January 15th, 2016 by Rob Powell
We've seen a steady stream of peering agreements announced over the past year, and now we have one for 2016. But today's peering announcement isn't one that was likely driven by the FCC's regulatory stance on network neutrality following the disputes between content and the last mile of prior years. In this case it's Google and Level 3 signing a settlement-free peering agreement, and they went the extra bit mile.
Level 3 has had the largest global transit backbone by most measures for some years now, particularly after its acquisition of Global Crossing, and it backs that up with a whole lot of fiber. Google is often classified as 'Big Content', but of course they really play at all levels in the network business, with last mile FTTH projects in multiple cities, a dark fiber backbone that spans the globe both on land and under the sea, their own private CDN infrastructure, and even a public cloud. I'm not sure 'peer' begins to describe the relationship in this case, which is perhaps why the word gets used so rarely these days.
But they both agree on how to approach interconnection it seems, and their agreement is centered on the concept of bit-mile peering. The two have committed to carrying an equitable amount of bit miles for the traffic they exchange. Should an imbalance arise where either network is carrying more traffic further, the other will shift in order to hand off traffic closer to the end user. I wonder how they keep track of it, how closely it actually gets monitored, and how bit an imbalance would need to be to disturb the peace.
Regardless, bit mile peering a concept that Level 3 has been pushing for many years as an alternative to the back-room arm wrestling that used to determine who got to be settlement free and who didn't. They've had some success with other transit backbones, but operators focused on the last mile have been resistant to adopt the concept. Google is now firmly on board though, inviting other network operators to interconnect with them under similar terms. That may give bit mile peering some significant traction.