Laser Light Communications continues to lay the groundwork for the upcoming debut of HALO -- its All Optical Hybrid Global Network -- most recently by inking a "strategic partnership" with global data center operator Equinix.
The agreement with Equinix Inc. (Nasdaq: EQIX) is an important component in the optical satellite service provider's plan to unveil a solution that will use 12 Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites that use fiber cables to deliver links of more than 200 Gbps without needing radio frequency spectrum, according to the company. Equally key is software-defined networking, which sits in the middle and also will empower tier two, tier three and other operators to leverage Laser Light's international reach -- without big-ticket investments, says Robert Brumley, senior managing director, in an interview.
"LLC's HALO network is one of the most interesting examples today of a software-defined network, where centralized and automated network orchestration delivers clear value by coordinating HALO and the 25 to 30 software-defined terrestrial networks it connects to, dynamically optimizing the aggregate network configuration and use based on transmission conditions and market opportunities," wrote 451 Research.
The New IP Agency's Alison Diana spoke recently with Brumley to learn more about its agreement with Equinix and the importance of SDN to Laser Light and its prospective customers. Some comments were edited for length.
New IP Agency: What are the key takeaways from the Equinix news?
Robert Brumley: The agreement with Equinix offers Laser Light two advantages in its development. One is it gives us a partnership with a global data center company that permits us to have global interconnection and presence in multiple facilities around the world. In our case, as a global carrier there are no specific routes like London to Rio. We essentially have a global view -- we see hundreds of locations with a satellite constellation. So Equinix gave us a turnkey solution to do all of our desired points of presence at one time. That saves time. It saves money and it also builds scale immediately into our network.
The second advantage: There's a dynamic. Data centers are becoming well recognized as marketplaces. It's not what we used to call them back in the early 2000s -- kind of a carrier hotel. Now they are something special, meaning it's a neat location where sophisticated enterprise customers know that if they're in a particular data center in their area they can meet numerous transport opportunities that are also present too. So you have a place where carriers that are trying to serve enterprise customers in a particular market, they locate in the data center and you have enterprises that want relationships with carriers for a variety of reasons also looking at the data center.
And then you have this added interesting convergence of take-up of software-defined networks where you're having upgrades occurring in the data centers where the enterprise customers need more and more control over the management of their network, so the data centers really are becoming unique points of presence around the globe and a secondary business of the enterprise in terms of moving equipment out of their buildings and having someone else manage that equipment for them in the data center. It's also easier for carriers... It becomes a combination of buy-sell environment where the carriers can offer their products and... the best carrier with the best product at the best price wins. The enterprise customer benefits from that. The enterprise customers also benefit from the technology upgrades, they have more control over the types of service they want. The carriers, in turn, have exposure to hundreds of potentially new major economic centers and enterprise customers to compete for.
Then of course the data centers -- whether they're a data center that is service-oriented or whether they're a data center that is also a real estate investment trust -- they have people in the building paying rent, paying power and then they provide value-added services, managed services. I think you put those three things together: The need to have access to customers, the need to have upgradable state-of-the-art networks and the need to have a place where you can actually meet and serve each other in the marketplace, and it's a second added value for us. It's a one-stop-shop point of presence for carriers, for enterprises and the data center operators themselves try to stay carrier-neutral and customer-neutral and just sort of push everybody together and hope everybody gets something out of the relationship.
That's the overview in a strategic as well as a tactical sense. It gives us global interconnection, which gives us scalability at this stage of development, which saves us time and money. Number two is it also gives us access as a carrier to all those thousands of customers, meaning enterprise customers -- TTs and research companies -- that are located in data centers where we can offer another option to traditional terrestrial carriers.
NIA: Is this an exclusive agreement or is Laser Light seeking partnerships with other data centers?
RB: It's a strategic relationship. The definition of "strategic" is proprietary but from a strategic standpoint, our view is that the relationship is one that is unique for us at this stage of development and that we value it greatly.
NIA: What makes Laser Light's relationship with Equinix different from other carriers' relationships with data centers?
RB: For us, it actually opens the door for us to compete. Competition starts with offering similar products and services that are adding more competitive either service levels or price. Satellite has never been viewed as a competitor to terrestrial fiber so just being able to achieve competitive status as a tier one competitive-grade service in what we're referring to as optical satellite as a service or OSaaS, that is significant. Not to be overly glib, but it allows us to sit at the same table as everybody else and offer the same product like everybody else. Customers then have unique requirements that may fit our service platform better than a terrestrial service platform.
Then you get into differentiations. What are we offering that may be different and unique and more competitive to a terrestrial carrier? One is security, where we offer a higher level of security of data in transport than terrestrial does. Second would be reliability meaning that since we're in a wireless environment and our transport really is from one terrestrial location to another then the atmosphere through space and the propensity for cuts and outages drops significantly so that would be a quality of service improvement. Thirdly, since we're a global system and not a route-specific system we can offer what we call global access circuits as opposed to route point-to-point circuits, which means from a pricing standpoint we can be more competitive.
