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Video services

Cisco Passes the IPTV Test

A ground-breaking test commissioned by Light Reading -- the first of its kind -- has shown that equipment from Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) can scale to 1 million IPTV customers with carrier-grade features such as quality of service (QOS) and resilience.

Light Reading enlisted the European Advanced Networking Test Center AG (EANTC) to run an extensive end-to-end IPTV test on Cisco equipment. Short answer: Cisco passed, showing its gear can handle a 60,000-user POP and, by extrapolation, a 1 million-subscriber IPTV service. It also demonstrated some important features, including Call Admissions Control (CAC) and Video Quality Experience (VQE), and worked as advertised, according to EANTC.

The test supports Cisco's contention that its proprietary features, including CAC and VQE, can improve the IPTV experience. Indeed, such special features may be necessary to corral the complexity of IPTV. EANTC found such additions compelling -- exciting even.

The full test report is available here: Testing Cisco's IPTV Infrastructure. An LRTV video discussing the IPTV test is available here: Cisco Passes IPTV Test.

The buildup
EANTC runs these kinds of installations for a living, helping out service providers with "proof-of-concept" tests. IPTV presents a particular challenge, though, because TV channels have to be delivered real-time while competing for bandwidth with video-on-demand and regular Internet service. (The full "IPTV" service tested included all those parts and a handful of high-speed business customers as well.) And while EANTC has tested IPTV before, the Light Reading test "was certainly a much bigger scale of proof-of-concept testing" than the lab is used to, says Carsten Rossenhövel, managing director of EANTC. "Normally, you try to save in terms of ports. Here, we had 120 DSLAMs and more than 200 TV channels."

First, EANTC drafted a request for proposals (RFP) to provide 1 million IPTV customers with voice, video, and Internet access. Under "video," the requirements included a package of 20 high-definition and 200 standard-definition TV channels, plus 22-Gbit/s worth of video on demand (VOD) service, representing 6,400 simultaneous users, per point of presence (POP). Cisco's first test was to answer the RFP.

Cisco came back with a fiber-to-the-node design using 16 POPs consisting of Cisco's 7600 series routers. The 7600s then connected to 120 DSLAMs per POP, with DSL lines connecting users' homes to the network. For the network core, Cisco proposed using two of its CRS-1 routers.

To run the actual tests, EANTC and Cisco built the core network and one POP of the 16. That was the main thrust of the test: to make sure the aggregation network could serve this size of deployment. (The DSLAMs and DSL lines were emulated on Spirent Communications plc equipment; no DSLAMs were harmed in the making of this report.)

EANTC has previously tested CRS-1s to the 1 million-customer level. (See Cisco's CRS-1 Passes Our Test and 40-Gig Router Test Results.) So Rossenhövel was confident that if one POP worked, the network could handle the full 16-POP case.

In the end, Cisco passed a series of tests related to QOS, network resilience, and video performance.

Making the grade
For instance, EANTC simulated various failures and fiber breaks, and Cisco's routers managed to restore TV service in 625 milliseconds, worst case. And in QOS tests, Cisco correctly prevented the TV streams from getting disrupted when other types of traffic threatened to clog the network.

Now, keep in mind that Cisco's was the only architecture under scrutiny. The results don't say that Cisco has the best (or only) IPTV package out there; rather, it just shows Cisco's network can survive in a deployment of reasonably large scale.

As one would expect in a carrier-grade IPTV deployment, some tweaks were necessary. EANTC initially settled on one version of software for all the 7600s but had to load a different version in order to run multicast failover tests -- a change that prompted router reboots. And the CRS-1 software chosen turned out to have an MPLS problem, which Cisco found, not during the tests, but in a situation with a real-life customer. Cisco had to write up a fix.

On the hardware side, two of Cisco's eight Gigabit Ethernet linecards turned out to be defective and needed replacing, but EANTC says this is too small a sample to be statistically significant for the Cisco fleet.

Bells and whistles
One of the more interesting parts of the test, according to EANTC, involved Cisco's special features. Cisco was allowed to pick two tests of its own. So, the company asked EANTC to check out two features: CAC and VQE. The results gave EANTC one of its strongest conclusions in the whole process: that vendor-specific improvements are essential because IPTV can't run "out of the box" using just IP and MPLS standards.

"In order to successfully implement and make money from these services, [carriers] must partner with a vendor that will do extra and sophisticated network design work, and that can supply additional technology to prevent network over-subscription and other problems," the report reads.

CAC is meant to prevent VOD requests from overwhelming the network. If one too many VOD requests come in, CAC will reject them in order to preserve the bandwidth needed for TV channels. It might tick off that one user, but the alternative is to risk degraded quality for everyone watching the broadcast TV channels.

VQE software resides in the set-top box and is meant to compensate for any packets lost on the DSL part of the network. It gives the set-top box the ability to request any missing video frames, preventing any glitches in the video stream.

There are always questions about how easily a test will translate to the real-world environment. But Rossenhövel deemed the proof-of-concept of VQE and CAC as quite important, pointing out that IPTV networks will likely continue to require vendor-specific features to achieve the carrier-grade stamp. He was left with the impression that CAC and VQE are quite useful and would perform well in a large-scale network.

