Unified control plane with «Hybrid forwarding pool» - A critical innovation made by China Unicom Fujian and ZTE

12 Feb 2018

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Nowadays, the increasing home broadband users and booming new services such as 4K HD services and Internet of Things (IoT) seriously challenge traditional IP Metropolitan Area Networks (MAN). Diversified applications and continuous pursuit of better user experience urge carriers to provide a more intelligent network. To cope with the changing networks, the carriers now have to explore new business models as per specific demands, for example, to develop Software Defined Networking/Network Functions Virtualization (SDN/NFV)-based broadband MANs, so as to facilitate their MAN re-architecting in term of intelligent design, virtualization, low CAPEX and OPEX, and simplified operation and maintenance (O&M). Therefore, China Unicom Fujian and ZTE make innovations and extend in-depth research together on virtualizing broadband remote access servers (BRAS) on the MAN at Quanzhou in Fujian Province.

Locating at the edge of the MAN and serving portals of all sorts of services, the BRAS is undoubtedly critical. In recent years, to truly realize the goal of “Broadband China” and complete strategic transformation on the basis of intelligent pipelines, China Unicom Fujian decided to start the revolution by converting the traditional BRAS which is believed as the most suitable IP network element (NE) for the transformation to a NFV-based NE. To tackle major obstacles in IP MAN construction and O&M, China Unicom Fujian and ZTE further tracked new technologies all over the world. They introduced the virtual BRAS (vBRAS) technology on the existing networks in term of device models, general architecture, technical solutions, test specifications and network deployment.

The control plane/user plane (C/U) separated architecture employed by ZTE vBRAS system consists of a control plane (vBRAS-CP) locating at the Nan’an site of Quanzhou and a user plane (vBRAS-UP) locating at Nan’an and Fengze sites in Fujian Province. The vBRAS-CP performs X86-based virtualization. The vBRAS-UP splits into two models: one is NP-based hardware forwarding, the other is X86-based software forwarding. One vBRAS-CP can manage two models of vBRAS-UP, realizing multi-site service forwarding via “both physical and virtual traffic forwarders”. The vBRAS-CP is in charge of the dial-up process and intercommunicates with Radius and the DHCP Server. The vBRAS-UP forwards user traffic. The entire trial covers user access services, basic route protocols, network reliability, security and performance. It proves that ZTE vBRAS solution is capable of:

  • Providing all the services offered by the traditional BRAS: The vRAS supports PPPoEv4/v6, IPoEv4/v6, IPTV multicast, individual WiFi services and business leased line services.
  • Satisfying carrier-grade network operation: The synergy of hardware high-performance NP forwarding pool+ X86 forwarding pool allows real service resource synergic optimization.
  • Performing extremely simple O&M: One-touch deployment enables one-stop creation of vBRAS instances. The unified control plane enables multiple sorts of user plane management. Graphic user interfaces and intelligent configuration make performance statistics very clear.
  • Bringing in improved network elements and network architecture: The control plane and user plane are completely decoupled, which enables flexible deployment. The vBRAS can either be deployed on the existing metro backbone network, or used to facilitate seamless evolution to the future network architecture.

China Unicom Fujian highly approved the trial results of ZTE vBRAS:

Service range: As per the result of the trial running on the existing network, the C/U separated architecture can carry all sorts of services on the existing network.

Service flexibility: As the Radius attributes have been extended, the service scheduling will be more flexible.

Network evolution: Complying with the requirements of the network elements and entire network for openness and satisfying the service requirements of the SDN era, the architecture is to build an intelligent and open unified transport network, optimize the network infrastructure, support service innovation, and make the operation more efficient.

China Unicom Fujian said that the vBRAS implemented together with ZTE manages multiple sorts of user planes via one unified control plane perfectly, so it protects the network assets. Via simple software upgrade, the existing traditional hardware vBRAS can act as the vBRAS-UP. Together with the X86-based user plane, the vBRAS fully pertains to the future MAN architecture evolution. As per the test of running the vBRAS on the existing network, the C/U separated device effectively improves both the operation efficiency and resource utilization, helping China Unicom save its investment greatly. In the coming commercial trial, China Unicom Fujian will cooperate with ZTE to build a sample site of the vBRAS on the existing network.

Based on the vBRAS trial pilots, China Unicom Fujian is going to set up a vBRAS commercial trial on the existing network in 2018 to boost its MAN evolution.

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