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How Intelligent Cloud Networks Will Accelerate Industry Digitalization

A deterministic, ultra-automated, and ubiquitous intelligent cloud network will be at the heart of industry digitalization over the next decade.

By David Wang, Executive Director of the Board and Chairman of ICT Infrastructure Managing Board, Huawei
Huawei Tech Issue 93
David Wang

2020 was an eventful year, during which the effects of COVID-19 were felt across the globe. ICT infrastructure has played a crucial role in the fight against COVID and helped the world better understand the digital economy and industry digitalization.

Accelerating industry digitalization highlights the value of cloud networks

The development of the digital economy is accelerating, centering on digital industrialization and industry digitalization. To date, more than 50 countries have already developed digital strategies and plans based on cloud and networks. For example, China's New Infrastructure strategy will focus on connectivity, computing, interaction, and security to transform the consumer Internet into the industrial Internet. As part of its green and digital twin transition, the EU proposes strengthening the infrastructure ecosystem and digital ecosystem, which includes cloud, networks, and edge computing.

The second wave of industry digitalization is entering a critical phase. Unlike the first wave of industry digitalization, which was based on cloud native, the second wave aims to bring cloud applications to individuals and households through the Internet. It aims to reshape social connections, entertainment, and lifestyles. Today, emerging digital technologies are being integrated into industries such as finance, manufacturing, education, and healthcare. With data as the focus of processing, production management systems are being migrated to cloud to streamline end-to-end data flow. Cloud networks are the key to migrating enterprise production systems to the cloud and are increasingly important for enterprise sustainability.

Cloud networks connect and enable the cloud. The entire industry has already attached great importance to computing and cloud, but high-performance networks are required to maximize the key value of cloud. Therefore, it is imperative that the industry also attaches importance to networks.

Today, the world's leading carriers consider industry digitalization to be a significant strategic opportunity, developing business strategies that cover three areas: first, building networks to strengthen connectivity; second, providing multi-cloud integration services; and third, seizing the service portal and developing the cloud-network ecosystem. For example, AT&T's multi-cloud access model provides a private-network-based cloud access experience, while NTT's cloud-network integration enables integrated services such as enhanced network + multi-cloud access.

In China, enterprise migration to the cloud will create a market worth US$3 trillion, US$1.3 trillion of which will come from connectivity services. This means that carriers will be able to seize business opportunities as long as they deploy effective cloud networks. Carriers will need to explore new opportunities based on their cloud networks to unlock the remaining US$1.7 trillion of service potential.

Carrier development of cloud networks represents the implementation of the national strategy, which is necessary to drive industry digitalization, as well as a strategic opportunity for their own business sustainability.

cloud networks,industry digitalization

New phase of transformation and new challenges for cloud networks

Industry digitalization has expanded beyond Internet companies to a wide range of industries, and the focus of digitalization has shifted from office systems to production systems. This signifies a new phase of industry digitalization in which different industries have various requirements for cloud networks. The related challenges presented to cloud networks will be explained through the specific requirements of several typical industries.

City Intelligent Twins: One cloud, one network

Smart cities are the global direction for urban development. In 2020, Huawei announced the Intelligent Twins, a reference architecture for the intelligent upgrade of industries. Huawei aims to build city Intelligent Twins, spanning infrastructure construction, smart applications, and industry collaboration driven by technology integration. Intelligent connectivity is the backbone of city Intelligent Twins. Currently, an increasing number of cities in China, including Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Chengdu, are starting to build their own city Intelligent Twins.

Deloitte predicts that China's smart city market will maintain annual growth of over 30% over the next few years. As part of the construction of one cloud for cities and one network for computing, carriers – the major constructors – will focus on building city network bases and information systems combining existing physical networks for IoT, e-government, transportation, and other sectors into a single network. This network will logically isolate different types of data, such as urban governance data, industry data, and population data, and serve as the foundation for smart cities.

Financial digitalization: High-quality private networks

The financial industry is a leader in intelligent upgrade. Through the digitalization of this industry, a new distributed architecture is being adopted, resources are becoming centrally managed, and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) capabilities are being established, enabling the agile innovation of financial services. The financial industry has three requirements for networks:

First, building PaaS capabilities. Evolving the data center architecture from the two-site three-DC model to a flattened, multi-site multi-DC model means that reliable and powerful data center networks that support 10 times more connections are needed.

