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30th June 2023

My guided tour of the Pentanet network – A tale of towers

Written by Team Pentanet

30th June 2023

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Hey there! I'm Andrew. I'm the guy who's usually cooped up in my little room, happily typing away at these blogs, hopefully teaching you everything you need to know about the internet. Recently though, I got dragged out of my cave, and once I finished screaming about how the light burns, they told me I was going on a trip! Along with several other (relative) newcomers to Pentanet, I would visit two of our Fixed Wireless towers and NEXT DC P2, one of several data centres we've partnered with to send your traffic from our towers out to the wider internet.  

That’s me on the right, much to my chagrin. The others are (left to right), Jayson, Christian (my fellow marketing conspirator), and Alex.

At first, I was suspect; after all, my little writing room was warm, and the outside was frigid in the midst of winter. But now, having done it, I can gladly say I'd not have passed up this trip for anything in the world. It was immensely illuminating how our processes work; reading about them in an office setting is great, but seeing the towers and core infrastructure is a whole different story. I've come away more convinced than ever that Pentanet (and really the internet itself) is pretty gosh-darn awesome, and I hope to pass on some of that confidence to you today. 

We started our journey at our Balcatta office and set off for the Watermans Tower. This tower is right beside the Mount Flora regional museum/water tank observation tower, which Jayson is standing on in this picture as he bravely takes up the task of holding up our tower (it was really windy).

Here, Connor (Pentanet's COO and our tour guide for the day) taught us all about backhaul. Backhaul is the path which traffic takes from our towers back to the Pentanet core before it heads out to the internet proper. Think of it, and the path incoming traffic takes, as two sides of a humongous multi-lane freeway. 

He told us that almost all Pentanet towers are backhauled via a ‘ring’ based network of fibre optic cables. Just like how Sauron made nine rings for men, three for elves and seven for dwarves, we’ve made a ring for the north, south and centre of Perth. Going with this ring-shaped topology (rather than a more typical ‘hub-and-spoke design, more on that later), gives us a borderline exponential amount of capacity for backhaul, avoiding congestion on outgoing traffic. It also provides great redundancy and the capability to scale up as demand for our services grows.

This fascinated me, who (even as I learn more about the internet) often thinks the internet is magic floating through the air. The level of careful engineering and consideration of every contingency our network engineers manage is awe-inspiring.

Connor's ability to pick out towers and dishes anywhere and everywhere was almost as impressive. He knew every tower in Perth, whether ours or another provider; he could spot them from miles and miles away and immediately tell you who they belonged to and all the infrastructure on them; it was like a superpower. He could even look at a dish on anyone's roof from up there on the water tower and tell you where it was pointing and what kind of connection they had. Shows you what years in the game can teach you! 

Next up, we set off for our Osborne Park tower (the monolith in the picture below, I was pretty chuffed with that pic. My uni photography teacher must be so proud of me). Along the way, Connor told us about "out of band" connections. See, we always want a link going to our towers; that way, we can monitor them at all times and ensure that if anything goes wrong (which it rarely does), we can fix it pronto. The towers we visited used a third party "out of band" connection, this is essentially a connection that exists outside our usual network, so if our network has any hiccups, we've still got a clear line straight to our tower that lets us get to work on fixing things.

At the Osborne Park tower, Connor told us all about how we deploy our towers. See, usually, towers get deployed in a hub-and-spoke design, with one central tower and all the others linking back to it. Pentanet (because we're cool like that) does things a little differently. Instead of a hub-and-spoke, we get the whole wheel. Every tower is connected to the towers next to it in the ring, meaning that if there’s a break in connection between two towers, traffic can flow in the other direction and still make it to our data centre, whereas if there’s a break in a ‘spoke’, the tower will be left isolated. This gives us greater reliability and our network much higher durability. 

After that, we set off for the NEXT DC building in the city, and I cannot emphasise how simultaneously cool and imposing this building is.  

My nerdy little sci-fi loving heart grew three sizes that day.

Even though NEXT DC looks like it belongs to a Sith Lord, its security is far, far better than the Death Star's; there are no ventilation ducts to fly a ship through here; no, they had the whole shebang; airlocks, fingerprint readers, key cards, I felt like I'd stepped into another world!

Beam me up Scotty!

Once we were past the multitude of security steps, we finally got to see where the magic happens, the data halls. Like something out of the X-Files, it was row after row of sealed, temperature-controlled server racks, with alternating hot and cold hallways as they funnelled the heat this way and that.  

This was our connection point to the wider internet, and it was here that it really sank in for me just how amazing the internet really is. Think about it, when I was a young lad (don't ask how long ago), the internet was barely in every school, let alone in every home. Now, I can order whatever I want from anywhere in the world, and my request bounces from my device to the dish on my roof, to one of our towers, off to the data centre, and then out to the internet. Then it's back again faster than I can blink! 

I joked before about thinking the internet was magic earlier, but to me, it really is. Standing there, I really understood just how important all their security procedures were because this data centre represented Perth's internet highway out to the wider world for so many people. It's still sinking in; taking the abstract of the internet into a physical space really reworks your brain a bit.

While we were there, we also got to see where the Perth infrastructure for GeForce NOW Powered by Pentanet operated. I swear I could hear individual cards whirring up as all you gamers out there scored winner-winner chicken dinners in Fortnite. 

This trip was really special for me; it's done a lot to redefine how I think about the internet and our connection to it. I hope reading my ramblings today helped you experience a little bit of that vicariously through me. If not, keep reading! I've got plenty more blogs to come on all things internet.  

If you’re keen to get involved with all our next-level tech, why not check your address to see what Pentanet plans are available at your address?

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