The Huawei Approach to Helping Enterprises Transform Networks


It seems not long ago that the telecommunications industry was introduced to Huawei. Started in Shenzhen, China, as a sales agent for a Hong Kong PBX company in 1987, in just 25 years, the company has grown to be a global leader in the telecom equipment market, earning Infonetics Research’s top spot for 2012 (edging out Ericsson and Cisco).

While Huawei has earned worldwide recognition and market share leadership in the carrier sector, in 2011, it established its Enterprise Business Group (BG) and the results have been impressive. In fact, the Enterprise BG, which sells products for enterprise network, unified communications, cloud and data centers, with revenues of US $1.8 billion and a 25.8 percent year-on-year growth rate in 2012, is the company’s fastest growing unit, and has prospered despite global economic uncertainties. 

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Huawei’s Swift Liu (pictured at right), President/ VP Enterprise Networking Product Line, Enterprise Business Group. In a broad-ranging interview, we discussed what Swift was hearing from customers and how this was being translated into products and service innovation that are driving Huawei Enterprise’s growth.

What customers are saying

As Swift noted, much of Huawei’s success can be attributed to the fact that at the heart of the company’s values is a customer-centric approach. He emphasized that listening closely to customer needs drives what and where Huawei concentrates its R&D developments. This is particularly true right now in the areas of:

  • Moving small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to the cloud,
  • Giving large enterprises better computing resource allocation capabilities,
  • Helping enterprises leverage the benefits of BYOD,
  • Enabling graceful migration by enterprise to software-defined networking (SDN),
  • Using big data and innovative solutions to protect data at rest and on the move and providing greater visibility and control for IT, and
  • Converging enterprise wired and wireless with unified access and unified management.

In the context of these requirements, Swift provided interesting insights into what are top of mind in IT departments small and large.  

He started with SMEs, noting, “Many SMEs are looking to the cloud to improve their efficiency and their flexibility. The first things SMEs mention are the challenges associated with the cost of equipment. With public cloud services, SME do not need expensive equipment; however, while they like the cloud, they have issues with data security and permissions management. It is an area where Huawei is giving them solutions that are cost effective.”  

The emphasis Huawei is hearing from large enterprises strikes a little different note. Swift explained that, “Most are establishing private cloud data centers. In doing so they want improve their computing resource usage and get a better return on their investments.” He cited the unpredictability of traffic and the needs for such departments — financial, customer service and public affairs for example — which make heavy use of computing resources on a quarterly or monthly basis and, thus, need significant resources at specific times while not others. This means the resources supporting them have to be flexible in terms of being easily, quickly, securely and cost-effectively allocated as needed. 

As illustrated later in the interview, it means gracefully migrating larger enterprises to SDN functionality by leveraging the capabilities of the company’s recently introduced agile network architecture technology and its family of agile switches. These have been designed from a user experience perspective, understanding that moving towards SDN, the Internet of Thing (IoT), network convergence and big data analytics requires efficient deployment, security and management of operations and ecosystems.  

Image via Shutterstock

What Huawei is hearing from enterprises of all sizes in regards to BYOD is instructive. As Swift explained, “It is well known that BYOD has obvious advantages regarding improving efficiencies and enabling the anywhere and anytime office, but there are some disadvantages.” He noted that many of Huawei’s customers they have separate networks deployed for different lines of business (LOBs) and even separate networks within LOBs. This makes leveraging the full benefits of BYOD difficult.  As a result, Swift says Huawei Enterprise will be focusing on BYOD and the successful convergence of disparate networks, including not only wired and wireless, but also helping drive the use of virtualization technologies within the enterprise

What this translates into is taming BYOD security challenges, which include device and application management, policy management, quality of service (QoS) management, and traffic measurement.  As Swift explained regarding traffic, “Previously, it could be controlled and managed, but now, after service is deployed, it is hard to measure and predict.” He added that the BYOD users’ desire to increasingly use video and share files is a concern, represents the need to for a holistic approach to BYOD to handle IP addressing and router upgrades. 

But, BYOD is not the only challenge customers face. In most enterprises today, the Internet of Things (IoT) has gone from being something of interest to a requirement. As a result, enterprises are looking to ICT optimization to improve their flexibility and operational efficiency, to enable them to securely deploy IoT devices. 

Other areas of customer interest and concern are cloud computing security, data centralization and sharing and permission management. Enterprise IT, especially with the proliferation of users accessing public cloud capabilities are afraid that “common clouding” will reveal major data and invite hackers. Swift says, “This means we have to improve encryption both at the application layer and on the devices.” 

He singled out permission management as a major issue, particularly on enterprise campuses. “Previously, the enterprise campus network was within IT’s control and resources were properly allocated. Now that more capabilities have moved to the public cloud, it is impossible to properly allocate resources across the enterprise.  As a result, IT must have permission management capabilities, especially for group configurations,” Swift stated. 

The last area to which Huawei is paying close attention its enterprise customers’ around unified access. 