But you can't offer those things unless you're at the table offering the same service level, the same service links, the standard service level agreements that operators offer, the same master service agreements. The first thing that's significant to us is that this recognizes us as an equivalent player to fiber and undersea cable. On the customer side they may look down their service list and since we can pick up traffic at just about any location that the customer would want -- either at the customer premises or at a data center and we can take it to any location the customer would like to go to, either another data center or somewhere else or a customer premises somewhere else -- the number of hops and handoffs are minimized and -- particularly to some enterprise customers -- that kind of control you get is unique. Being in all these data centers potentially also allows for data center to data center connections which forms the basis for direct connect or on-demand services which is becoming the vogue now with the adoption of software-defined networks.
NIA: Where does SDN come into play?
RB: If you're SDN end-to-end, which we will be, and over long distances that is a differentiator from large carriers that have to depend on regional carriers that have not upgraded their networks yet. If you're going to give self-provisioning and control over data to the enterprise to let them manage their own network, they have to see through that network all the way through to the end and if you don't have compatible networks -- in this case SDN end-to-end -- there's going to be a portion or a break where they can't see all the way through.
From a customer standpoint it really comes down to, as it always does, scale, scope and price; how much scale do you have based on how much I need in terms of connections. If I'm only going from Point A to Point B, then maybe fiber's better for me. If I'm going from Point A to 100 locations around the world and I'm paying for individual circuits for each one of those locations, then this may make more sense to me because it's a more efficient distribution platform. If I want to self-provision in my own organization, in my own IT shop, where I don't have to deal with an account rep and I can order online for my data transport requests and I can actually see the advantage to a master controller system of some type, then I've got to be able to do that on a fully compatible end-to-end network and being one of those, especially early on, is going to be an advantage for anybody.
And that makes the enterprise customer feel more in control of their business. Everything else comes down to you've got all this scale, all this scope, do I get an efficiency relative to price? In our case the answer would be yes because we don't price on routes, we price on area meaning the globe. By definition the efficiency is by buying multiple locations and a bundled package is going to be significantly cheaper than buying routes because routes cost - there are just different prices for different routes and they swing as much as $3 million for Point A to Point B a year per 10 gig circuit to $30 million or $40 million a year across certain regions of the world because of a variety of different restrictions and problems and factors.
NIA: And that's from Day One of Laser Light opening its doors to customers, correct?
RB: That's exactly right. Unlike terrestrial, where you grow into it -- you build a route and put customers on it; you build another route and put more customers on it, where you have customers, you want to go multi-route. Overnight you're basically having to do deals with other carriers to carry your traffic off-net. All the carriers have other carriers carrying their traffic off-net. When we light that, this network is literally got global action. We'll light the network in roughly 30 months from now.
NIA: What do you think the impact will be on those carriers that have are now only starting on their SDN implementations in 30 months -- or about two and half years, say 2019/2020 -- when Laser Light's network goes live?
RB: Surprisingly, when we started this, our goal was -- like anyone's goal -- was to work as a partner with large, tier one carriers and be their network extensor. What we're finding is that, and I have a specific example, is that tier two and tier three carriers that are facing what would be expansion pressures and the need to upgrade their networks we're getting more traction with them.
If you're in City A and you're building a network from Point A to Point B -- let's say it's an 1,100-mile network -- and you know that your customers' data doesn't stop at Point B, it moves from Point B on someone else's network to other locations around the world, these smaller carriers actually are saying to us, "I can't afford to build and hold onto my customer's relationship, beyond Point B unless I build to these other multiple locations or else I've got contractual relationships that are expensive and at the same time I have to turn my traffic over to somebody else." We come to them and say, "Look, the cost of you putting SDN equipment in Point A and Point B and making that one route, that one linkage SDN qualified, then we pick your traffic up at Point B and we take it potentially to 100 locations around the world and deliver it software-defined, end-to-end. So now you're not a regional player, going A to B. You can sell as a global player with only a regional investment. Yes, we'll carry your traffic and we'll carry it to global locations and maybe the next location you have in mind is Point C, it allows you to organically to grow to new locations, route by route by route as you get economically healthier and adding more customers, but until then we provide you with that virtual link to the rest of these locations. "
And since the bulk of that cost to get to the rest of those locations is addressed by upgraded networks that are going to be compliant with yours, then -- and being an all SDN network means that there really isn't that relative cost you have to bear and that cost is embedded in our network already because we're building in state-of-the-art when we light it up -- the ability to hold yourself out as a global carrier even though you only have 1,000 kilometers of network but you're basically selling our network as your network, your investment in SDN is just between Point A and Point B.
— Alison Diana, Editor, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @The_New_IP.