Second, intelligent and unmanned bank branches. With the introduction of numerous self-service services such as AI customer service, virtual teller machines (VTMs), and robots, the number of connections has increased by 10 times, meaning higher-quality connectivity is required.

Third, promoting deep integration between finance and other industries. The financial system must be extended to enterprise clients, placing higher requirements on connectivity security.

Therefore, a digitalized financial industry needs improved conventional private lines in the form of flattened, high-quality private networks. The financial private network service provided by China Telecom Shanghai has been adopted by more than 1,600 financial companies, representing a perfect example of this transition.

Healthcare digitalization: Slice-within-slice private networks

The key to digitalizing the healthcare industry is building a healthcare service system through the centralization, sharing, and intelligent utilization of healthcare data. Such an undertaking requires effort in three key areas:

First, establishing medical alliances and integrated healthcare organizations to facilitate a hierarchical medical system and the optimal allocation of medical resources. This will require multi-level branches and multi-hospital access to multiple clouds. Frost & Sullivan's data shows that the number of inter-hospital connections in China is increasing by 10% annually, while cloud access connections are increasing by 30%.

Second, the migration of medical data to cloud and telemedicine. Patient information is private, and slice-based private networks are needed to protect information security.

Third, the migration of healthcare information systems to cloud. Migrating different healthcare systems requires different network specifications. For example, picture archiving and communication systems (PACSs) require 1 Gbit/s bandwidth, whereas hospital information systems (HISs) require low latency to quickly provide registration services. Sub-slices of slice-based private networks can address these various service requirements.

Therefore, the digitalization of the healthcare industry requires multi-cloud access alongside slice-base private networks that support slices within slices. China Unicom Guangdong is a great example. Their slice-based, private healthcare network has already helped more than 300 local medical institutions access the three-site-based healthcare cloud.

Education digitalization: Secure multi-cloud access

The key to digitalizing the education industry is making education universally available through the use of ICT and thus address uneven access to education resources. There are a few typical scenarios:

The first is teaching. New educational methods, such as online education, VR teaching, and smart classes all require networks that can ensure a stable and reliable service experience.

The second is examinations. The broad application of video invigilation and video conferencing for exam management requires at least 200-Mbit/s secure private-line access between a large number of exam venues and the examination board office.

The third is security protection. The effective handling of security incidents on educational institution campuses requires secure private networks with wide coverage and a cloud-based big data platform. This will facilitate the centralized monitoring and management of schools and cloud-based data analysis.

As multiple application systems in the education industry, such as online education systems, examination management systems, and security big data systems, are distributed to different clouds, secure access to multiple clouds from multiple sites is necessary. This has already been achieved in Ningxia, where all educational institutions are covered by China Telecom Ningxia's cloud private network. This network supports secure access to multiple clouds and boosts the digitalization of the region's education industry.

SME digitalization: One-stop online-shopping-like cloud-network services

A major goal of digitalization for SMEs is to improve efficiency. Agile access and simplified delivery are necessary to provide one-stop online-shopping-like subscription services. The multi-cloud deployment of enterprise applications requires connectivity services that support one connection to multiple clouds. In 2020, China Telecom Shanghai's intelligent cloud private line package for SMEs, which integrates Internet access, cloud access, and intelligent services, achieved excellent market results.

Intelligent cloud networks deliver four new capabilities to address changes

Industries have diverse needs for cloud networks, but cloud networks are bringing three major changes on the path to unlocking a new era. First, they're changing the connectivity relationship. Multi-cloud access is inevitable, and connectivity will not simply be between enterprise branches and headquarters, but from enterprise branches and headquarters to multiple clouds. This means the number of connections will increase by 100 times. Second, they are changing the nature of connectivity. Traditionally, office systems and production systems are deployed on enterprise intranets that ensure deterministic performance and security. As core production systems become cloud-based, the boundary between enterprise local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) is being eliminated. As a result, connectivity must evolve from the best-effort model to one that provides deterministic performance and security. Third, connectivity experience is changing.  Networks must provide the same service capabilities as cloud, meaning integrated allocation, consistent experience, and integrated defense.

