An Interview with Christian Koch

By Mike Nguyen, CEO, Inflect

In my constant and somewhat obsessive pursuit of smarter ways to build a successful network infrastructure strategy, a core set of guiding themes comes to mind:

Plan ahead… Don’t get tied up with one provider… Design for compliance and security.

But when I recently talked about this with Christian Koch, current lead of Network Planning at Pilot Fiber, a pioneering ISP offering super-fast speeds, he reminded me of another crucial consideration:

Treat interconnection as a business relationship at least as much as a technical one.

Christian — the former Director of Global Interconnection Strategy at Megaport and founder of the Network Operator Group, NYNOG — has been successfully building both kinds of connections for years and has a lot to offer on the matter.

First off, Christian says, it’s never too early to start thinking about your business’s connectivity strategy. Yes, if your business is just starting out, you may not have a ton of traffic just yet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to gain from direct connections.

If, for instance, you are sending the majority of that traffic to only a few partners or networks, it might be better to connect to them directly — either through a private peering link or through a public internet exchange — rather than send that data over transit, i.e. the public internet.

Christian pointed out that with a direct connection, “you actually have a full view into what’s going on between your two networks. You have a dedicated amount of capacity that can be augmented over time. Not to mention, you’re removing any bottlenecks where IP transit is your over capacity to the rest of the internet.”

It’s important to consider the benefits a direct connection can provide you, like heightened control and security. And, when you inevitably encounter a network issue, a direct connection can mean the difference between talking directly to your partner and having to communicate in a roundabout way through your third-party transit provider.

As your company grows, the reasons for connecting directly with partners will grow also. Whether the motivation is financial, security-related or otherwise, you’ll eventually see a need to pursue a direct connection with a partner.

But once you’ve determined that need, how do you go about making a connection? Christian suggests you go about it just like you would any other business relationship — using one network to build the other.

“Look for a mutual connection that can make an introduction. Attend a peering conference like GPF (Global Peering Forum), EPF (European Peering Forum), APF (Asia Peering Forum), or any number of the other conferences that are focused on peering and interconnection. Or even go a bit further, and look at events like PTC and ITW,” Christian says, referring to the Pacific Telecommunications Council and International Telecoms Week.

“Relationships are superior when it comes to working with peering and interconnection ecosystems. It’s how you get stuff done.” Christian sees his role as more than strictly technical: “It’s basically a technical business development role.”

In other words, don’t underestimate the value of your soft skills, even (and, I would argue, especially) in a very technical industry. The effort you put into building relationships will continue to pay off for the rest of your career; you never know how one connection will benefit you down the road.

And Christian added one more piece of advice for growing internet startups, a message we hear time and time again: To avoid the growing pains, do your research.

“If you’re going to go with a cloud service provider, make sure you understand their connectivity. Also, don’t rule out going to a co-location facility and deploying your own services, because cloud is not always the best option. Use data to make those decisions before you deploy infrastructure.”

My thanks to Christian for sharing his sage advice and for reminding us that establishing a successful network interconnection strategy requires establishing not only good technical connections but good business connections as well.