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January 2015

Book Review: A Playbook of Tactics on Internet, Cloud, and Network Partnering

Book Review: A Playbook of Tactics on Internet, Cloud, and Network Partnering

The internet is a magnificent feat of engineering.  That’s well recognized.

However, the engineering side of the ‘net is only half the story.  The internet has a commercial side too: before anyone receives his flow of internet electrons, an ISP somewhere in the world must get paid — or rewarded in some other way — for making that connection.

So the commercial side of the internet is a feat of a different sort.  Call it a miracle of free enterprise, perhaps, or a global scale version of two merchants haggling over price at a Turkish bazaar.

The Internet Peering Playbook is a book that opens up this fascinating world of the commercial internet for you to fully grasp.

Internet Peering Playbook

Hundreds of books have been written about the ‘net.  And most of them are either technical guides or science 101 explanations for the layman.  This book takes a different tack. Internet Peering Playbook is about the actual business of networking — not business in an MBA textbook sense — but business as experienced in the live marketplace by entrepreneurs and the strategy guys whose job is to negotiate the deals, peer where they can, and grow their own networks.

Quite aside from the splendid writing in this book, you could not find a better qualified author.  Bill Norton is an international expert on internet peering and exchange points.  From 1998 to 2008, Bill held the position of Co-Founder and Chief Technical Liaison for Equinix, Inc., a global provider of peering and co-location services (market value today: $12 billion).  In his years at Equinix, Bill spent 90% of his time working directly with the internet operations community facilitating interconnections, researching, and documenting the industry’s current practices.

So how can a book like this be useful to you?  Well, if your job is in any way connected to the ISP, telecom, cloud provider, or large content provider spheres, the book is a fast track path to closing your knowledge gaps and making you a lot smarter about the way the networking business works.

The book’s methodology is very action-oriented.  For example, let’s say your mission is to start your own networking business by launching an ISP biz.  Where do you begin?  Well, as the book explains, your first order of business is to get access to the net.  And to do that, you hire another ISP to provide you Internet Transit for a fee, usually a metered service.

The book then covers the basics of Internet Transit, walks you through the terminology and shows how the market evolved.  From there, the book explores Internet Transit pricing models, how traffic exchange is measured, the relentless decline in prices for transit over the past 10 years, and other interesting observations.

Internet Peering Diagram

Now, equipped with that essential background information, the author then takes you into the meat of the book — the playbooks — in this case, a series of tactics and maneuvers that Internet Transit buyers use to get better prices and win better deals.  The author explains the mission of these valuable playbooks as follows:

“The tactics in the playbooks are not necessarily recommended tactics, or best practices.  Rather, they are actual tactics (both good and bad, ethical and otherwise) that are in use in the real world.  They are presented here to enable you to understand the interconnection paradigm by exploring the various manipulations of the system.”

So in the Internet Transit portion of the book, a total of 12 playbook tactics are explained.  Each Tactic averages 1 to 2 pages in length, including text and an illustrative diagram.  And the tactics include: Optimal Internet Transit, Gaming the 95th Percentile, Renegotiating Multi-Year Contracts. . . plus 9 others.  For a list of all the tactics and a full outline of the book, visit the DrPeering website.

Now the same methodology I just discussed for Internet Transit is replicated in the two other playbooks, one on ISP Peering (27 Tactics) and another on Internet Exchange Point (another 16 Tactics).  Plus there are some excellent supplementary chapters on Data Centers, Interconnection Strategies and more.

My favorite chapter is Chapter 10 — The 21st Century Internet Peering Ecosystem which explains how the U.S.  Internet Peering ecosystem of around 2001 has morphed into something far more mature.  Here you’ll learn how the U.S. cable companies were forced to evolve and partner with Large-Scale Network-Savvy Content providers like Microsoft, Walmart.com, and Apple.  Then in 2006, YouTube took off and that catalyzed the growth of yet another key player — the Content Delivery Network (CDN) providers.  The chapter ends with a detailed story of Comcast’s relationship with Level 3 and Netflix, explaining how simpler free peering has evolved towards the new “Access Power Peering” model.

I won‘t spill the full story, but only say that the author’s interpretation of each player’s moves reads like a detective novel: very insightful.

I met Bill at the ITW show in Chicago, but made the mistake of thinking I could finish his book on my voyage home.  No way that could be done: the content in the book is too broad and too dense.  My suggestion is to digest the book in small bites.

But as a reader trying to absorb this wealth of intelligence, the book helps you along quite a bit.  Technical terms are fully explained, it’s written in an easy-going conversational style, and there are helpful quiz questions at the end of most chapters.  The explanatory text is also broken up by many interesting “Notes from the field” case studies.

Even the print edition is thoughtfully designed.  It’s in the “perfect-bound” style which means the spine of the book is very strong.  The pages themselves are printed on a heavy coated stock — thicker than your typical magazine — with a great many color charts, full-color photos, and diagrams throughout.  While the book is 371 pages long and weighs a hefty 1.6 pounds, it’s small enough to comfortably hold in your hands while commuting.

So the printed edition while more expensive is a much better value in my view because it allows you to more easily dip into the book from time to time especially if you insert a few PostIt Notes for bookmarks.

Now some of you are saying to yourselves, “The book sounds great, but my business is not Internet networking”.  Well, I think, regardless of which networking market you play in — telecom, cloud, content, or inter-carrier networks — many of the tactics can be applied to your corner of the networking world.

There are some wonderful universal principles exposed here.  If there’s an internet on Mars, the Martians will see the value of the network-growing and money-making tactics revealed in this book.

In particular, I think the book’s content can be a great conversation starter for people in sales.  So enjoy reading. . . and getting smart about the internet and the networking biz.

Copyright 2015 Telexchange Journal

 

About the Expert

William Norton

William Norton

WIlliam B.  Norton is the author of The Internet Peering Playbook: Connecting to the Core of the Internet, a highly sought after public speaker, and an international recognized expert on Internet Peering.  He is currently employed as the Chief Strategy Officer and VP of Business Development for IIX, a peering solutions provider.  He also maintains his position as Executive Director for DrPeering.net, a leading Internet Peering portal.   Contact William via

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