Huawei Steps Onto the World Stage

SDN, NFV, and open source among the Chinese networking vendor's key tactics as it seeks to take on Cisco and other industry leaders.

By Arthur Cole | Posted May 22, 2015
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Chinese networking vendor Huawei recently held its annual confab in Beijing, and the conclusion that many are drawing is that there is a serious new competitor on the world stage.

Huawei has been on the radar for a number of years, largely by virtue of its status as a homegrown networking presence in Asia, a vibrant IT and carrier infrastructure market if ever there was one. But judging by the initiatives the company has announced in recent days, Huawei is also rapidly closing in on a highly sophisticated networking stack capable of competing head-to-head with leading systems from Cisco, Juniper, Brocade and anyone else looking to leverage emerging communications architectures.

Automating Huawei SDN and NFV

A key component in Huawei’s design is automation. The company made several announcements on this front, starting with the integration of Puppet Labs software on its CloudEngine switching portfolio. This enables native functionality for rapid provisioning, unified change management, shared Dev/Ops and other key capabilities that network admins need right after deployment. Huawei also utilizes Puppet’s NetDev standard to create its own optimized Puppet modules, capable of managing switch configuration, interfaces, VLANs and trunk architectures.

Huawei has also turned to PLUMgrid to simplify deployment and automation of OpenStack-based SDN and NFV networks. The company will utilize OpenStack’s StackForge infrastructure project to incorporate PLUMgrid’s Open Network Suite (ONS) into the open source Compass Deployment-as-a-Service solution. This should help streamline the deployment of OpenStack-compatible networking through an automated “Zero Touch” installation process for virtual infrastructure. PLUMgrid’s use of private Virtual Domains provide container-like environments for various virtual network functions (VNFs) that can be optimized for individual users or applications.

Huawei's open networking and open source involvement

Huawei has in fact been very involved in a number of open networking initiatives over the past year, including the Open Network Operating System Project (ONOS), the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV). Executives say the goal is to foster an open, programmable SDN environment that satisfies both network operators and service providers. At the same time, the company is building its own NFV Open Lab in Shanghai, with connected facilities in Germany and the U.S., in order to develop and test carrier-grade solutions for open, distributed architectures.

Of course, open source purists always look askance at commercial entities handing out olive branches to non-proprietary platforms, but truth be told, it isn’t any easier to see a hidden agenda in Huawei’s overtures to open networking than with other top vendors like Cisco and Juniper.

In public, at least, Huawei is talking about the network not as an end, but as a means to a more versatile computing ecosystem. The company’s Li Xianyin told the recent Network Congress in Shanghai that the new “Agile Internet of Things” gateway and controller portfolio the company is developing is intended to integrate SDN with device-level networking and embedded router technology to provide a more flexible, rapidly deployable IoT infrastructure. The company also maintains that openness and collaboration are the hallmarks of its Agile Network 3.0 platform, which will form the basis for what will ultimately become the Business Driven ICT Infrastructure (BDII).

Clearly, Huawei has a lot of plans. But it takes more than technology and good intentions to make it in the networking game. There are also practical matters like sales and distribution channels, brand development and customer service and support. The company has these in spades throughout the Asia region, but in order to become a true global competitor, Huawei will have to up its game in Europe, the Americas and the MEA region as well.

Fortunately, enterprises across the globe are ripe for conversion as they seek to shed the last vestiges of their legacy silo infrastructure.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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