The funding behind a new Ethernet-based network, connecting 11 metropolitan markets across North America, can be traced to billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. One of his companies, PacketFabric, deployed the new Layer 2 connectivity platform, which uses custom-built software-defined networking (SDN) technology.
The network will be used by PacketFabric’s parent company NantWorks, which is involved in medical research. But it also offers connectivity to third-party customers.
PacketFabric’s founders hail from companies such as SoftLayer, GTT Communications, and Akamai Technologies. They set out to create a large-scale network using SDN technology. They didn’t want to fund their company through venture capital, so they ended up becoming part of the NantWorks family of companies and getting funded internally.
Synchronistically, the founder and CEO of NantWorks is physician and inventor Soon-Shiong, and one of his goals is to cure cancer. He needed a next-generation network for his companies to do high-tech medical research. For instance, NantWork’s Cancer MoonShot 2020 program is working on a full human genome sequence.
“To do all that and connect all the data, they need a large-scale network,” says Richard Steenbergen, PacketFabric’s CTO. “They wanted to own the network that would deliver that to them. PacketFabric is all about SDN and telecommunications.”
The greenfield network facilitates coast-to-coast connectivity between 86 carrier-neutral colocation facilities across the 11 markets. “It’s an Ethernet-based platform, but disruptive in scale,” says Steenbergen.
It took PacketFabric about 18 months to create the SDN software “homegrown from scratch,” he says.
“In monitoring the network you want to collect massive amounts of data regarding the status of the network state,” he says.
In terms of orchestration, he says, “We are building this to the point of supporting tens of thousands of nodes. The only way to do that was to write our own controller.”
PacketFabric’s founders also chose to work closely at the optical layer. Steenbergen says it obtains dark fiber from Mox Networks. A search for that company shows the same address in Culver City, California, as for PacketFabric.
“We built our optical specifically for the packet layer,” he says. “We’re not calling up a Level 3 or Zayo. We’re working directly with the underlying dark fiber.”
PacketFabric’s SDN capabilities allow customers to instantly provision network connectivity and capacity as needed between multiple regions, data centers, and cloud infrastructure providers. Services are available on a month-to-month or usage-basis, eliminating the need to purchase fixed capacity circuits on long-term contracts.
PacketFabric delivers hundreds of terabits per second of network capacity at launch and is designed to scale to petabits over time.
In terms of competitors, PacketFabric is often compared to Console and Megaport. These companies can build virtual circuits, and they target enterprises that want to connect to the public cloud. “We view that as a small percentage of our market,” says Steenbergen. “Our goal is to create a new industry. We want to do for networking what Amazon did for compute and storage.”