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Ankabut and Huawei Empower the UAE to Rethink Education

By Zhao Zhijuan, Global Government Business Unit, Enterprise Business Group,Huawei

Building a World-Class Educational System

Located at the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula in the Middle East, the UAE became one of the world's richest nations when oil was found in the country in the 1960s. Fast forward to the 21st century, and the UAE has sought to diversify its economy and national industries. It has become a leader in the Gulf region in many fields, with cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi be-coming trade, finance, and logistics centers in the Middle East. To maintain the UAE's rapid economic growth, its government has recognized the increasing importance of education and developing a strong talent pool.

Clearly, the country's diversified, knowledge-based economic strategy can only succeed with a strong educational system in place. With this in mind and in line with its Vision 2021 national strategy, the UAE government aims to trans-form the country into a leader in education. To this end, the UAE government has outlined action plans and proposed clear objectives for improving the edu-cational infrastructure and advancing the digital transformation of the education sector. For example, a smart learning project was launched to deploy high-speed 4G networks in all public schools and equip all students with tablets — transforming classrooms into smart learning portals and creating a digital learning environment. An intelligent e-service portal was established to offer various electronic services to university faculty and students, including regis-tration, certificate authentication, and license extensions. Slowly but surely, such applications of digital technologies are reshaping learning and scientific research methods nationwide.

ICT Infrastructure Could No Longer Meet the Needs of Education and Scientific Research

With demands for digital services increasing among students, teachers, and researchers, traditional ICT infrastructures were unable to keep up: a more solid digital foundation was needed. Enter Ankabut, which provides a wide range of ICT services — including cloud services; network connection; IT in-frastructure; equipment room and cabinet hosting and leasing; managed ser-vices; training services; and a range of other services for universities, research institutes, and vocational schools. Ankabut serves more than 35 educational institutions and 80 colleges, with its customers including the UAE's Ministry of Education and internationally top-ranked public research institution Khalifa Uni-versity. By offering high-quality ICT services, Ankabut aims to empower the UAE as it seeks to become a regional leader in terms of education and scien-tific research.

Despite having multiple Data Centers (DCs) and being the number two ICT service provider in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Ankabut still found it hard to meet the fast-changing requirements of education and scien-tific research services.

In 2020, the vast increase in demand for online education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic posed even more severe challenges to Ankabut. In these circumstances, Ankabut's management realized that it was imperative to over-haul the existing technical architecture, management model, and business model of its networks, in order to upgrade them.

Through survey and analysis, Ankabut outlined some of the most urgent is-sues that had to be resolved. For example, DC facilities were scattered in dif-ferent universities, and unified management and allocation of ICT resources wasn't possible, resulting in high management costs and a lack of efficiency. The scattered architecture supported only basic resource leasing and couldn't provide high-quality computing, storage, network, and big data services. The architecture couldn't be upgraded to meet future demands. Simple business and pricing models and a lack of flexible and innovative ways of service provi-sioning led to low business competitiveness.

Cloud-Based Digital Transformation is the Only Way For-ward

After careful analysis, Ankabut identified the root cause of these problems: the lack of flexibility in the existing technical architecture, which couldn't keep up with the rapidly changing needs of the industry. Through cloud-based digital transformation, all resources can be managed and applied in a unified re-source pool, and the existing network and storage service capabilities can be improved to build a powerful digital foundation. In these circumstances, it would be possible for Ankabut to design flexible and innovative services and business and pricing models.

After determining the direction of cloud-based transformation, Ankabut began looking for a solution that could meet the new service needs of universities and scientific research institutions for computing power, storage performance, and big data enablement.

Ankabut also required that the solution had a leading technical architecture that supports flexible capacity expansion and upgrade, satisfying the needs of future development in the next five years. It was also critical for the solution to be compatible with original systems, be capable of unified allocation and appli-cation of IT resources, and support simple operations as well as centralized management of various services. What's more, it also needed to deliver vari-ous ways of service provisioning, supporting more flexible business models and pricing modes. After many rounds of comparison and testing to find a suit-able solution, Ankabut finally chose to partner with Huawei.

This is where HUAWEI CLOUD Stack (HCS), a high-performance IT platform, came into play. Based on Atlas servers, ARM servers, and KunLun mission-critical servers, HCS provides more than 40 types of cloud services in nine categories — meeting the requirements for remote education, high-concurrency video streaming, high-performance computing, and big data ena-blement of customers from the education sector. The solution provides high-level, customized cloud services to meet Ankabut's requirements for band-width, computing power, storage, and service diversification — improving its service while enhancing its competitive strengths. The open architecture of HCS means it can manage resource pools from different vendors, protecting Ankabut's previous investments. HCS also features out-of-the-box cloud ser-vices and embedded Business Continuity (BC) and Disaster Recovery (DR) services, simplifying platform operations and management.

To satisfy Ankabut's desire for unified management of cloud services and tra-ditional network leasing service, Huawei offered tailored cloud-and-network synergy based on Software-Defined Networking (SDN) to implement unified cloud and network management. Huawei CloudFabric is an SDN solution that provides seamless connection within or between DCs for physical, virtual, or container-based workloads and applications. CloudFabric offers an intelligent, simplified, secure, and open digital network platform with ultra-high bandwidth to centrally manage services such as the leasing of equipment rooms, network bandwidth, and physical network ports.

Ankabut also deployed Huawei's high-end all-flash distributed storage product — OceanStor Dorado V6, which uses dedicated AI chips, FlashLink® intelli-gent algorithms and the Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) architecture to provide 20 million Input/output Operations Per Second (IOPS) and a latency of only 0.1 ms, which is twice the performance of comparable storage products in the industry. The excellent storage and read/write capabilities of OceanStor Dorado V6 greatly improved the online teaching and learning experience for teachers and students in the UAE. The product also provides features such as snapshot and Copy Data Management (CDM). This means the solution can quickly create data copies without interrupting services — providing flexible da-ta services for research institutes to facilitate their testing and analysis work.

Education Cloud Promotes Service Innovation

"This project represents one of the largest investments made in the UAE's ed-ucation sector in 2019, and will strengthen the UAE's position as a regional leader in educational services," said Fahem Al Nuaimi, CEO of Ankabut.

Cloud-based transformation has benefited Ankabut in many ways. For exam-ple, scattered resources are integrated for unified management, to better for-mulate operation strategies and reduce operational costs; and by innovating business models and providing more flexible services at more competitive prices, Ankabut has consolidated its leading position in the UAE and the Mid-dle East.

Meanwhile, educational and research institutions in the UAE also benefit from the educational cloud. Empowered by state-of-the-art cloud services from Ankabut, schools and research institutes can improve the quality and efficiency of teaching and research projects, helping the UAE become a world-class edu-cational nation, as outlined in the Vision 2021 initiative. Al Nuaimi identified three key factors in the project's success: the digitalization of the education sector, the adoption of a future-oriented technical architecture, and the selec-tion of the right partner. With these cornerstones in place, Ankabut is confident that the education cloud will provide a platform for the UAE's entire educational industry to go digital.

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