Etisalat streamlines network infrastructure

To transform its network from a “mesh” framework into a hierarchical telco-based infrastructure capable of delivering carrier class services, the UAE’s PTT, Etisalat, has implemented Juniper M-160 IP Gigabit routers.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  December 4, 2002

Network transformation|~||~||~|To transform its network from a “mesh” framework into a hierarchical telco-based infrastructure capable of delivering carrier class services, the UAE’s PTT, Etisalat, has implemented Juniper M-160 IP Gigabit routers in the backbone of its network.

“Previously, our network was more of a mesh, so we introduced a new concept and upgraded the capacity. Now it is more of a hierarchical telco-based network,” says Nasser Salim, senior manager, internet & e-solutions, Etisalat.

“The advantages are that we have high availability and redundancy. From a capacity point of view we can expand tremendously on the bandwidth and meet customer demand. We have also implemented SS7 signalling for our access network, which is a telco-based signalling. That has closed the gap between the IP network and the voice network,” he explains.

The network transformation, which involved the implementation of over 20 M-160s, has facilitated management and enabled the network team to reduce bottlenecks and identify potential problems quickly and effectively.

As part of Etisalat’s heterogeneous, multi-vendor network environment, Juniper’s products offer the incumbent PTT the performance, functionality and service levels it requires to deliver broadband internet services, such as videoconferencing, e-mail and video-on-demand.

“The [M-160s] are carrier class routers and we were impressed with their performance. They really deliver the line speed throughput that we don’t see with other vendors,” says Salim.

“With other vendors’ products, when the traffic increases the performance of the box declines. In this case, even if the throughput is at the maximum, the box is able to sustain the traffic,” he adds.

Although Salim says the greater challenges for configuration and management are encountered at the edge of the network, the size and complexity of Etisalat’s network requires a robust and scalable solution in the core

“The core incorporates the two data centres, access to the points-of-presence (POPs) around the Emirates and the Emirates Internet Exchange,” he explains.

“They [M-160s] are fully redundant boxes. If we lose one chassis, we have another chassis. If we lose two chassis we have another two chassis somewhere else to take the traffic,” Salim says.

||**||MPLS implementation|~||~||~|To ease manageability of its complex multi-vendor network infrastructure, the PTT uses HP OpenView as its centralised management solution. However, Salim says strong in-built management solutions are also essential.

“This is one weakness of Juniper — they don’t have a strong management tool. So far we haven’t had any issues with this, and we have been able to do fault management,” he comments.

Although at the start of deployment, nearly two years ago, Etisalat’s traffic levels did not require such heavy duty boxes, the rapid expansion of the PTT’s network and services has justified the investment.

“Juniper was able to cater to all of the traffic requirements in the core network and it was a good idea to go with these boxes. At the time [of deployment] we were running at about 10-15% of the box capacity. Now we are up to almost 50% and that is just within two years,” says Salim.

With Etisalat’s forthcoming plans including the introduction of cable modem services and price reductions for broadband and leased line services, the demands on the network are set to increase further. As such, the PTT has a capacity management and planning team to ensure that it has the necessary bandwidth and network capacity.

“We have a capacity management team that does the capacity planning and looks at the trends. We have threshold levels, 60% is normally the alert stage, 70% is the planning stage and when we reach 80% we should have the other solution in place,” explains Salim.

“Etisalat is in the process of introducing new services and we don’t know the [response] of customers to them or how much traffic will be generated. Nevertheless we try our best to estimate this and by the third or fourth quarter of next year we will reach the alert state, but we are well covered up to mid-2004,” he adds.

The PTT is also in the process of implementing multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) to enhance the traffic prioritisation of its network. Although Etisalat prioritises customer traffic at the edge of its network, MPLS will extend this capability into the core.

“Once we have MPLS implemented in our core network, we will be in a better position to manage our traffic. A lot of things like video-on-demand, video broadcasting and voice over IP will be easy to implement and we will be able deliver a high quality to our users,” comments Salim.

To ensure that the MPLS implementation runs smoothly in its heterogeneous environment, Etisalat has been working with a whole host of vendors, including Juniper, Cisco, Lucent and Nortel. “We have a lot of [vendors’ products] and we need to coordinate with them all because their products all have to speak the same language,” explains Salim.

“But we don’t see it as a problem because all the products, even those installed two or three years ago, already have provision for MPLS. I would say over 95% of our products are ready for MPLS,” he continues.||**||

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