid in the last industrial age.

With the flick of a switch, most businesses and most users now have instant access to high-speed broadband connectivity and massive computing power. This virtualised resource, combining digital storage and processing power, is held in remote data centres, rather than localised server rooms or PC pedestals; it is delivered via the internet, or ‘cloud’, through a variety of over-the-top (OTT) platforms and services.

This is the business model propagated by the likes of Facebook and Google in the consumer space, and by cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and OpenStack, closed and open-source respectively, in the enterprise market. It informs all of our digital interactions and productivity today.

In the past decade, data centres have grown rapidly, both commercially and technologically. Cloud computing has become more efficient and flexible with it. But demand for digital services is going up, all the time. Large internet companies require ever-more processing power. Consequently, the technology industry is required to find new solutions, even as it is finding its own feet.

Because the rise of cloud computing and OTT services has put the industry in a spin. Technologies are still being mapped out, and business models and strategies are still being defined. Governments and large businesses tend to prefer the security of private clouds of their own, for instance, rather than public cloud platforms, which are the main recourse for SMEs and start-ups.

Industrial Shake-up

There are challenges with each: private clouds deliver better functionality, and public clouds offer superior performance. There is, as yet, no middle ground. Either way, users are focused on deploying virtualised computing resources via the cloud – or ‘infrastructure as a service’ (IaaS), to use its industry name.

Which brings us to another major shake-up, standing in the path of progress. The old guard of technologists, the trusted vendors of the types of proprietary systems traditionally found on servers in large computer rooms, are at a crossroads; their market influence is under threat. Internet companies are already working on a grander scale with OTT providers, and enterprises are increasingly minded to take modular IaaS solutions supported by open-source cloud platforms.

“Their power of discourse will be weakened. The golden days of ‘vendor lock-in’, where non-standard technologies allowed them huge market share and high gross margins, are gone forever,” explains Huawei’s Wing Kin Leung, chief technology officer in Huawei’s marketing and solution sales department.

“To survive, internet companies must adjust their entire business models, which constitute a radical change for them. Yet, such changes are nevertheless essential, and we look forward to their rebirth.”

Huawei, a leading global information and communications technology (ICT) solution provider, is different to most other traditional vendors. Its business crosses the full technology chain, or what it calls “cloud, pipe and device”. It produces the platforms, networks and devices that connect this digital era, and this way takes a broad view of the developing market.

Huawei has provided solutions to more than 300 internet companies and data centre service providers to handle the doubled-edged pressure of reconceiving and rebuilding their business operations. Its focus, for all its customers, is to improve the underlying technological systems to deliver better operational efficiency, agility and flexibility.

Ubiquitous Broadband

On the one hand, this is about straight connectivity – about providing sufficient bandwidth and throughput to cope with the increasing demand being placed on internet companies for data services.

Huawei has a number of examples of this. It is a leader in 4G LTE wireless broadband technology, for starters – it owns 25 per cent of global 4G patents, and is author of countess state-of-the-art digital communication networks, from EE’s in the UK to Everest-topping structures at 5,200 metres above sea level, and many locations in between.

Its work to establish high-speed fibre and wireless connectivity to meet spiralling demand for data services and foster economic growth crosses the globe, with both generic and highly-bespoke network solutions. It has delivered connectivity to hard-to-reach venues and it has achieved a number of technological firsts.

In network building, less conspicuous solutions are often as notable as more high-profile ones. In Germany, Huawei has deployed a high-bandwidth transmission network for BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world, to connect six ‘Verbund’ networking sites and 380 production sites, allowing real-time communications between them.

In the Czech Republic, it has reconstructed 484km of optical fibre broadband to enable telecoms provider GTS to launch a 100G DWDM network, the first of its kind in Central Europe, allowing highly efficient two-way communications along a single line of fibre.

In Thailand, it has helped United Information Highway to establish a nationwide fibre optic broadband network covering 77 cities and stretching 50,000km. Its solution has met the rising demand for digital communication services in Thailand, and sets a foundation for future business development in the country.

Software-defined Networks

On the other hand, cloud service providers need more than just big pipes to carry gushing torrents of data. More complicated network architecture is required to allow internet companies smarter ways to manage and orchestrate traffic between data centres and end users. Huawei is working to these ends.

Its green energy solutions combine multiple technologies for improving power usage. Its virtualisation tools assist in the design and deployment of bespoke cloud services, and allow owners to compute storage, networking and application resources in just 10 minutes, as opposed to weeks with traditional hardware solutions.

