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Minsheng Bank's journey to intelligence with IP backbone

Aug 28, 2020 By Xie Dapeng & Li Qiang, Shao Lingchao, Network Division, Information Technology Department, China Minsheng Bank

Over the past two decades, the banking industry has transformed the way it does things by integrating networking technologies and ramping up digital transformation. Both the financial lives of today’s end users and the digital infrastructure that carry banks’ services have been tangibly impacted by fintech.

Minsheng bank

COVID-19 has strengthened this impact, shifting the banking industry's thinking ever closer to digital tech.

The financial IP backbone

Founded in 1996, Minsheng Bank was China's first national joint-stock commercial bank set up by private enterprises. In the 24 years since then, the Chinese economy has expanded rapidly and Minsheng Bank has grown from a small bank with a capital of just 1.38 billion yuan (US$197.4 million) into a huge commercial bank that ranks 232nd in the Fortune Global 500. It holds 6.7 trillion yuan in assets, operates almost 2,600 branches, and employs nearly 59,000 staff.

Minsheng Bank's digital backbone network connects the data nodes of nearly 2,600 branches and the head office. It helped the bank develop rapidly, forms an important part of its digital infrastructure, and carries five types of services: video, voice, production, office, and testing services. However, as these services slowly increased, the network's capabilities began to fall short and it started to experience a range of issues:

  • Due to the traditional pure IP forwarding adopted when the network was built, the frequent local link congestion and low global resource utilization began to occur once service volumes increased. And as optimizing the network is dependent on manual intervention and difficult to achieve, the bank was forced to buy leased line bandwidth from a telco on a long-term basis to ensure smooth services.
  • It wasn’t possible to completely isolate critical and non-critical service traffic on the production network, especially non-critical large-bandwidth services such as bulk transmission. As a result, bandwidth was squeezed for critical services, making it difficult to achieve differentiated SLAs and resource scheduling.
  • Stable continuous services were threatened by several factors: network O&M relied on traditional SNMP data collection and manual command lines, device O&M targeted nodes so network data couldn’t be organized to support the execution of service logic, and fault location relied on expert experience in troubleshooting. And due to exponential growth in online financial service traffic, service faults were even more difficult to trace and locate using traditional O&M.

To better encourage fintech development, we began to implement a top-down integrated development strategy. In 2019, Minsheng Bank formulated its Fintech Strategic Development Plan (2019–2022), focusing on two major development models: Finance + Internet and Internet + Finance. The plan aims to enhance platform enabling and digital operations and services capabilities, promote the deep integration of data and services, and continuously improve customer service experience and service efficiency.

To serve the new development strategy and underpin digital transformation, Minsheng needed to upgrade and consolidate its financial backbone network. We arrived at the following basic design principles for our next-gen financial backbone network:

  1. Service-oriented: A converged network for carrying various bank services like production, office, video, voice, and testing services that enables dynamic resource adjustment based on different service requirements to satisfy the diverse assurances of SLAs for different services.
  2. Future-oriented: A flexible software-defined networking (SDN) and segment routing (SR) network protocol with traffic engineering capabilities, based on industry best practice, to build a next-gen smart IP backbone network for finance.
  3. Smart O&M: improved level of network O&M automation, reduced dependence on traditional manual methods, and improved O&M efficiency to build an ultra-reliable network.

The smart SDN brain

The CloudWAN solution is based on Huawei's expertise in wide-area IP backbone networks. Offering intelligent ultra-broadband, intelligent connectivity, and intelligent O&M, the full-service smart network solution exactly matched our requirements.

The new intelligent IP backbone network deploys NetEngine series routers at the device forwarding layer, supports a full range of interfaces such as PCM/E1/SDH/GE/10GE on the client-side, and meets our interface access requirements in production and office scenarios. It also supports 100GE/400GE network-side interfaces, which can adapt to future growth forecasts in bandwidth.

In the convergence layer/core layer, high cost-performance 400GE will replace 100GE and become the next-gen networking technology. Huawei launched the industry's first end-to-end 400GE solution, and is the only industry vendor that can provide 10 km/40 km/80 km full-range 400GE optical modules.

By deploying NetEngine routers, Minsheng Bank's backbone network can be continually upgraded into an ultra-broadband network with stable architectural topology to quickly meet future service development needs.

To improve the backbone network's resource utilization and stop congestion in the shortest path in traditional static networks, we needed to build a network that could guarantee the needs of various services and balance resources.

Last-generation RSVP-TE and new-generation SR are both traffic engineering technologies. However, RSVP-TE is extremely complex in terms of deployment and maintenance, as every device/node in the network must maintain every tunnel state. This requires higher equipment performance standards and pushes up project costs, drawbacks that have led to a very limited number of RSVP-TE deployments worldwide.

In contrast, next-gen SR traffic engineering allows traffic engineering for services based on dynamic programming, minimizes expenditure on equipment, and simplifies deployment and maintenance. SR executes intelligent path calculation based on network-wide topology link information collected by the iMaster-NCE controller. This allows the service flow head node to determine complete and optimal routing paths based on service bandwidth and latency requirements, helping to solve the problems of insufficient network flexibility and difficulties in traffic optimization that have plagued networks with growing services for years.

Acting as the network brain, the iMaster NCE controller offers SDN controller capabilities and provides integrated equipment management and O&M analysis functions. It is the industry's leading three-in-one, one-stop management platform for management, control, and analysis. The iMaster NCE controller connects various types of data silos and platforms, abstracts different forms of service logic, evolves service provisioning from single-point device-by-device deployment to targeting service logic blocks, and supports end-to-end delivery targeting the entire network. The one-stop solution shortens the provisioning time of new service networks from months, when multiple departments had to collaborate, to days. The iMaster NCE controller's analysis module fully visualizes the network black box, harnessing real-time insights into all-network dynamics provided by telemetry, and organizes the collected network data into a knowledge graph, so the location and cause of faults can be determined within minutes. iMaster NCE is a “super helper” that dramatically increases the level of automation in network-wide O&M and greatly reduces the workload of network O&M.

Moving on from best effort

The enabling power of the new financial backbone has reinvigorated Minsheng Bank's network.

With the bank’s services integrated into the next-gen IP backbone network, network forwarding capability has been upgraded from traditional best-effort delivery to dynamic routing based on service types and different SLA requirements. This has helped Minsheng overcome the persistent problem of partial link congestion in the traditional IP network. Load balancing has been enabled on link resources, overall utilization has increased by 15 to 20 percent, and reduced dependency on leased lines has slashed rental costs.

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 changed the way the world looks at things. The demand for intelligent, automated, non-contact, online, and real-time services across all industries has never been stronger. Minsheng Bank's smart financial backbone network has performed impressively – after the outbreak, the number of online customer visits and online transactions increased substantially, making the value of online finance even more apparent.

Although the network was hit by increased traffic during this period, resources remained balanced and stable network-wide. Service operations were smooth and service requirements were fully guaranteed. For network O&M personnel, the network iMaster NCE platform's capabilities – including one-stop centralized management, control, and analysis, real-time monitoring, and automated and efficient service delivery – drastically reduced reliance on on-site O&M manpower and departmental collaboration. 

By introducing new concepts and technological innovations, Minsheng Bank has re-consolidated its position as a modern fintech bank. In the future, the bank and Huawei will continue to explore an evolutionary path towards the IPv6 era, enable advanced technologies such as SRv6, and continue to increase network intelligence, taking Minsheng's strategy of becoming a technology bank to the next level.