Provider Profile: Internap
Internet Pony Express: Making sure the (voice) packets get through.
If you were a voice over IP provider and you had an opportunity to take advantage of a network services offering that guaranteed 100 percent network up time and minuscule thresholds of latency, packet loss, and jitter, would you take it?
The offering in question is Performance IP from Atlanta-based Internap Network Services Corp. To understand how it works, you need to know a bit about the architecture of the Internet.
The 'Net' is, of course, really an integration of many smaller networks. A foundation of that 'network of networks' are the pipes of the Tier-1 carriers and other coast-to-coast backbone providers. Major data transporters such as these have 'peering' agreements, wherein they exchange traffic at a limited number of NAPs (Network Access Points). It's these interconnections that ultimately create the web that we've come to know as the Internet.
What Internap does, uniquely, is operate a collection of more than 30 P-NAPs (Private NAPs), worldwide, with visibility into and some management capabilities over the carrier networks they interconnect. "It's almost as if we have our own private Internet," Internap executive vice president of sales, David Abrahamson, told VoIPplanet.com.
Unlike standard peering, where carriers negotiate quid pro quo traffic exchanges, with no money changing hands, Internep has paid peering arrangements. "So we're actually buying bandwidth from all of the major backbone providers and interconnecting them into all of these private network access points," Abrahamson explained.
"Because of the fact we've interconnected all these major backbones into our own private network access points," he continued, "we have visibility into all the major Internet routes that our customers might utilize. And because they're paid peering agreements, we have the ability to announce our customers' IP addresses on all of those carriers out of our P-NAPs. Since we're able to announce their IP address on all these different routes, their end customer is going to get onto our network quicker and faster than anybody else."
But that's just one piece of the solution. Abrahamson went on to explain the company's other 'secret sauce': "We've actually developed a technology which, in real time, probes all of the various routes that we have access to, and is using the performance metrics the customers care aboutpacket loss, latency, and jitter. It is actually taking those measures and using that information to route their application over the network or a specific route within a given network that is the best performing path" [emphasis ours].
It is by reducing the number of hops, providing multi-homed network redundancy, and being able to identify the quickest path by which to route the data stream that Internap can offer its exemplary service level agreements (SLAs): 100 percent network availability across the public Internet, less than 45 milliseconds latency, less than 0.5 milliseconds jitter within the U.S., and less than 0.3 percent packet loss, worldwide.
David Abrahamson pointed out that Internap's SLAs are unique in another way: "For customers that have only one provider, that provider may have some pretty good SLAs, but they're only applicable to that provider's network. Over 50 percent of the time, that traffic is going to leave their network and go over some other carrier who they peer with. Once it leaves their network, they throw up their hands and say 'Good luck! Off our network, our SLAs are null and void.' " That, of course, doesn't apply in Internap's case; their SLAs apply across all the carriers they interconnect with.
Internap's customers aren't limited to VoIP providers; they serve a variety of other vertical markets as well. "The banking industry, the foreign exchange market, the high-tech vertical, and anyone who we refer to as an e-tailer anyone with a significant amount of business that they depend on over the Internet and can't afford to be down, Abrahamson explained, "we are typically providing some aspect of their services."
The company has several lines of business in addition to Performance IP. Collocation, or data-center services, is one. According to Abrahamson, "Customers that are predisposed to a managed IP offering are predisposed to outsourcing their applications to a data center environment that is owned, operated, and managed by a third party as well."
One bonus advantage to this arrangement is that in most cases, Internap has a NAP right at the collocation facility, so the customer's applications are, in effect, sitting right on top of the network, eliminating the need for local loops or other connectivity and reduces the likelihood of any "challenges or issues."
For customers that, for whatever reason, want to maintain control of their own network policies, Internap has developed its managed IP service offering as a device that can be operated on the customer's premises. "They can actually tune it themselves and set the policies," Abrahamson explained. This, among other things, allows a customer to set different policies for different applications, say mission-critical appssuch as voice, for a VoIP providertaking the highest performing route possible, and more utilitarian apps, such as email, going over a least-cost route.
Summing up, Abrahamson observed, "What we're able to bring to our customers is visibility, control, predictability, and performance that they've come to expect with their private networksbut over the public Internet. So, Internap's game is not voice over IP, per se, but it what it sellsfast, reliable network performanceis certainly a key ingredient in high-quality VoIP service.