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    Sowing the Seeds of the Future: Optical Fiber Radically Improves the Digital Level of NAU's Campus

Nanjing Agricultural University (NAU) counts agriculture and life sciences as its key disciplines and is a valuable part of Project 211, a highly successful national-level effort initiated in the '90s to raise research standards in China's universities. Recognized as one of China's Double First Class universities, NAU is also part of Project 985, which similarly promotes the development of world-class universities in the country. With a history spanning more than a hundred years, NAU has trained over 300,000 agricultural professionals and it counts more than 50 academicians as alumni. This is an impressive figure since the title is only granted to the country's very top scientific and engineering elites.

As such, the university is a global leader in a range of disciplines and its scientific research has directly contributed to the eradication of poverty and revitalization of rural areas throughout China, giving rise to enormous economic opportunities. And in recent years, NAU has integrated advanced Information Technology (IT) into its agricultural research capabilities, in order to ultimately build itself into a comprehensive smart university and make even more social contributions.

Behind all of its achievements, NAU's faculty, staff, and tens of thousands of students are the foundation for its success, with all of them aspiring to the university's motto: integrity, simplicity, diligence, and benevolence. And another vital support, of course, is NAU's infrastructure, including an upgraded campus network constructed with cutting-edge Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Building a High-Speed All-Optical Campus Network

Accelerating informatization has become a major goal for universities in China, using ICT to improve teaching levels and gain a competitive advantage for future educational development. Deploying a safe, reliable, cost-effective, and sustainable campus network was therefore high on NAU's wish-list. Indeed, in 2019, it signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Huawei. Powered by its latest ICT innovations, products, and solutions, Huawei subsequently provided ICT infrastructure and a top-level design to help NAU build a safe and eco-friendly smart campus.

With that key goal of advancing NAU's informatization in mind, the two parties worked closely together to build a hybrid cloud platform, a high-performance intelligent computing platform, a campus network, and a smart classroom system, along with many more ICT systems. But, as 2020 arrived, remote learning rapidly became the new norm and NAU experienced a sharp increase in demand for concurrent online access. Unsurprisingly, the legacy network was unable to keep up and cope with resulting traffic surges, forcing NAU's hand to upgrade the network — fast.

The structure of the legacy switch-based campus network was also overly complex, making it difficult to maintain and manage. Wi-Fi interference also severely impacted the user experience. Yan Xianglin, the Vice President in charge of NAU's informatization, led a comprehensive evaluation, ultimately choosing to build a future-proofed all-optical network in the Nanyuan student dormitory on the university's Weigang campus. With this project, NAU was cast as a pioneer of 10-Gigabit-Capable Symmetric Passive Optical Networks (XGS-PONs), underpinned by Wi-Fi 6 all-optical network architecture.

Devices featured in the solution include an Optical Line Terminal (OLT) aggregation device, SPL passive optical splitter, Optical Network Unit (ONU) for multi-service access, and panel Access Points (APs). All-optical deployment for the wired network achieves high-bandwidth access and full-service convergence. XGS-PON technology not only provides high bandwidth for symmetric upstream and downstream access, but also simplifies Operations, Administration, and Maintenance (OAM). Meanwhile, wireless APs — adopting the 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) standard — provide high bandwidth and low latency, with the ability to communicate with multiple devices concurrently, greatly reducing network congestion. Such a unified network meets the wide range of service requirements that are essential to achieve future-proofed system upgrades.

The New Trend

In transmission, optical fibers are gradually replacing traditional copper cables and Huawei's Campus OptiX — a mainstream, all-optical, next generation campus network solution — provides powerful IT infrastructure for educational institutions, supporting scientific research, teaching, office work, and digital daily lives. Compared with traditional networks, Huawei's Campus OptiX Solution delivers a wide range of added value, from improving the user experience to offering better environmental performance.

A Better User Experience

Students today have different learning and living requirements from those of just a generation ago. From academic exchanges and submitting reports to uploading videos, students often need high-bandwidth and high-speed network support to succeed throughout their university life. With traditional networks, bandwidth resources are limited, and must be strategically allocated. For the majority of these networks, upstream speeds are only a quarter of downstream speeds, sometimes even less. This, of course, will impact the quality of bidirectional communication, which is now widely applied in modern education, particularly distance learning.

