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August 2018

PCCW Global: First Tier 1 Carrier to Deliver SDN Connectivity as a Worldwide Enterprise Service

PCCW Global: First Tier 1 Carrier to Deliver SDN Connectivity as a Worldwide Enterprise Service

When the first automobiles appeared in the 19th century, they had very little impact on transportation.  Being high-priced luxury items, cars didn’t disrupt the market for horse-drawn vehicles for the next 30 years.

But then in 1908, inventor Henry Ford developed the Model T, a factory-made car that leveraged mass-production techniques.  And by getting the cost of car production down to a level where a family could afford to buy one, Ford essentially created the automotive industry that thrives today.

Fast forward to today’s comms industry where a similar production innovation is set to "Model T" the telco-to-enterprise market.  It’s called software-defined networks (SDN) — the ability to provision a wireline service so fast and so affordably that it’s practical to offer 1 gig, 10 gig — even 100 gig — pipes as a service with cheap prices, on-demand flexibility, and short-term contracts.

The market for SDN is hot.  Enterprise customers are excited about this offering.  And the firms who drove this new service are entrepreneurial startups like: Console Connect, Megaport, and PacketFabric.  Tier 2 carrier Epsilon has also pioneered SDN as a global wholesale service.

So it begs the question: when and how are the telecom giants doing to respond to the fast-growing popularity of SDN?  Today, they are mostly doing three things: 1) watching from the sidelines; 2) planning/piloting SDN projects with their network integrators, and; 3) giving conference talks saying, “Don’t worry, Mr. Enterprise Customer, the SDN systems we’re building are pretty awesome.”

But now, predictably, one of the globe’s largest and most innovative international carriers, PCCW Global, is the first Tier 1 to toss its hat into the SDN ring by recently acquiring (in late 2017) one of the software leaders, Console Connect.  Today the company is fast deploying the solution worldwide.

I spoke with PCCW Global’s Head of Strategic Marketing, Neil Templeton, who fills us in on the details of its new Console Connect service and how it’s being received.

Dan Baker, Editor, TopOperator: Neil, congratulations on acquiring Console Connect and becoming the first Tier 1 carrier to bring a solid SDN product to market.  Can you first give us a quick profile of PCCW Global’s business?

Neil Templeton: Thanks, Dan.  PCCW Global is a Tier 1 global IP network provider that we’ve built up over the past 12 years.  At the moment, we are in the top five list of IP peering carriers.  So our international focus complements our sister company HKT, Hong Kong Telecom, whose business is centered in Hong Kong.

PCCW Global covers three key markets:

  • Wholesale to carriers through a big fiber network that covers 150 countries, three thousand cities with a Tier 1 IP network on top of our strong position in the voice business.
  • Large multinational enterprises are our second market.  And that includes a growing base of large corporate with offices in Asia where our strongholds are China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam.  But we also have a growing presence in the Middle East and Africa.  Six years ago we bought Gateway Communications who has a robust network presence in Africa.  Lots of global carriers buy access to those emerging markets from PCCW Global to serve their U.S. and European multinational clients.
  • Automated, software defined networks is our newest market which we entered by acquiring the Console Connect business in October, 2017.  Telcos are racing to automate and software-define their networks, so our aim is to accelerate that business.
PCCW Global at a Glance

Please tell me about your acquisition of Console Connect and your progress with the enterprise connectivity-on-demand service so far.

Console is based in Brisbane, Australia and also on the U.S. West Coast.  They were a successful leader in software-defined interconnect services, but they didn’t have their own network.  They were forced to buy network, which proved costly and difficult.  So PCCW Global basically bought the software platform alone and we have overlaid that on top of our Tier 1 IP network.

Today we have 60 data centers onboarded to Console and connected directly into Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Alibaba.  We have also struck commercial agreements with other major cloud vendors: Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Oracle, and Tencent.  We are bringing on SaaS providers like Salesforce.com as well.

In May/June we launched Console Connect and now allow direct connection into the cloud providers without going over public internet.  Customers can flex the network up and down very easily.

One of the things causing excitement is the multi-cloud environments we are managing across private, public cloud and most organizations.  There are now many public cloud software providers, and increasingly the enterprises are looking for better performance and security as they move critical workloads into the cloud.

What’s the difference between traditional provisioning of these interconnect circuits and what you have today?

There’s a world of difference.  Most telcos are not actually offering a direct connection service like this.  Provisioning is traditionally highly manual, often requiring hundreds of hours of engineering time and a long lead time to deploy.  Because of those high setup expenses, the enterprise buyer had to commit to a long term contract.