Huawei has upwards of 10 joint innovation projects around software definable networking (SDN), a means to manage the interplay between broadband networks and cloud services via agile software-based tools, rather than by expensive and inflexible hardware. Its SDN solutions are compatible with legacy networks, and can reduce the workload around new network/cloud configuration by as much as 90 per.

Chinese service provider Tencent, which provides an array of madly-popular service platforms, is one of Huawei’s joint-innovation partners around SDN. Tencent competes with the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Google as one of the largest internet companies in the world, and its portfolio of services for the Chinese market is broadly equivalent to their consumer cloud platforms in the West, ranging from micro-blogging to auction sites. Its QQ instant messenger service has over 800 million users alone.

Data Centre Connectivity

Tencent has deployed several hundred thousand servers and several dozen data centres in more than 10 cities around the world. Transmission volumes between them can reach several hundred gigabytes a day.

This diversity of services and volume of traffic put strain on the networks connecting its data centres (its ‘DCI network’) – in terms of available bandwidth, quality of service, efficiency and risk control.

To improve throughput and efficiency, and reduce operational complexity, Huawei has phased in a SDN solution between its data centres, making its data networks controllable and scaleable by software programming, rather than by hardware components.

Smart cities are built on sound infrastructure, especially high quality roads. Similarly, intelligent networks must be built upon a foundation of stable and reliable facilities.
He Zekun

He Zekun, senior architect at Tencent, makes analogy with urban planning and traffic management. “Planning and constructing a network is like building
a city,” he says.

“Smart cities are built on sound infrastructure, especially high quality roads. Similarly, intelligent networks must be built upon a foundation of stable and reliable facilities. On the DCI network, network devices with active-standby links must be deployed with geographic redundancies and scalable routing protocols.”

By this, he means construction the networking equivalent of park-and-ride facilities and bus lanes to ensure traffic flow in peak hours, and satellite navigation systems so drivers can find the best routes to destinations. The Huawei SDN network reserves traffic lanes for data flow, and uses algorithms to calculate fastest travel around network bottlenecks. Everything is automated, rather than manually controlled by banks of engineers.

“The benefit is that SDN provides a more flexible network management platform, that allows engineers to optimise network infrastructure to best suit the needs of their service departments. A key feature is that more functions are available at a lower operational cost,” he says.

Orchestrating It In The Cloud

But there is a third element to this move from inflexible localised hardware to convergent hybrid architecture spanning both private and public clouds – to this move from heavy generators to grid-based power on-tap, if we revert to our original analogy.

A universal control platform is required to manage all of these virtualised resources, and ensure backwards compatability with legacy systems and uninterrupted service provision. Huawei’s FusionSphere cloud platform, based on the OpenStack operating system, enables business of any size to bridge the gap between legacy systems and the new world of cloud computing.

Vodafone uses FusionSphere to manage its massive hybrid data centre network across private and public clouds, as well as IT equipment from multiple vendors.

Ren Zhipeng, president of Huawei’s cloud computing business, says: “FusionSphere provides the high performance and reliability necessary for moving information and communications applications to clouds. It automatically allocates resources based on service demands and can flexibly deploy and migrate services across private or public clouds.”

French start-up Qwant is another customer. Its search engine works as a counterpoint to Google – it lists several result types in columns on a single page, including such things as news sites and social networks, rather than a single list of results based on click volumes. It also differs in its privacy commitment; Qwant does not track or distribute users’ search histories, personal details or cookies.

It has experienced significant growth in its short life. Its service is now available in 50 languages and 25 countries, just two years after launch. It indexes billions of internet data objects, including web pages, news articles, user data, images, and videos. To achieve this, the infrastructure must be available 24/7, must scale to cope with terabit-level daily traffic, and be efficient, cost-effective, and secure.

I n ways, it is a perfect example of a 21st century business that is entirely reliant on cloud computing and Big Data analytics, and a feather in the cap for Huawei and its suite of cloud solutions.

Meeting The Challenge

But, still, the internet industry faces significant pressures; its essential cloud and data centre technologies remain at an embryonic stage of development. Huawei, for one, is well positioned to read the industry’s pulse, and develop solutions to fulfil specific customer requirements.

“We are committed to creating a healthy cloud ecosystem across the Internet industry through open, integrated, and innovative technologies,” says David He, president of marketing and solution sales at Huawei’s enterprise division.

“Fuelled by the momentum of our contributions to building a healthy, next-generation internet, we are committed to helping every single internet business to dramatically transform themselves to meet the challenges of a new internet era.”

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