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PacketFabric and Colt Integrate Platforms in a Trans-Atlantic SDN

The partnership is aimed at hybrid and multi-cloud, but it could also offer a way to comply with EU data sovereignty requirements.

PacketFabric and Colt have integrated their software-defined network platforms, enabling a big expansion into Europe by PacketFabric, a Culver City, California-based provider of virtual interconnection. The deal gives London-based Colt’s European customers the option to interconnect with American data centers on PacketFabric’s network.

The software-defined links can be provisioned automatically, via APIs, enabling hybrid cloud and multi-cloud use cases. The integration may also make it easier to comply with some EU countries’ strict data residency requirements.

“This is definitely a primary use case for colocation, cloud, hybrid-type connectivity: having your databases and colocation be within a country boundary, and then having your Web front-end servers in the cloud, whether that’s in the US or another country,” PacketFabric CEO Anna Claiborne told DCK.

Currently, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) places hard restrictions on how applications used within EU boundaries manage personal data attributable to EU citizens. Recently, European organizations use cloud services have taken to specifying the geographical areas where their customers’ personal data is to be stored.

Yet the whole point of interconnections like Colt and PacketFabric’s is for European and American data center operators to join their IT assets together into a single network — one that just happens to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

The Direct Route

“The first phase of the PacketFabric partnership is based on Layer 2 point-to-point connectivity to 100-plus key data centers across Europe,” Colt CEO Keri Gilder wrote in a note to DCK “These data centers are connected via direct metro and international fiber routes, and as a result, Colt typically offers highly competitive network latencies.”

Connections between points-of-presence in both networks will be direct, Gilder told us. For instance, the London-to-Amsterdam route will not have to make a first stop in Madrid. These connections may be provisioned using an API, she added, “which means requests are fulfilled in near real-time... This capability is very attractive to a next-generation operator such as PacketFabric who can integrate Colt’s On Demand platform with their own NaaS platform to expand their offering in a way that simply wasn’t possible under a traditional networking model.”

Prior to this linkup, PacketFabric’s network had connectivity to 16 European sites, Claiborne said. This deal raises that number to 125. Meanwhile, Colt customers now have access to PacketFabric’s 170 US-based sites.

“It’s not just the network reach back to the US; it’s also the reach to the ecosystem,” Claiborne told us.  “That’s a whole bunch of SaaS providers, security providers, and a ton of enterprises that you can directly connect with. It’s over ten internet exchanges, and also all of our cloud service providers.” Which is essentially all of them: Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, and Oracle Cloud. Claiborne noted that connections to all these providers are direct, not by means of an internet exchange.

“So, for anyone who’s on the PacketFabric network,” the CEO explained, “it’s ordering a connection through us via the portal, and then you are connected over the direct connect.” AWS customers in both the US and Europe, she said, will be able to “ride the direct connection” to AWS over a private low-latency link that she claims will cost customers less than with a “public” internet connection, one managed by a third-party service provider.

“This is one of the great ironies of the CSPs,” she said, referring to cloud service providers. “Every cloud service provider charges per gigabyte transferred out of their network. And going over internet is actually more per gigabyte, than it is over a direct connection.”

Sharing Gateways

Last year Colt produced a video demonstrating how customers of its Colt IQ Network could provision private, high-bandwidth connections to cloud service providers operating in Europe. Each CSP operates a cloud port, whose address may be routed to link with a customer’s data center port. Virtual LANs may be set up at that time, using the same portal.

However, Colt’s direct routing to cloud services is also accessible by way of an API, meaning that a customer-side script can automate the provisioning of resources. This is usually how an IT department would go about setting up an on-premises gateway. With a route like this, a CSP effectively operates its application on the customer’s infrastructure, using the customer’s data without the database needing to be moved.

“Almost all actions performed using the API are very simple synchronous request-response interactions,” remarked Colt’s Gilder, “although data from one API response is usually used to construct the message for the next API request.”

When the connection is first provisioned, she explained, the CSP returns a unique identifier for the session. From there, new API calls in a sequence may reference the previous one in the same chain to return a value and a key to the next call. This way, for example, a request to an e-commerce database for a product’s availability and inventory location is securely linked to the chain of events that preceded it. This is how an API-based interaction protects itself against a man-in-the-middle style of attack.

It’s also how a CSP can bond itself to a customer’s on-premises infrastructure, through transactions that are taking place there. Rather than selecting data residency, it’s a way of declaring a kind of temporary residency for cloud-sourced applications. Gilder declined specific comment on whether Colt would market this method of cross-continent interaction as a way of overcoming data sovereignty obstacles.

“The strength of the PacketFabric [and] Colt partnership is, we’re two of the first networks that are automated like this,” PacketFabric’s Claiborne said. “The fact that we’re able to do an integration of physical assets, just through software, is a pretty revolutionary thing that’s never been done before. We’re the first two telcos that did this.

“In doing any sort of physical thing like putting fiber in the ground and operating that, there’s always going to be political concerns,” she continued. “We may be experts in US laws and regulations, and Colt is an expert in the EU, but that doesn’t mean we can easily swap those skills. As a telecommunications operator in one area, you can go into another and duplicate the same success. In fact, there have been a lot of telcos that have failed pretty miserably by trying to do that. But being able to very quickly do this interoperability between two networks that cross geographical and political boundaries is what the future looks like to me.”

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