Co-Author: Sanjay Hooda, Distinguished Engineer, Enterprise Network Engineering
Co-Author: Sanjay Hooda, Distinguished Engineer, Enterprise Network Engineering

Expo 2020 is a global event that is taking place in Dubai from October 2021 through March 2022. It is the first World Expo hosted in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia (MEASA) region with approximately 192 countries participating. The Expo site extends across 4.38 square kilometres, with hundreds of buildings including exhibition centres, hotels, parks, international participant pavilions, restaurants, and residential buildings.

As the Official Digital Network Partner of Expo 2020 Dubai, Cisco worked very closely with the Expo 2020 team, stakeholders, and partners to complete the network design. The outcome is a secure, scalable, flexible, highly available and resilient network infrastructure that can support thousands of endpoints and millions of visitors over the six-month period. Cisco Software-Defined Access (Cisco SD-Access) plays a key role as the networking technology for this hyper-connected mega event.

Designing a network for such a large event, with the ability to adapt to the many varied requirements from the exhibiting countries, is no small feat and comes with high expectations and many challenges. Let’s start by explaining the key requirements, followed by the design, and observed benefits.

Key Networking Requirements to Support Mega Events

Designing a large campus network for such a mega event has its own unique challenges. The journey started with collecting requirements encompassing wired and wireless endpoints, virtualization, IoT, and segmentation for security.

  • Expo 2020’s expansive site has a multitude of wired and wireless endpoints with more than 1,300 switches, approximately 50,000 active ports, 9000 Wi-Fi access points supporting 20,000 corporate Wi-Fi endpoints and 300,000 public Wi-Fi users requiring careful planning of scale and capacity to deliver the required service quality and reliability.
  • Supporting many different connectivity requirements using the same networking hardware requires a Converged Infrastructure that leverages network virtualization technology.
  • With thousands of visitors connecting to the network, browsing, and using social media while press and media teams are live reporting and streaming video, the network must be resilient and highly available.
  • Some network applications require high capacity and low latency to transfer large files to remote locations.
  • A large number of endpoints linked to a wide variety of IoT (Internet of Things) and IT (Information Technology) technologies must connect seamlessly and securely to the network.
  • The network must support different traffic types such as multicast, unicast, and broadcast.
  • A scalable, modular, and flexible design is needed to support urgent requests for network connectivity for growth.
  • Network management capabilities such as automation and insights are needed for smooth network operations, performance management, and troubleshooting.
  • To strengthen Expo’s security posture, segmentation of the network is critical for keeping devices and user groups isolated from each other and only allowing to access to authorized resources.
  • Granular network segmentation is also needed to minimize the attack surface, ensure regulatory compliance, and contain breaches by preventing the lateral movement of threats.

"Cisco's networking products support Expo 2020 Dubai's digital experience by helping visitors, participants, and businesses connect securely, reliably, and seamlessly-on any device, from anywhere on the 4.38 square kilometer site." Mohammed Alhashmi, CTO, Expo 2020 Dubai

The Network Design

With the key requirements in mind, Cisco designed the Expo2020 network using Cisco Software Defined Access (SD-Access) technology. SD-Access multi-site topology provides high scalability enabling thousands of switches within a single campus network spanning the entire Expo site covering both indoor and outdoor areas. Multi-site design reduces the size of failure domains, which are limited to a single site with redundancy and resiliency focused on each site.

Modular network design is used across the Expo site with fully redundant devices, links, and power supplies to ensure high availability, increased scalability, and optimum performance. StackWise Virtual is used on Cisco Catalyst switches to increase redundancy and resiliency.

The SD-Access fabric also provides network virtualization for hosting multiple networks such as IT, IoT, Event, Guest, Media, and Broadcast using the same physical switches. Using macro- and micro-segmentation to virtually segment the network avoids creating and managing separate physical networks.

Cisco Catalyst high performance 100 Gigabit Ethernet switches are used for connecting SD-Access fabric network as Layer-3 and Layer-2 Borders, thus enabling flexible Layer-2 and Layer-3 connectivity to-and-from the fabric.

Network design supports a wide range of IT and IoT endpoints, with Layer-2 flooding enabled for Building Management System (BMS), Dante protocol for Background Music (BGM), and Multicast Support for IPTV traffic. Application Policies are deployed to provide Quality of Service (QoS) for Video and Voice traffic.

Cisco Industrial Ethernet switches extend the SD-Access fabric into harsh external environments, enabling reliable network connectivity to outdoor areas. These hardened switches act as SD-Access extended nodes to provide authentication, multicast, and security features to IoT endpoints.

"Software Defined Access helped Expo 2020 streamline the process of providing network access to people and devices, keeping visitors and employees connected in a safe and seamless manner." Abdulrahman Alameeri, VP Network Technologies, Expo 2020 Dubai

Business Outcomes

The network design based on Cisco SD-Access provides virtualization, segmentation, and group-based policies along with increased business agility, enhanced security, and operational efficiency.

Increased Business Agility

Software Defined Access enables faster provisioning of new endpoints and devices to meet day-to-day exhibition requirements. It also provides a Converged Network to multiple tenants, such as IT, IoT, Event, Guest, Media, and Broadcast etc.

A wide range of endpoints and protocols are supported, such as BMS (BACnet), Lighting Control System, Background Music System (Dante), Graphic Design and Projection Systems, Digital Media Players, PCs, Laptops etc.

Software Defined Access provides a seamless user experience with identity-based policies across the entire Expo 2020 site. There is no need to reconfigure the network hen people’s location changes. The network provides indoor and outdoor coverage with uniform policies across the entire Expo site.

Enhanced Security

SD-Access provides secure segmentation of the network into multiple tenants with strict policies to access network resources. Macro- and micro-segmentation is enforced to secure endpoints within the fabric. The network is integrated with security controls such as firewalls, network anomaly detection, logging and monitoring of devices for improved network visibility and control.

A zero trust approach is used to keep visitors and employees connected in a safe and seamless manner. Identity-based policies are used with strict access rules across the entire site, so that, for example, guests cannot access employee network resources.

Operational Efficiency

It is easy to maintain and manage the entire Expo network from a single “pane of glass” using the built-in automation capabilities of Cisco DNA Center. This enables the network operations team to provide faster responses to customer requests and rapidly complete Move, Add, and Changes to network devices and configurations.

Cisco DNA Center also simplifies the maintenance and management at the code level for thousands of network devices across entire Expo campus. Cisco DNA Analytics and Cisco Assurance provide faster troubleshooting as well as improved visibility and insights into network capacity and performance.

"For smooth operations of Expo 2020 network we depend on Cisco SD-Access automation and assurance. Automation provides the required agility and efficiency for network provisioning and changes, while assurance gives us visibility and insights to quickly troubleshoot and fix problems." Waleed Zidan, Senior Manager Network Technologies Expo 2020 Dubai

World-Class Network for a World-Class Mega Event

With Cisco SD-Access, the Expo 2020 IT team can meet the various challenges such a mega-event presents including wired and wireless access security, segmentation, reliability, and the ability to connect and move any device anywhere without changing their network attributes. For the thousands of visitors and employees working at the Expo every day, connectivity is transparent and ubiquitous, augmenting the Expo experience with access to up-to-date event information, reservations, and social sharing from anywhere.

For more information, visit Cisco SD-Access

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Navaid Shamsee

Principle Architect