Rather than upgrade legacy telecommunications infrastructure to meet the modern demands of citizens and a reshaping country, Iraq's government selected a new service provider joint venture to restore and rebuild the Iraqi National Backbone using SDN, cloud -- and eventually virtualized -- technologies.
The Iraqi National Backbone is the official Internet service provider of Iraq, provided through a partnership between Symphony and EarthLink JLT. Once completed, the network is slated to cover most major Iraqi cities as an alternative to current submarine networks that conduct communications from Europe to the Middle East via the Suez Canal or the Horn of Africa.
"Personally, I do not prefer the word rebuild. I would rather say re-inventing the Iraqi Network and build it from scratch for cloud scale. Iraq needs more transport capability with fully dynamic and scalable capabilities to meet the demands for the next decade. The existing backbone has its limitation, and it will not be able to meet the growing demand for cloud scale applications," EarthLink CEO Sarmad Ahmed tells the New IP Agency via email.
"Security and political stability are the main challenges that are facing any significant project; we had to redesign the original backbone topology to increase the route diversity especially in North Iraq and to areas that facing security challenges and military operations," he adds. "Hence the network will be the first in the Middle East to be [truly] self-healing and provide restoration against simultaneous multiple fiber cuts, something I believe the rest of the Middle East will also start replicating due to the need for these capabilities in the region."
EarthLink and Symphony partnered with Cisco, the first time the networking giant has worked in Iraq, says Moustafa Kattan, a Distinguished Systems Engineer/Architect at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).
"First, they wanted to find a new premium, low-latency path -- if you look at a map of the region -- between the Gulf region to Europe, bypassing the troubled area of Suez, which has a lot of frequent cuts, via the new Iraq, if you will," Kattan tells the New IP Agency. "Secondly, they wanted to bridge this digital divide for the people of Iraq because the Internet connectivity in the country has been one of the worst because of the bureaucracy and because of the problems of the country. The government gave the license to EarthLink as a new, young company that can bypass all the bureaucracy and can provide Internet connectivity to the nation. As we all know, broadband connectivity is really correlated to the economy of a nation."
A Dubai-based Cisco account rep met with EarthLink's Ahmed and the regional team successfully pitched a pilot project -- connecting a few nodes, then later two cities -- that allowed Cisco to demonstrate its IP and optical technology, its SDN and virtualization solutions, and the vendor's teamwork and technical capabilities, Kattan says. When it came time for winning the Iraqi National Backbone contract, Cisco vied against several big-name networking competitors, several of which had long-time relationships in the area.
The new network had to integrate with the existing system, says Ahmed. The old and new backbones back up each other, he says.
"The new backbone have been design in collaboration with the old backbone to increase the diversity and network protection," Ahmed says.
The secret sauce
But the local Cisco team developed its own relationship with EarthLink's Ahmed, says Kattan. The two professionals worked together on the network backbone, delving far into the underlying technologies, he recalls.
"He used to come quite often to Dubai and that was the secret sauce, because I spent a lot of time with him white-boarding, working on the design. With him being a PhD, with myself being a PhD, we really clicked from a technical point of view because we did a deep-dive into the technology, into the design, and he actually started doing the design himself based on the support," Kattan says. "We're talking about the CEO, not the CTO, of the company."
EarthLink and Symphony thoroughly evaluated all contenders, working with consultants from different countries to dig into each vendor's offering. Price, while a consideration, was not the only factor; Cisco's solution cost more upfront but the vendor mitigated that by demonstrating a lower total cost of ownership over the network's lifetime, says Kattan.
World of capabilities
The solution includes the Cisco NCS 5500 and ASR 9000 router platforms and the NCS 2000 for dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM), and is based on industry standard protocols, including WSON in the optical layer. SDN coordinates restoration events, while Cisco Evolved Programmable Network (EPN) Manager brings multi-layer network views into each event. The IOS XR operating system will support advanced operational capabilities such as segment routing, real-time model driven telemetry and standards-based programmability using NETCONF and YANG, according to Cisco.
"The combination of both superior performance compared to other vendors made the decision pretty straightforward. Cisco Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Evolved Programmable Network (EPN) meet the future requirement as the Network evolves towards a unified Multi-Layer IP+DWDM SDN architecture," says EarthLink's Ahmed.
These technologies will allow EarthLink and Symphony to meet their deliverables, he adds.
"Market share is important, however, other measurements are critical for successful implementation such as delivering the service with the agreed SLA, service provisioning time, fast response to customer requirement and the most important is to create true agility in the connectivity supply-chain," says Ahmed. "Reliability and cost saving are the main driven factors for operators in Iraq. Last-mile connection is another important issue. Most of the broadband customers are connected using wireless medium in the last mile. Wireless connection have its limitation especially in the urban areas due to its spectrum limitation. To solve this there are several ongoing FTTH projects in Baghdad and other major cities, which will provide the users with better connection and create new pressure on the backbone. Our backbone will deliver want the customer want -- more bandwidth.
"This could somehow have been achieved without SDN and NFV, but we cannot achieve the level of automation, scalability required without SDN and eventually NFV," he says.
— Alison Diana, Editor, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @The_New_IP.