The Compelling Peer Pitch


DrPeering -

We have a new service offering that in two years will be the most compelling content in the world. I am now ready to strategize to leverage the desirability of my content to obtain free peering.

When do you think the tides will change and the Tier 1 ISPs will willingly pay me for my content like the cable TV model?

Steve Austin, MMA


Don’t hold your breath.

There is a saying that “Eyeballs love Content, and Content loves Eyeballs.” This describes the generalized traffic flows for the majority of the traffic flows across the Internet. You will notice that these flows are inherently asymmetric, with small requests resulting in relatively large content responses flowing towards the eyeballs.

So both sides benefit from peering, right?

Today, the power resides on the network side of the equation, and these networks tend to value the traffic volume and symmetry more than the end-user experience or the desirability of the content. As a result, the network operators tend to seek peering with other network operators of “similar scope and scale” with a more or less “balanced traffic ratio” (Out:In <2.5:1). These artificial ratio metrics are really hiding the underlying desire not to peer with potential customers.

You can argue that the ISP’s customers will want a great experience on your site, and that the ISPs should want that as well. Peering is a way to ensure high-performance direct transport of your content to their eyeballs. But these arguments often fall on deaf ears. Many of these ISPs will agree about the desirability of a great end-user experience, but their way to achieve this is to have you as a paying customer.

Paying comes in two forms. Some offer a “Paid Peering” service, roughly the same price as transit. The pitch is that if you can get your content to the eyeballs more directly, at the same cost, with better performance, then why not just buy paid peering and be done with it? Throughout 2013, people were increasingly buying into this paid peering argument. Just about all of the major CDNs today pay access networks for direct access to their eyeballs.

The other form or paying of course is Internet Transit, metered access to the global Internet. One can prefer or “de-pref” the routes learned from the service, depending on a variety of metrics.

In either case, you will pay. Having said that, you will find many ISPs that will peer openly with you, especially if they have a soft spot for your service.

I remember when the RIAA was sending legal notices to the Universities across Michigan, demanding that they take steps to stem the tide of copyright violations on these peer-to-peer networks. The CIOs of the universities forwarded the emails to their IT Directors asking them to “do something about this,” who in turn formed teams to investigate solutions and “do something to placate the RIAA.” Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) boxes were deployed and configured, and the response emails went back up the chain of command tot he CIO. The CIOs then sent letters back to the RIAA saying that they had deployed boxes to stop the flows. They had done that which was prudent, and the RIAA patted themselves on the back and let the recording industry know of their fine progress. However, the engineers in the trenches that implemented the DPI solution were also fans of peer-to-peer for their own personal use, and so were disinclined to continuously apply the signature updates to evolve as the peer-to-peer services evolved. When the peer-to-peer clients changed their code, the DPI devices ceased to be effective. The lesson learned here is that the motivations of the people involved are at least as important as the technology deployed.

But what I can share are some tips....

7 Recommendations: Meet Peers at Peering Events

I helped a few content companies obtain peering, by introducing them around, by coaching on who they approach, what they said, and most importantly, what they should not say. Here are a few recommendations I typically make:

  1. 1)Bring your network map, highlighting current and planned deployments. This will help position you as a fellow network operator as opposed to a free loading content provider.
  2. 2)Bring statistics demonstrating adoption and traffic growth, and highlighting why the ISP’s customers will demand high performance interconnections to your service. This will help the peer to internally bolster the case to peer with you.
  3. 3)Bring giveaways - free account upgrades, professional editions of your software or service, brochures or demonstration kits, etc. Examples might be Free Pandora accounts, free DropBox disk space, upgrades to LinkedIn professional, etc. Some peers bring T-Shirts, chocolates, or location relevant giveaways. The more desirable the giveaway, the more likely people others will find out and start seeking you out to have the peering conversation.
  4. 4)Identify what makes the other peer want to peer. In some cases it is to save money, or to improve end-user experience, or to attract new customers. At a Asian peering conference for example, a content company client was actively courted by mobile ISP operators to get their content directly onto their mobile network service. The mobile operator lists the logos of directly attached content peers, and get more customers to sign up that way. I had never seen access networks actively go after peering with content ; this was a first.
  5. 5)Bring a lot of business cards and find appropriate people to help introduce you around. The Peering Coordinators are a friendly bunch and often like to be helpful in this way. The exchange point operators also tend to know a lot of people, so meet them and leverage their contacts.
  6. 6)Understand your network, who peers where, where your traffic goes to and comes from. There is nothing worse than an ignorant peer requesting peering. It signals that you don’t value their time or their network, and that getting peering set up will be similarly treated with disregard.
  7. 7)Start small. Get a few peering introductions going in an informal setting, exchange cards, and get used to the flow of information. When I would assist with peering introductions, it usually took about 5 or so introductions before the new peering coordinator was ready to go off on their own and establish some peering relationships.