Who is Mzima?

The future of telecom comes from stories like these: Mzima (pronounced M-zeema), an operator few of us know by name, now serving over 40 points of presence throughout North America, Western Europe and Asia with an all-packet transport network. In the first six years since their inception in 2002 they grew under the radar, with almost no sales or marketing to speak of. Despite this, they’ve signed on an impressive roster of customers – how’s eHarmony, and Facebook for web 2.0 heavyweights?

What makes Mzima a preferred choice over today’s wholesale giants? It begins with the network. While still virtually unknown, the engineering team was building out with the latest technology. Today they operate a pure Ethernet network based on PBB-T that provides tangible benefits over MPLS: absolute transport transparency, low overhead, cost-efficient equipment. With a pure layer 2 network, customers’ VLANs, MPLS tags, service classes and any IP applications run as if on a LAN – and when you’re dealing with content providers as key customers, simple interconnectivity that fits in with their model of distributed data centers, web-server farms and transactional processing can win you the business.
Mzima is a Swahili word that means stream, or alive, which was their first intention: to become a content delivery network for streaming video and all things media. But once they got started, they quickly realized there was a far greater need: simple, high-performance Ethernet wholesale connectivity. Over time Mzima has established settlement-free peering with major MSOs, ILECs and CLECs, and has created a reputation for highly reliable, ultra-low latency networking services just as likely to be used by financial traders as online retailers. If settlement-free peering doesn’t make traditional providers think profitability, they might need to think again. Single customers on Mzima’s network pay upwards of $1.5MUSD a month to interconnect their sites.
Being all-packet day-one has had its headaches as any early adopter will attest, but the end result is a network that showcases all the benefits of Carrier Ethernet. Where some providers struggle with simple services like burstable bandwidth – since difficulty collecting usage stats makes billing impossible – Mzima’s uniform network is easy to maintain, and allows them to not only offer burst services, but even time-of-day bandwidth profiles for committed and excess information rates that fit the needs of content and location-based services. Imagine doing this with a TDM-based core? Of course it can be done, but at the price of bandwidth efficiency and operational complexity.
Going all-packet has its advantages, but doesn’t mean Mzima doesn’t face challenges. Ironically, the same Ethernet-loving customers that helped them expand would love to see TDM connectivity as well. Serving off-net customers with less capable peering partners can limit flexibility. And many customers need to be taught the value a pure-packet network affords. When you’re apples to oranges education is key, especially when your focus is more performance than price.
It’s certain that Mzima’s new evangelization phase will help to build awareness of the benefits of Ethernet transport. It’s also certain that they’re sure to attract competition, as today’s legacy operators build out native Ethernet to capture business from the largest emerging data users of our time. But I have to think that Mzima will hold its own. In a way they speak the language of a new breed of customer, a language traditional carriers might have yet to learn.