Stoking the Content Fire

Breaking new ground in metro interconnection

Its finally getting easier to interconnect carriers and feed content into local and backbone pipes within metropolitan areas.

Last week, MediaCenters, a Chantilly, Va., start-up, announced a set of services designed to solve what is becoming a metropolitan service interconnection crisis. Jim Greenberg, the companys chief technology officer and co-founder, says that the fact that content and applications are moving away from the backbone is driving the need for better, faster, easier and cheaper "meet me" options at the edge of the network.

The types of companies that need to meet in such metropolitan exchanges include long-haul service providers, local access providers of all stripes, content and application hosters, and content accelerators — such as Akamai Technologies. Analyst Peter Sevcik says these "four horsemen of the Internet" currently require about 1,500 interconnections per metropolitan center. "It is reasonable to expect the need to interconnect 40 long-haul networks, 20 local networks, five hosting sites and five acceleration services within a single metropolitan area today, with each group growing in number," Sevcik says. "That would increase the number of interconnections for various types of services in each major metropolitan area to over 8,000, something I predict will happen within the next four years or so."

Suboptimal Solutions

Incumbent local exchange carriers, existing internet exchanges and so-called multiservice carriers each address some of the interconnection issues, but Greenberg believes their solutions are suboptimal, in part because of self-interest. "The way the carriers think of the problem is to optimize their infrastructure for their own use. The result is that it takes too long to deploy interconnections, the capacity is insufficient and its too expensive," he says.

As for public Internet exchange points, Greenberg believes they present a dangerous single point of failure.

Greenberg and MediaCenters co-founder John Schanz helped create a number of major networks for the likes of Qwest Communications International, Rhythms NetConnections, Sprint, UUnet and Verizon Communications. With the migration of content and applications to the network edge, they saw a growing need for edge interconnection capabilities, and believed that available solutions just didnt cut it. So Greenberg and Schanz decided to solve the problem themselves. The result was the creation of a series of metropolitan exchange networks, two of which are now operational in San Francisco and San Jose; MediaCenters plans to add 10 more by June 2002.

MediaCenters networks have two components, a physical network called eXpressNet, and an eXtensible Markup Language (XML)-based operations support system called eXchangeNet. The network and OSS provide a carrier-neutral, optical, any-to-any, metropolitan network, enabling terabit-per-second interconnectivity among partners. The resulting service allows companies to instantly interconnect once they are physically hooked into the same eXpressNet network.

MediaCenters also touts what it calls its "e-bonding" tool, which allows service providers to link back-office systems so they can jointly deliver and bill for services. In addition, the XML format allow service providers to submit and receive order requests and trouble-ticket information between each others systems.

Andy Baer, MediaCenters chief information officer, masterminded the eXchangeNet OSS. As he explains it, eXchangeNet provides service creation, assurance and billing.

"Our creation suite includes service availability, ordering, and order status. Our service assurance suite includes network status, network events and trouble ticketing," Baer says. "Theres billing, which in its simplest form is invoicing, but whats more interesting is usage and event records. For example, a voice-over-IP [Internet Protocol] wholesaler can send wholesale CDRs [call detail records] to an Internet service provider so the ISP can bill their retail customers. Then there are value-added services like ser- vice-level agreement management, which we layer on top of the whole thing."

MediaCenters OSS lets partners exchange business rules, contract terms, payment terms and technical specifications for interconnections. It supports instant bandwidth provisioning, bandwidth on demand and variable bandwidth to support events or seasonal needs, Baer says. For example, if an eXpressNet customer experiences a sudden spike in long-haul bandwidth demand, the OSS can automatically detect that need and instantly provision it, with no human intervention to slow the transaction. Exchanges happen directly between connected customers, with MediaCenters serving as a facilitator, but not as a middleman.

MediaCenters new service is significant because it provides extremely high and flexible bandwidth, and because it allows customers to dynamically order interconnection on a wide basis of business terms, analyst Sevcik says. "This fundamentally changes the business model from connections that move bits to relationships that exchange many types of data. I predict that this approach will lead to changes and unforeseen business models that will fundamentally change how network services are built, bought and sold."