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Google: Dark Fiber Story Not So Dark

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Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) head of special initiatives Chris Sacca went into spin cycle last week while explaining his company’s dark fiber investments to Light Reading. (See Google's Own Private Internet.)

“I’ve bought a lot of fiber for Google,” Sacca says. The Google people believe their fiber buys have been misunderstood, and therefore viewed with an undo amount of suspicion by outsiders. (See Google Goes Optical.)

“People don’t understand that it’s not Google trying to take over the world,” Sacca says. Sacca explained that Google began investing in dark fiber for two main reasons: to connect the server farms and to "peer" with telecommunications service providers.

The part of the network neutrality debate that is never heard, Sacca says, is the fact that Google and AT&T have a massive peering arrangement. (See Google Grouses on Net Neutrality.) People like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) CEO Ed Whitacre and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) CEO Ivan Seidenberg have said early that Internet companies like Google can't just leverage service provider networks without paying up. (See AT&T Sets Up Internet Tollbooths.)

Sacca says that the other side of the story is that Google is buying up fiber network so that it can “peer” with the AT&T network as would a large service provider. This, he says, saves Google money by eliminating the need to buy long-haul transport services. Fair enough.

Google says it needs the fiber to haul traffic to the appropriate peering point. “If you want to peer with AT&T, you have to peer at the point that they choose, not just anywhere.” Traffic going to Google users in San Francisco, he says, must be hauled to a specific AT&T peering point in the San Francisco market.

But the term “peering” implies the mutual sharing of traffic by like partners -- a trade-off. And it’s unlikely that Google carries AT&T traffic over its own fiber. Google seems to use the "peering" term to mean buying capacity on metro or access networks (See Google Execs Tentative on Telecom.)

Indeed, AT&T and Google are still in two distinctly different types of businesses. One sells telecom services and the other sells ads around Internet search. AT&T's is a commercial telecommunications network; Google's is a large enterprise network. (See Enterprises: More Fiber in the Diet? .) Google is not a licensed carrier and does not make money selling network services. Theirs is a client/vendor relationship, not a peering partnership. (See SF Net to Go Public?.)

That's not to say that Google hasn't made moves that clearly edge onto telecom turf. The company actually subsidizes free telecommunications services, such as voice (Google Talk) with advertising revenue. Its work with municipal WiFi networks appeared for awhile to be another example, but its efforts in that area appear to have been curtailed. (See Google Out of Valley WiFi Bid.)

A few days after our conversation with Sacca, the Google public relations department sent this email note about Google fiber: “ . . .we use it to interconnect our data centers (for example, to replicate our search index to all of our computing sites),” writes spokesman Barry Schnitt. “We have users and data centers all over the world, so our connectivity needs are global in nature.”

“There's nothing mysterious about buying dark fiber; lots of enterprises use it to satisfy their connectivity needs,” Schnitt writes.

“You see an article in the New York Times about how AT&T has bought more fiber, and their stock goes up,” Sacca says. “Then there is the same article over here about how Google bought some fiber, and it’s like ‘Google is trying to take over the world.’ ”

"We have one peering point in San Francisco and some journalists say we’re trying to take over the world," Sacca says. “That’s the thing that a lot of journalists don’t get," he says, "is that one peering point does not a telecommunications network make.”

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
9/16/2014 | 1:15:05 PM
re: Google: Dark Fiber Story Not So Dark
The last post, is incorrect about what 'peering' is, and it's usage in this article was correct.

It has nothing to do with users, and Google does not facilitate carring traffic to AT&T's customers.

Peering agrements between operators within the Internet, are autonomous systems (AS)  a collection of connected Internet Protocol (IP) routing prefixes under the control of one or more network operators that presents a common, clearly defined routing policy to the Internet.

Originally the definition required control by a single entity, typically an Internet service provider or a very large organization with independent connections to multiple networks, that adhere to a single and clearly defined routing policy, as originally defined in RFC 1771. The newer definition in RFC 1930 came into use because multiple organizations can run BGP using private AS numbers to an ISP that connects all those organizations to the Internet. Even though there may be multiple autonomous systems supported by the ISP, the Internet only sees the routing policy of the ISP. That ISP must have an officially registered autonomous system number (ASN).
User Rank: Light Weight
12/5/2012 | 3:38:00 AM
re: Google: Dark Fiber Story Not So Dark
1 peering point huh?. What about Dallas, NY, Atlanta, VA & name a few.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:37:42 AM
re: Google: Dark Fiber Story Not So Dark
Your comments express very well the conventional wisdom regarding peering, particularly the perpetuation of hierarchical notions like "Tier" and "like partners."

However, peering is about customers, not operators, and from that perspective, Google is absolutely carrying traffic, to and from, AT&T's *customers*. At best, operators are peering "on behalf" and failure to do so is poor customer service, the kind of thing only monopoly or dominance allows...

Indeed, rather than Whiteacre's bizarre accusation of "free riding," one should see that the traffic Google carries for AT&T's customers outweighs his claim. After all AT&T is paid by its customers, while Google recieves more indirect revenue as a consequence.

Ignoring what you think peering "implies," in technical fact it is the zero settlement "Bill and Keep" model that is belatedly being recognised as the only rational model for an Internet(work) to adopt, where each provider charges only their customers, rather than using their size and market dominance to bully smaller operators.

For a more authoritative and informed demolition of considering the relative sizes of "peers," check out Bill Norton's "The Folly of Peering Traffic Ratios." (Such ratios can stand in place of size)

Hamish MacEwan
Open ICT Consultant
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