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    Agricultural Bank of China: Building a Future-oriented Cloud Interconnection Network in the Digital Era

Agricultural Bank of China’s Thoughts on Digital Transformation

In recent years, the rapid development of Internet finance has brought unprecedented challenges to traditional banking and accelerated digital transformation in the financial industry. Facing the continual emergence of digital technologies represented by Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud computing, big data, and blockchain, Agricultural Bank of China has focused on FinTech innovation and deep integration between the financial industry and new technologies in an effort to accelerate data-centric digital transformation.

With the advent of the cloud era, distributed architectures flourish. Developing online, digital, and intelligent financial services depends on the building of bank data application capabilities. Along with network development trends such as host deployment closer to the user side, application cloudification, and financial data lake construction, the data traffic model changes dramatically. This in turn extends data flows from intra-DC forwarding to inter-DC backbone forwarding. As the key infrastructure for data transmission, networks must support fast rollout of numerous innovative financial services, provide diversified service experience for different users, and allow for flexible access in complex environments. This requires the basic network architecture to be transformed during digital transformation.

To address these challenges, Agricultural Bank of China continues to explore and research innovative technologies. Based on its transformation strategy, the bank aims to build intelligent, standardized, and automated networks to provide optimal service experience for data forwarding and maximize data monetization. Specifically, it plans to build a next-generation “ABC ONE”-based intelligent network architecture. “ABC” — the acronym for Agricultural Bank of China — stands for AI, big data, and cloud computing, and “ONE” represents an Open Network Ecosystem.

Agricultural Bank of China’s traditional backbone network connects 36 level-1 branches and also multiple DCs and subsidiaries worldwide. As the network architecture is transformed to multi-city multi-DC, problems such as limited access capability, complex DC interconnection, and weak multi-service transport capability are gradually exposed. Faced with this, the bank has prioritized building a next-generation backbone network in its network architecture transformation. Segment Routing-Multiprotocol Label Switching (SR-MPLS) is a relatively mature backbone network forwarding technology that has been widely used. However, considering the scalability and universality of technologies and that IPv6 will replace IPv4 in the future, the bank decided to deploy SRv6 that perfectly combines IPv6 and SR. SRv6 inherits SR advantages and provides application identification, differentiated service capabilities, large-scale 5G/IoT access, and future-oriented infinite scalability. As early as 2017, Agricultural Bank of China elected to use IPv6 and SRv6 as key technologies for its next-generation backbone network, and incorporated them into its innovative research and work plan. The bank is committed to building an intelligent, multi-service, and industry-leading network platform to comprehensively advance global service development.

Construction and Practices of Agricultural Bank of China’s Next-Generation Backbone Network

To support digital transformation, Agricultural Bank of China’s HQ Data Center (DC) started the next-generation intelligent backbone network project in 2017 and worked with Huawei to implement innovative project planning. Adhering to the multi-city multi-DC development strategy, the project established network design objectives covering robust architecture, intelligent operation, and easy management, and formulated a phase-by-phase construction plan.

Agricultural Bank of China first completed reconstruction from a traditional MPLS VPN backbone network to a Software-Defined Networking (SDN) Wide Area Network (WAN) backbone network, achieving the first successful deployment of SR-MPLS TE in the financial industry. With SR capabilities, the bank preliminarily virtualized WAN link resources, implementing unified network resource scheduling and flexible service deployment.

Through comprehensive technical research and verification jointly conducted with Huawei based on service requirements, Agricultural Bank of China finally chose SRv6 for its intelligent backbone network and completed the evolution from SR-MPLS to SRv6 in early 2020, achieving the largest-scale SRv6 deployment in the financial industry. Coupled with the infinite scalability of IPv6, SRv6 meets the requirements of high-speed inter-DC access and enables future capability expansion on the intelligent backbone network.

Through two phases of project construction, Agricultural Bank of China has improved financial service capabilities in the following aspects:

Simplified architecture

A layered architecture is adopted for backbone and access networks, enabling branches, subsidiaries, and partners to locally connect to the HQ DC through the nearest access points and achieving fast service provisioning. SDN introduction to the control plane

SDN introduction to the control plane

SDN eliminates manual service configuration and delivery, and allows users to uniformly schedule backbone network routers through a controller, implementing one-stop service provisioning. The E2E service provisioning time is reduced to several minutes, a significant improvement over the one to two weeks that used to be required, improving efficiency by hundreds of times.

Improved link usage on the forwarding plane

Traffic used to be forwarded over the shortest path, without the capability of application quality awareness. Now, traffic can be intelligently forwarded segment by segment based on the Class Of Service (COS). This enhances the capability of processing sensitive services such as online transaction, audio, and video services, and it improves service quality and link usage.

Differentiated SLA services for different customers

Financial services are growing rapidly. IoT, AR, 5G, and many other services are all carried on the backbone network, requiring the backbone network to provide differentiated service capabilities based on applications. SRv6 can classify applications in a refined manner and select the optimal forwarding path based on the latency and bandwidth, assuring good user experience for key services.

Reduced network complexity

SRv6 replaces multiple protocols previously used, simplifying network configuration and O&M and significantly improving service deployment and O&M efficiency.

Support for IPv6 evolution

As the foundation of communication between IT systems, networks must first evolve to IPv6. Enabling IPv6 on the backbone network helps all of Agricultural Bank of China’s IT systems evolve to IPv6.

Adhering to the IPv6 Development Strategy, Leading Industrial Network Transformation

In 2019, the SRv6 Technology and Industry White Paper was released, describing the technical values, key technical points, industry development, and usage scenarios of SRv6. This marks that SRv6 had been widely recognized in the industry. SRv6 commercialization requires services, networks, and industry applications to be streamlined in order to build an E2E industry ecosystem based on continuous innovation and pioneering practices. Agricultural Bank of China put SRv6 into commercial use on a large scale, promoting network technology innovation in the financial industry and accelerating the industry progress towards IPv6. The bank’s network transformation practices in SRv6 and other key technologies are extremely valuable and significant to the financial industry in the following aspects:

Accelerates digital transformation and maximizes the value of financial data.

Fosters a fertile network environment for financial technology innovation, catalyzing the development and innovation of emerging technologies such as 5G and IoT in financial service scenarios.

Supports financial service transformation, bringing new technical dividends.

Sets a benchmark of innovative IPv6 evolution in the financial industry.

Future Prospects

In-depth integration of next-generation information technologies and finance has become an irreversible trend. To achieve business success in the future, banks must continuously carry out product, service, and model innovation based on networks. Future networks must be Autonomous Driving Networks (ADNs) with self-learning capabilities.

The successful large-scale deployment of SRv6 on the next-generation backbone network accelerates the digital transformation of Agricultural Bank of China. Moreover, as a key turning point of SRv6 deployment in the financial industry, it sets a benchmark of technological innovation for the financial industry, providing valuable reference for financial network construction. During next-generation network construction, Agricultural Bank of China will continue to work with Huawei to innovate in various fields such as network slicing, In-situ Flow Information Telemetry (iFIT), and AI-based intelligent O&M to build a next-generation intelligent ABC ONE-based network.