Now, that’s fine if you’re an enterprise with predictable workloads.  But there’s an important group of enterprise users who put a premium on flexibility and for them, these software-defined interconnect services add huge value.

Console Connect is set up through a portal: no off-line communication or coding is required.  Our terms are very flexible, the costs have come down, and a single connection to a cloud, enterprise, or global network can be delivered in a matter of minutes.

You can get 1 gigabit today and 10 gigabits will be available in the next couple months.  The customer can order in 5 Megabit increments with 100 gig being available on request.  It really depends on the location.  For some of the countries in Africa and Middle East, a 100 gig request would be very challenging.

Via APIs, we are automating the interface into cloud providers such as AWS, though some of the big cloud guys don’t have APIs available yet.

What kind of customers have been attracted to Console Connect so far?

Certainly the media industry is keen on this.  Not only do they need to transport media files across the world, they are also busy pushing media processing into the cloud which causes their workloads to fluctuate up and down.  So they figure: what’s the sense of paying for expensive capacity to sit around unused if you can build a private connection literally within seconds.  You point, click, request, get accepted and it’s up and running.

In the future, we’re going to see many more use cases for these flexible, dynamic networks.  E-commerce players, for example, run big workloads for sales events like Black Friday or another big campaign that increases their capacity in the cloud for a period of time.

Core Features of Console Connect

Core Features of Core Connect'

When I explored the Console interface on your website, it looked like a Skype-style interface where network engineers can sign up and arrange to connect personally.

Yes, I believe this is unique.  The people who built the Console platform had a strong belief that “community” would be key to growing the business.  They understood the value of enabling network engineers to connect with other network engineers they personally knew and trusted.

So this is why the front end of Console Connect looks like a kind of LinkedIn for networkers.  You sign in as a user and talk or chat with any other user who is physically connected into the platform, then you can set up connections with them instantly.

So our goal is to try and build up that community, not just for network configuration purposes, but also to educate people, post forums, host blogs, etc.

Where does this new enterprise-fast-connection capability fit in the traditional world of selling data services to multinational enterprises?

Things are changing.  When multinationals traditionally bought networks, they’d forecast their requirements and procure the scale of MPLS core they needed to run the business.  That side of network buying will remain the same.  Where the new action is occurring is where flexible workloads and cloud connections are needed.  And in those cases, the network engineers are the ones making the decisions: it’s their job to improve efficiency and make things work.  So, increasingly I think, a pot of money will be earmarked for these flexible workloads.

So Console is a useful add-on to our business of selling large VPN type services to multinationals.  We’ve just launched SD-WAN and again, we see that not as a replacement for the VPN but as a complementary service to Console and MPLS.  The whole idea is to extend the service out to the data center, into the branch, and open up the access to these more flexible and affordable services.

In September we’re introducing two price options for Console Connect.  One is aimed at customers who pay by each Point A and Point B connection.  They can turn the service up, flex its capacity, and choose a duration of a year, a month or week.

The second price plan will offer a fixed subscription price for an unlimited number of connections during the subscription term.  The idea is to enable the user to predict a “ballpark” cost, but still give network engineers the wiggle room to quickly change and turn connections up or down.

SDN Versatility with Console Connect

Neil, congratulations on your successful launch of Console Connect and for being the first Tier 1 carrier to move into the SDN service business.

Thanks, Dan.  We’re excited going forward.  We actually went down the path of trying to build our own SDN but found it took us too long.  In telecom, everything is moving to software and it’s very different from the traditional telco approach due to: the speed of deployment, the whole agile methodology, and contract flexibility.  So this is why having the Console asset now is making a real difference in accelerating and transforming PCCW Global into this new world.

And what really differentiates us in this space is the big global infrastructure and global network we’ve got sitting there.  When you combine that asset with the ability to automate through the Console Connect platform, we think that’s a big winner for customers.

Copyright 2018 Top Operator Journal

 

About the Experts

Neil Templeton

Neil Templeton

Neil joined PCCW Global in 2013 and is the Vice President in charge of planning and implementing strategic marketing activities.  Neil has 25 years of international B2B marketing experience in telecoms and other professional sectors.  He previously held leadership positions in marketing, product management and business development at C&W, AT&T, Reliance Globalcom and Berwin Leighton Paisner.

Neil has a BA honours degree from Manchester University.   Contact Neil via

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