Customers are increasingly moving mission-critical data that used run across enterprise wired networks onto Wi-Fi. While this has greatly facilitated productivity gains, particularly among distributed and mobile workforces, it has also exposed vulnerabilities, specifically in the financial sector, but others as well. It is driving the need for unified access and the critical requirement of unified converged network management. 

Swift says a major challenge for CIOs is that campus networks traditionally have only done access control at the aggregation layer and not the access layer, mainly because workloads at the access layer are too large, and the access layer is subject to scanning and increased risk of being compromised. As a result, Huawei is working on solutions that converge network access and give IT the visibility, big data analytics and control it needs to assure that, as more and more critical traffic traverses wireless networks, IT can identify and mitigate risks proactively.

Finding solutions for evolving challenges in a rapidly transforming enterprise ICT environment

The market is speaking loudly, in response to which Huawei is producing solutions and heavily investing in R&D to meet the challenges. All of this is being done under a framework and roadmap based on embracing open standards. This includes, for example, its recent public support of Open Source projects and contributions it is making to the acceleration of OpenStack commercialization.

“We have provided SMEs with a permission management solution that enables them to do public clouding,” explains Swift. “The public gateway is a place we can provide permission management so IT can manage, just like when they had full control on their traditional networks.” 

For campus networks, Huawei provides a set of security solutions for the entire wireless network. Swift cites the fact that “the roadmap is to establish an SDN architecture for the entire network, based on an agile controller and the company’s agile architecture.”

The controller allows analysis of big data on the entire network, both security and non-security related data.” He further explains that, “This is a big difference between current and previous solutions. Controller analysis of entire network means, for example, that on a specific app node that is under a DDoS attack where traffic has increased, the controller can identify a threat and deploy a policy so the DDoS attack data can be diverted to security for cleanup.” He also said that, when the Huawei solution discovers suspicious traffic, sandbox technology is employed to simulate and observe this traffic. This lets IT restore the data from different environments such as Linux, Windows, and Apple. “Now users can observe all of the data they think is suspicious and take measures in advance to prevent potential risks,” according to Swift. 

In terms of access and policy management and BYOD, Huawei innovations include unifying access control on converged networks and automating policy management. The benefits are significant in terms of security and time saving. Use of a single controller means IT needs to do one-time configuration. The interesting innovation here is that language on controller is not machine language but is one associated with IT services and the controller can automatically configure language based on requirements. It is the foundation for reducing IT workloads and provides access on the entire unified network.

In addition, QoS can be dynamically managed for specific users and services. In this way VIP users and priority traffic from multiple access regions can have QoS enabled for specific wireless access controllers and access points. In fact, this ability to grant enabled specific QoS for priority services and its focus on  interactions between the campus controller and other resources, so priority is moved to access points nearest the user, is being developed and fine-tuned and will be available by the end of next year. 

Three final innovations from Huawei relating back to solving customer requirements are of note. First, Swift was extremely enthusiastic about the company’s new Internet Packet Conservation Algorithm for Internet (iPCA). It supports hop-by-hop monitoring of any service flows, helping manage services in a more refined way.  iPCA is a critical differentiator in Huawei’s S12700 series Agile Switches — the campus core switches that, in conjunction with Huawei Versatile Routing Platform (VRP), provides high-performance L2/L3 switching services as well as rich network services, such as MPLS VPN, hardware IPv6, desktop cloud, and video conferencing. 

Previous protocols were best effort and not aware of the quality.  iPCA allows IP protocols to be aware of the service quality without extra bandwidth or cost. As Swift stated, “We know that services are running properly on live networks, but there were significant packet loss issues. These may not be transparent to us because of the TCP application layer, but they can really affect service usage. Some are even potential threats. After iPCA is deployed, all of the packet loss can be detected. In this way, engineers can evaluate and optimize their networks.” Plus, iPCA does not change packet formats, so Huawei devices can be easily interconnected with other devices. 

Second, returning to unified access, Swift detailed the advantages of Huawei’s implementation of unified access by pointing out that, in its new solution, the aggregation switch functions as AC in the wired network. This means that the access switch does not need any configuration before put into the network, and upgrades or patch installation of access points can automatically be implemented on the aggregation switch.   

Third, once again citing the agility of the Agile Switch line, new chips that allow for a much larger number of entries (up to three million) can leave space for the OpenFlow table. This allows one network to support both SDN and traditional services, and means customers can smoothly evolve to SDN at their own speed according to their needs.

It is interesting that Huawei in returning to its enterprise roots. What is not surprising, given how fast and how far it has come in the carrier space, is how Huawei has gained significant market traction. Listening closely to the market and heavily investing in the next generation capabilities its customers say are needed to for those enterprises to transform themselves for future success is clearly a major reason why Huawei’s Enterprise BG is the fastest growing unit in a company, which, despite significant headwinds around the world, continues to grow profitably.   

Edited by Alisen Downey
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