The industry requires both high-quality cloud and high-performance networks. Intelligent cloud networks connect users, streamline cloud interconnection, and provide industries with high-quality cloud access, and must focus on four new capabilities.

cloud networks,industry digitalization

Capability 1: Any cloud

Any cloud refers to intelligent and flexible connections that enable enterprises to transform from "one connection to one cloud" and "one connection to multiple clouds" to "multiple sites to multiple clouds". This simplifies enterprises' cloud access, realizing on-demand access to any cloud. 

Capability 2: Determinism

Determinism refers to networks that can offer deterministic experiences and differentiated services when enterprises' core production systems shift from being internal-cloud-based (enterprise-built and -owned cloud) to external-cloud-based (hosted public cloud/dedicated cloud). This provides enterprises with strong support when migrating their core production systems to the cloud.

Capability 3: Hyper-automation

Hyper-automation consists of two aspects: 1. Hyper-automation of O&M, which simplifies work performed by people and automates complexity as the scale and complexity of networks increase exponentially. 2. Hyper-automation of operations, which enables users to use networks in the same way they would use the cloud, through service capabilities that include self-service subscriptions, provisioning in minutes, quick adjustments, and visibility and manageability.

Capability 4: Ubiquitous security

Ubiquitous security expands the boundaries of security and establishes a multi-dimensional security architecture of devices, networks, cloud, and applications in terms of awareness, collaborative defense, and security as a service (SaaS). Ubiquitous security capabilities enable enterprises to access the cloud with more confidence and the guarantee of better security.

cloud networks,industry digitalization

Huawei's enhanced all-scenario cloud-network solution based on the four capabilities

Network capabilities determine the efficiency and quality of cloud access, which is why enterprises will be able to access high-quality cloud only when network service capabilities improve. At MWC Shanghai 2021, Huawei released an enhanced intelligent cloud-network solution, covering four scenarios: cloud backbone network, cloud private network, cloud access network, and all-optical base. This solution enables ubiquitous security through integrated cloud-network-security services, and also uses the autonomous driving network (ADN) to achieve hyper-automation. This solution aims to deliver the four new cloud-network capabilities: any cloud, deterministic experience, hyper-automation, and ubiquitous security.

Cloud backbone network: Built for the cloud, this solution is based on IPv6+, centers on the Internet Data Center (IDC) and cloud, and boasts a restructured network architecture. The cloud backbone network uses technologies such as SRv6, intelligent distributed ADN path computation, and intelligent cloud-map algorithm to deliver flexible multi-network and multi-cloud access, alongside service capabilities that enable cloud access upon network access.

Cloud private network: This high-quality solution provides customers with deterministic experience and differentiated services. Huawei provides two cloud private network solutions: intelligent private line and premium private line. The intelligent private line solution, which is intended for industries like healthcare and education, features minute-level elastic scaling, and uses FlexE intelligent slicing technology. The premium private line solution, intended for industries like finance and government, features millisecond-level, ultra-low latency and uses technologies such as Liquid OTN and OTSN.

Cloud access network: Designed for connectivity, this solution enables intelligent cloud terminals to support multi-service access through the "one box for six services" function, and to access uplinks to cloud private networks through both 5G and broadband.

Intelligent OptiX Network: This solution establishes a low-latency, cloud-network foundation that provides high-bandwidth and low-latency connectivity through OptiXstar CPE, OXC, Edge OTN, and all-optical smart operation technologies.

In addition to technology solutions, the construction of intelligent cloud networks requires extensive collaboration across the entire industry value chain. Huawei will work with partners to bridge gaps in the industry value chain, boosting the intelligent cloud network industry.

In terms of operation systems, Huawei has worked with more than 20 major vendors, in both the OSS and BSS domains, and introduced pre-integrated service capabilities to operation systems alongside more than 10 cloud network vendors in both domains. In addition, we will establish an intelligent cloud-network integration lab in 2021 to enable carriers to achieve network as a service (NaaS) evolution from manual order dispatching to online-shopping-like service subscription, and to online-shopping-like cloud-network services.

In terms of exploring industry collaboration models, Huawei will focus on key industries and scenarios, explore transformation methods, develop capabilities, and work with carriers to address enterprise demands for cloud migration in terms of timing, data, and service planning. This will support the development of solutions that integrate technologies, services, and operations.

Over the next decade, industry digitalization will create immense opportunities across the entire industry. Cloud networks will represent a new market in which carriers can add value and become the foundation for industries to go intelligent. Huawei will work closely with its partners to build intelligent cloud networks and accelerate the digitalization of industries.