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What does it take to deliver Ethernet across the Earth’s vast oceans and forests?
The switches, submarine cables and peering exchange data centers are the starting point. But the hardest work is performed by the engineers and network planners who configure these Lego building bricks in a way that serves the custom needs of global enterprises.
One boutique carrier who’s having great success building these electronic bridges to the world is BSO Network Solutions (BSO).
At the ITW Show in Chicago, I interviewed Michael Ourabah, BSO’s CEO. And he provides us here with a splendid overview of his business, explaining both the complexities of designing and building resilient global networks and the benefits of being an independent carrier.
|Dan Baker, Editor: Michael, a great place to start would be explaining what BSO Network Solutions is all about — your mission and the customers you serve.|
Michael Ourabah: Happy to, Dan. BSO is a global Ethernet, cloud and hosting provider reaching 70 data centres in around 20 countries.
We mainly help Fortune 1000 enterprises extend their footprint out of North America and Europe into remote and emerging markets in the Middle East, Asia Pacific and South Africa. For our customers, key cities in these areas include Dubai, Istanbul, Mumbai, Moscow, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney and Johannesburg.
BSO caters for many industries with global data requirements. Our core customer base is in finance, where we support many high frequency traders (HFTs), algorithmic traders and market data providers with our low-latency, stable and resilient connections into key exchange locations.
We also support a number of key players in the oil and gas sector, media and technology companies, professional services and the legal community.
The majority of our clients come to us to support their core business systems: we do not provide connectivity for their small bandwidth outreach to end users. We are about helping them move big chunks of data from the middle of nowhere to their big processing centers in Europe or North America.
We reach out to companies who need to connect 10 or 15 key data centers worldwide with 10G or 1G circuits. This is who we are designed to serve.
|Choosing to connect with cities in the emerging markets, that’s a tough business to build up, I think.|
Sure, there are many problems to be solved: you need to pay attention to lots of details and the goalposts are always moving. You need to be extremely flexible and adaptable, and really know what you’re doing from a technical perspective. You also have to understand and respect the cultural differences. But at the same time there’s great customer demand for what we do; clients need expert support in these unchartered areas.
If we chose to provide connectivity between the US and Europe — or domestically within the USA or intra-Europe — well, there are dozens of carriers serving those markets already.
So we chose this strategy to differentiate ourselves. As a result we’ve seen significant growth and demand for our services, we started with offices in Paris, London, Luxembourg, and Dublin — then in early 2015 we opened a New York office.
|What’s it like to build out these international networks? What’s involved?|
Dan, maybe if our traffic was strictly domestic or connecting countries of the developed world, we could simply resell network assets already in the ground.
But since BSO is pioneering new telecom routes to the Middle East, Africa and Asia, we need to build these networks ourselves. For instance, if we are mapping out our fibre path from Europe to Asia, we buy from six or seven different fibre asset owners — our goal is to buy the best segment every step of the way.
By being asset-agnostic, we don’t have the huge infrastructure investment that determines what we can provide to clients. Instead, we design and refine our network continuously around the very best that’s available.
We import “fibre-in-the-ground” data into Google Earth and measure the GPS coordinates, sometimes down to the centimeter. Sounds crazy, but this sort of accuracy is key if you want to deliver diversity and resilience. It’s things like ensuring you don’t provision cables that are parallel to each other. A great deal of planning goes into designing these networks.
|How do you find your niche when so many other carriers are going after these long haul routes?|
Well, certainly on a region-by-region basis, we will find competition that is very good at the services they provide in that area. But the unique benefits of BSO lie in the intra-region, global connections that tie regions and continents together.
For enterprise clients looking to reach many global destinations across multiple regions — Johannesburg, Singapore, Sao Paolo, Dubai, Mumbai, Moscow, for example, and those who need to ensure diversity and low latency — BSO is a very competitive provider.
Our network is a leader for the financial community. The big banks, high frequency trading firms and market data providers choose us because we have built one of the lowest latency networks to major cities in emerging markets.
And we offer a variety of options for those clients. They can go from Hong Kong to London by a terrestrial path through China, Mongolia, Russia and from the Nordics down. Or from London we can cross one of the eight Trans-Atlantic submarine cables.
So we build a global network that’s very dense and granular, and this gives us great flexibility to offer the client choices in routing — for diversity, latency, or other reasons.
And beyond the network itself, we pride ourselves on the quality of our client service. Customers stay with us because we cure their operational headaches and proactively manage their expectations every step of the way. That, combined with our highly skilled engineers, creates real value for our clients.
|Even still, the Tier 1 carriers have made big investments in submarine cables and global facilities. The scale of these companies is incredible.|
True, but where BSO has an edge is in flexibility. The bigger a telco is, the harder it is for them to be flexible and reactive to market changes about: the circuits they choose, the workflow, systems, regulatory compliance, and billing arrangements.
Remember, a large telco has already made big investments. If they are a member of submarine consortium between Europe and Asia, they want to sell that cable — and that cable only. So if they have to buy third party assets, they get a slower return on their earlier investments and it means they must manage invoices with country-specific taxes, VAT and so forth. They have little appetite for these complexities.
But, in reality, managing unique cultural issues and one-off customer requirements are the nature of international business.
Plus things often don’t go as smoothly as initially planned, so being adaptable is key. For example, we plan to open up a Network Operations Center (NOC) in Mumbai, India to address various language and cultural issues we experienced there. We discovered that engineers in North America were having a hard time interacting with their Indian counterparts. Our answer was to hire local engineers in Mumbai to solve these communication issues.
Regulatory requirements are another hurdle. Countries like Russia and those in the Middle East have their own way of doing things. The private data of users in American or European companies generally needs to stay in those countries. So these laws force large companies to operate locally, and BSO is there to help them comply with these laws.
Another edge we have is in fast engineering support. When you are paying for a 100 MB circuit from New York to Mumbai, and that circuit is down, it’s impacting your core business. You can’t wait to trouble ticket a problem and get it resolved 12 hours later. You need to react immediately.
That’s what BSO can offer. Enterprises love working with us: when they have trouble, there’s an engineer at the end of the phone line, not a person in the call center.
|Finally, we’re here at the ITW Show in Chicago, there’s tremendous buzz over neutral data centers. So I’m curious how important these global data centers are to BSO’s business.|
Dan, it’s these neutral data centers that enable BSO’s business. We have core transmission equipment in 70 of these buildings worldwide.
We co-locate and terminate our fibre long haul circuits there, then we buy the last mile from the leading domestic carrier to reach our client’s building. We generally buy 10- to 15-year contracts for these local circuits.
So yes, it makes all the sense in the world to outsource to the likes of Equinix and Interxion. The large carriers have gone that route too because it’s the most efficient means of offering advanced services. Even the enterprise clients co-locate their data centers there because it takes away the worries around power generators, UPS systems, and backup batteries for reliable service.
|Michael, thanks for this great overview of BSO and the global connectivity trends you’re seeing. And thanks for providing us details about BSO’s highly interesting and complex business.|
Copyright 2015 Telexchange Journal