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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farsonic 12/5/2012 | 3:06:43 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test More like running out of queues on the MDA.....hence the reason to limit use to first 3 ports.

Published at ~8000 queues per MDA (Less in real life) so ~2666 subs per MDA with each port connected to your simulated DSLAM. When maxing out your DLSAM connections you'll quickly run into this limitation.

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:06:45 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test re: "Oh yeah. That's definitely the ALU approach: underpromise and over-deliver. Happens all the time."

Good one. One thing carriers love is a big surprise.

willieoshady 12/5/2012 | 3:06:45 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test mg,

It seems you have a woody for You tube in your postings? This has got to be the 5th time you've said that.

Realistically, you tube is a complimentary service if it reaches full maturity, not a true competitor... you see, the consumer will decide... and like DVR complimenting (not replacing), live TV, You Tube will do the same. Two reasons why,

1) American Idol
2) Sports

Ok, those are examples. People will want live TV and will pay for it. They WILL pay additional for DVR like or YouTube like content, but it wont replace. You must realize how much fun the Cable Companies will have when all their subscribers try to tune to You Tube to watch the Superbowl in HD... (I'm sure the equipment vendors would LOVE that, more ports to sell).

You see MG, the internet is made up of tubes.
willieoshady 12/5/2012 | 3:06:45 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test Instead of whining about somebody doing good on some testing which ultimately benefits the end consumer (all testing benefits end consumer...), why don't we appreciate this for what it is (a test), and realize that maybe instead of complaining that someone did well, we grab our sack and do our own testing, whether commisioned or not?

The difference between the Cisco and ALU test is this... big suprise... they were different tests. Comparing any results from test run with completely different setups and criteria is a waste of everyones time. Lets get all vendors in a large scale bake off and see how the chips fall, then instead of some sales guy flopping ppt's about how great the product is (and screwing the customer), the customer can make an informed decision. We'll call it... Consumer Reports or something. If this test was actually representative of the real world, no vendor would come out unscathed, they would likely all do fairly well with some excelling in some catagories...

optodoofus 12/5/2012 | 3:06:46 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test > Are they sand bagging? Can they perform much better than stated?

Oh yeah. That's definitely the ALU approach: underpromise and over-deliver. Happens all the time.

materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:06:46 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test This talk about pricey proprietary IPTV systems is pathetic when you think about what YouTube is doing without anyone even having to think about it. I just watched the 4 min INFN 40G demo. No one thought it was worth a separate comment. However, when you consider the ease of what YouTube is already doing, versus these IPTV plans, the writing is on the wall.

By the time any of this IPTV stuff rolls out, what will YouTube be doing? At what relative cost? IPTV is just an expensive way to lock customers into a GOOG copycat, a day late and billions of dollars short.
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:06:46 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test

How many cable TV subscriptions have been dropped so that people can watch YouTube?

Given your claims, I am sure you have that data.

ROBERT-DELANGE 12/5/2012 | 3:06:47 PM
re: Cisco Passes the IPTV Test mtb826...

at your urging, I had a much closer look a the Isocore/ALU test and the image of the test bed. I am curious if we can find out why all all of the 1G cards in the 7450's we using only 3 ports and why all the 10 G cards were using only 1 port. And why each chassis is less than half populated. Are they sand bagging? Can they perform much better than stated? Again, I'd would be interest in having both vendors run the same test. It would make my eval process a little easier.
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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