Based on XGS-PON technology, Huawei launched its OptiXstar series terminals, optical devices that provide 10 Gbit/s symmetric upstream and downstream bandwidths, addressing traditional issues in terms of bidirectional communication. In addition, featured Wi-Fi 6 capabilities provide low latency to effectively support latency-sensitive applications, such as online course selection and in-school activities.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Higher education in China is undergoing rapid development. Colleges and universities are taking on an increasing number of responsibilities, and enrollment numbers are growing fast. But traditional campus networks are complex beasts, bringing with them plenty of management challenges and often actively hindering the development of new services.

Huawei's passive optical Local Area Network (LAN) adopts a simple two-layer architecture, connecting the aggregation equipment room and student dormitories directly through optical fibers. This has laid a solid foundation for the future development of cloud-based networks for NAU. Copper cables can cover no more than 100 meters, while optical fibers easily reach 20 kilometers, more than enough to cover the entire NAU campus. In addition, compared with active aggregation switches on copper networks, passive optical splitters reduce active fault points, significantly simplifying and improving Operations and Maintenance (O&M).

Easy Evolution

Upgrading a traditional copper network means that cables have to be replaced: this is a laborious, lengthy job. Nonetheless, with the arrival of COVID-19, upgrading bandwidth became a matter of extreme urgency and copper networks proved unable to scale up with anything approaching ease. Optical networks, however, offer almost unlimited bandwidth and are very easy to upgrade. All that's required is for devices at both ends to be upgraded and network evolution is complete, a smooth process that only takes a few days. This makes both on-demand service expansion and elastic network scaling a reality — and an easy one, at that — meeting all service requirements over the next decade and maximizing Return On Investment (ROI).

Efficient Deployment and Intelligent O&M

Internet applications are playing an increasingly important role in the digital society we now live in. Networks must therefore be able to cope with the wide range of services that are now available. Optical fiber is highly cost-effective, with a small physical footprint, simplified deployment, and coverage over ultra-long-distances. Most importantly, a single optical network can carry almost all known network services, from voice and video to Internet access and TV. This allows the convergence of data, voice, Internet of Things (IoT), and video networks, reducing development and O&M costs. In addition, optical networks support unified configuration management and real-time fault detection, which enable automatic and intelligent network management, improving O&M efficiency by an impressive 60%.

Environmental Protection

Traditional copper networks rely on numerous power rooms and access devices to function. This generates plenty of heat and requires air conditioning systems to remain cool, posing fire safety hazards. In comparison, an all-optical solution uses passive optical splitters, which minimize the physical hardware footprint as well as mitigating the risk of fire.

Future-Oriented Smart Network

Zha Guiting, Director of the Informatization Development Center at NAU, said: "As colleges and universities continue to advance, NAU is steadily pushing forward its duties regarding informatization, public services, and management by pursuing efficiency and precision. Centering on two missions — service and governance — NAU embraces the principles of unified planning, construction, general management, and data management. The campus network needs to provide fast and efficient information services for teaching and scientific research, and also, support smart campus development."

The key to successfully upgrading NAU's network, the Huawei Campus OptiX All-Optical Solution Huawei Campus OptiX All-Optical Solution satisfies the diverse needs of school administrators, students, and teachers alike. The solution not only enhances the user experience, but also connects campus data and applications. Boasting several key advantages — from advanced architecture, service convergence, and extensive coverage, to high security and reliability, energy-saving capabilities, and simplified O&M — the solution consolidates the foundation of a smart campus and facilitates the future development of a campus's network infrastructure.

In the foreseeable future, more colleges and universities will upgrade their network infrastructure to improve their digital capabilities. These new networks will, in return, boost smart campus development, improve scientific research efficiency, and optimize teaching capabilities. With this in mind, Huawei will continue to provide scenario-based solutions and future-proofed technology to help education institutions achieve new heights in the ongoing development of all-optical smart campuses.