The Bottom line? The test successfully demonstrated one of the largest simulated IPTV networks to date and confirmed the functionality of Cisco's proprietary features.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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photon2 12/5/2012 | 3:06:53 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test Now it's Alcatel's turn....please check them out with the same tests! I'm sure you won't get the same results.
He, he....
yarn 12/5/2012 | 3:06:52 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test In fact ALU has already thrown the gauntlet. You must have missed the LR webinar they did on May 31 in which the 3 folks that did the test presented the results.
BTW, I read Cisco needed 10 engineers for the testing itself and an additional 30 for hardware and software troubleshooting. Now that's truly impressive:)
everythingip 12/5/2012 | 3:06:52 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test OK, so Cisco has thrown down the gautlet, all other vendors, please step up.
Honestly 12/5/2012 | 3:06:51 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test CRS-1 Passes Our Test. That was the first one they bought. So you invest a tone of your money, gear and engineering resource and Lightreading markets the results to attract eyeballs and make money with others. Gee, I would guess you would pass the test although not flawlessly. A win win for you both and geez a bit of a scam for us readers who do not drink CSCO Coolaid.

Next CSCO can now launch its CDN and Apple like service and try to take intergration deals away from Alcalu. Nothing new here, but Cisco trying to be the be all echosystem. Who's UI and middlewaer will you use boyz. Next story.
ROBERT-DELANGE 12/5/2012 | 3:06:51 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test Do a quick comparison, the two tests are nowhere near the same. It would be interesting to see both vendors run the same tests. In particular, it would be interesting to see how the ALU TPSDA really performs fully loaded with traffic.
cross 12/5/2012 | 3:06:50 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test Hi Yarn,

Good point. I suggest you read both our Cisco test report and the Alcatel-Lucent test results carefully. Of course they were different in scale and type of engagement, as has been pointed out here before. We may post a comparison chart some time if you guys out there are interested ...

For any test publication about IPTV (not specifically talking about ALU here), I suggest you look into scalability numbers versus ports (did all ports subscribe all services, simultaneously?) and scale of emulation (was the mix of applications and number of users realistic? How much multicast traffic was actually transmitted, to how many ports was it replicated on each device?).

Typically the number of emulated users really wears out both the router vendor and the analysis equipment manufacturer but is not "marketing sexy". I can tell you that Spirent was not amused by our request to emulate 60,000 customers, each with three services. But they did it for this Cisco test... Each single test run generated a CSV file with more than 300,000 lines of individual flow results (too big for Excel :-)).

It is important to check *how* users were emulated. People usually have one (or more!) PCs at home, one (or more!) set-top boxes, and the IAD with a VoIP port. Each of these typically has its own Ethernet (MAC) address associated; the IP DSLAM just forwards all of this to the aggregation router which is faced to terminate #DSLAMs * #users/DSLAM * #services Ethernet addresses - requiring major hardware resources in the aggregation router. When reading a test report, make sure it contains sufficient details to verify how this exercise was carried out.

Best regards, Carsten Rossenhoevel, EANTC
cross 12/5/2012 | 3:06:50 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test Hi Honestly,

Cisco did not "Buy" the IPTV test. Of course they will capitalize on it now that a successful result has been published. It would be too silly if they missed this opportunity. But it has still been a big risk for Cisco - you can tell that by the sheer amount of Cisco gear and premium engineering resources that were thrown into this effort. A relaxed commissioned test looks different :-)

Of course you can bet that a large vendor does not just stumble across this kind of test out of the blue. It took Cisco several months just to commit to the test. It certainly helped that we sent Cisco a formal RFP with exact requirements just as a real service provider would have done.

Usually it is more of an indication of a potential failure if you *do not* see a vendor publish independent test results ... Commissioned tests can be a substitute only if the test lab keeps control of the test plan and execution, and is strong enough to resist publication when the vendor demands changes or vetos publication of specific test results.
(We don't do that.)

Best regards, Carsten Rossenhoevel, EANTC
tmc1 12/5/2012 | 3:06:49 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test Cisco has to run this test in a lab with EANTC because they cannot point to any real deployments with any decent amount of customers... and they only had two dead cards during testing! Great job. How many different sw loads did they have to go through to get it all working?

Interesting that it required an army of 10-40 people working months to get this done when Alcatel did an almost identical ISOCORE test months ago with 2-3 people and 2-3 Agilent support engineers in less than 2-3 weeks including prep! That is a fact!

Did EANTC ask anyone else to attend the test? If it looks like it is commissioned and it smells like it is commissioned...

Furthermore building one POP and saying it extrapolates to 1M users because Carsten says it does... that is nonsense, no offense to Carsten. It may scale and it may not, until Cisco has a real customer network with 1M subs we will never know for sure.

everythingip 12/5/2012 | 3:06:48 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test I am impress that Cisco has done well on this test, also I really don't care if they had a 100 folks for support, if you are building a network that will be tested heavily and under public scrutiny, you better have you best folks on it. I would like to see Lightreading commission a test in which each vendors solutions are deployed by a customer's engineering group, it will determine ease of deployment, Vendors will be allowed to send atleast 2 folks for support
ip_power 12/5/2012 | 3:06:48 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test First and foremost I am not a ABC (Anything But CISCO).

From the start of the US IPTV initiative (6+ Years ago) in RLEC's, I can first hand tell you that the LAB is just that a sterile enviroment that does not mirror the Field. No matter how hard you tried (even if you did actually setup 120 DSLAMS fully loaded and STB's and Emulation of Internet traffic and Voip, and lets not forget about Specials {T-1's HiCap, ect}), there will be problems that are not forseen once it hits the field and starts scaling.

So the point of interest to me is where is CISCO's famed partner for DSLAM, that will do it "CISCO" way?? Because we all know that Cisco is king and yes they lead by example as a leader, but for CISCO to do it to their best ability, all parts of the network must do it "CISCO's WAY".

Last point, the one thing that I continue to run in to is different software load for different thing, but in multipurpose boxes how can that be. Dont get me wrong if I buy a $5K router I dont expect it to do more than one thing very well, but in the case of the 7600's and CSR-1, this is a good bit of change ($$). So was one software for all testing that was passed actully identified as the be all load?

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