Software continues to eat the world, and it’s about to take a bigger bite out of data center interconnection. Equinix will shift its entire global network to software-defined networking technology that will allow customers to easily provision connections through a customer portal. This will make it easier for most customers to exchange traffic with networks and partners, and even across data centers and regions, the company said.
Equinix is the world’s largest provider of colocation services, with 190 data centers in 48 cities, and calls today’s announcement “the next phase in the evolution of its global platform.” The company’s decision marks a dramatic expansion of the software-defined networking (SDN) technology used in the Equinix Cloud Exchange (ECX).
These capabilities will gradually be extended to the company’s entire global platform, offering customers “one connection to the world,” Equinix said. The upgraded service, now known as Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric, is immediately available all existing ECX locations in North America and the EMEA regions, and will be expanded to all regions by mid-2018.
“With ECX Fabric, we are dramatically simplifying how companies enable private interconnection,” said Equinix Chief Product Officer Brian Lillie in a blog post. “By allowing them to customize their connectivity with employees, partners and customers via a customer portal or a rich set of APIs that leverage programmable SDN capabilities, such as discovery and real-time provisioning, they can leverage all the benefits companies have come to expect from dynamic ‘as-a-service’ models.”
The move by Equinix is an affirmation of the disruptive power of software in simplifying data center operations, which started with virtualization and cloud computing and is now transforming the network. It has the potential to simplify network expansion for 9,500 companies and service providers using the Equinix platform, laying the groundwork for emerging technologies that may require greater network reach and capacity, including the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, and virtual/augmented reality.
Responding to Customers, Competition
Equinix is the dominant player in data center interconnections, with dense ecosystems of networks sitting atop the Internet’s busiest intersections. The company said the expanded SDN offerings are a response to customers yearning for simpler ways to connect to other networks.
Equinix is also seeking to stay a step ahead of an emerging group of SDN specialists offering network capacity that can be configured through a web portal, dramatically simplifying the way data center customers manage their connectivity. These companies, including Megaport and Packet Fabric, have been gaining traction with wholesale data center and colocation providers seeking to beef up their interconnection offerings.
Software-Defined Networking (SDN) separates the programming of routers and switches from the underlying hardware, simplifying the management of networks. By using software controllers to move configuration off the device, SDN allows administrators to automate many network functions. SDN had its initial impact at hyperscale data centers, who were among the early supporters of new protocols like OpenFlow that allowed them to manage network hardware using external servers, rather than proprietary software running on the switch itself.
SDN has allowed the creation of virtual circuits, which are now being adapted to provide virtual cross connects and virtual interconnection, expanding SDN’s benefits to a larger pool of users. This trend has been making its way into multi-tenant data centers, where network configuration has historically been a lengthy process involving requests for proposal, long-term contracts, complex pricing and significant lead time to create a physical network connection.James Staten of Equinix: We're increasing our value to customers in a carrier-neutral, cloud-neutral way. Click To Tweet
Equinix launched its Cloud Exchange in 2014 to provide virtualized direct connections to the world’s largest clouds. With today’s announcement, the ECX evolves from a platform for cloud connectivity to a multi-purpose interconnection exchange.
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“We’ve been investing in SDN for a while, but not as a standard, default offering,” said James Staten, Global Head of Market Development at Equinix. “We’re trying to increase our value to customers in a carrier-neutral, cloud-neutral way. This is a big part of our transition going forward.”
Applying the Cloud Model to Interconnections
Equinix says its ECX Fabric will enable any customer to privately and securely connect to any other customer on its global platform, regardless of location. Customers can configure their connectivity to partners, users and suppliers “as-a-service,” provisioning resources via a portal or APIs and being billed on a pay-as-you-go basis. This includes connectivity with cloud service providers (including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Oracle Cloud) and SaaS providers (including Salesforce, SAP and ServiceNow, among others) as well as vendors and other enterprises.
“Until now Equinix has operated data centers that are highly interconnected within their metro areas,” said Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst at 451 Research. “Now Equinix is moving to fully interconnect its global platform, enabling companies to directly connect physically or virtually to customers, vendors and partners, and between their own points of presence, from any Equinix facility. This new interconnection opens a range of possibilities for Equinix customers. It also has the potential for Equinix to deliver a greater breadth of services across its newly globally interconnected platform.”
Markets where the ECX Fabric will be immediately available include Atlanta, Amsterdam, Chicago, Dallas, Dublin, Frankfurt, London, Los Angeles, Manchester, New York, Paris, Seattle, Silicon Valley, Stockholm, Toronto, Washington, D.C. and Zurich. The service will roll out to an additional seven markets in North America and Europe by the first quarter of 2018, including Denver, Dusseldorf, Geneva, Helsinki, Miami, Milan, and Munich. Later in 2018, Equinix will extend connectivity between metros to APAC ECX Fabric locations, including Hong Kong, Melbourne, Osaka, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo.
Equinix: Pay-as-You-Go Means More Consumption
One of the biggest impacts of the fabric will be a shift in pricing models, as Equinix moves all of its customers to pay for services based on usage, rather than access to resources. This usage-based model has been one of the most popular elements of cloud computing, allowing users to scale computing resources up and down based on demand patterns, Staten said the Equinix portal will allow customers to easily assign connections and bandwidth to individual applications for more granular management of costs.
“It’s super cost-efficient and incredibly attractive to customers,” said Staten. “Our focus is on how it’s going to increase customer loyalty and consumption.”
Equinix also sees benefits for its service provider customers. ECX Fabric will broaden the number of users with direct private access to major cloud service providers, and also allow network service providers to more easily establish network connections to destinations in which they do not yet have a physical presence. These providers can use APIs to easily resell ECX Fabric services to their own customers. That could even include other SDN networking specialists, who could use ECX Fabric to offer connections to their customers in wholesale data center facilities.
What’s clear is that the explosion of data-intensive technologies like artificial intelligence, “Big Data” analytics, virtual reality and autonomous cars are making the network more important than ever. From a data center perspective, this rising tide of data can float many boats, and SDN connectivity spreads the opportunity around. Equinix expects that this digital transformation will drive rapid growth in private connections that keep sensitive traffic off the public Internet. The market for private data exchange between businesses will grow at nearly twice the rate and comprising nearly six times the volume of global IP traffic by 2020, according to a market study published recently by Equinix.