Authored By: Ilissa Miller

On March 5, 2020, industry interconnection specialists published the first-ever ‘Interconnection Playbook,’ which sets out to demystify interconnection, explore what the term means and outline the options available to companies embracing digital transformation. 

The Interconnect Playbook is a 36-page resource that is chock-full of information clarifying and quantifying interconnection options to help enterprise, carriers and global network operators better understand, define and leverage interconnection solutions for improved network performance, reach and control.  The Playbook was produced by Open Spectrum, a data center and cloud services consulting firm providing in-depth industry intelligence, experience and training to service providers and investors in mission-critical infrastructure, and MicroCorp, the premier value-added distributor of telecom and cloud solutions. Since 1986, they have simplified the purchase and management of telecommunications services for business customers with contributions from Structure Research, an independent research and consulting firm with a special focus on the internet infrastructure market. They publish insightful research and analysis with a uniquely informed perspective.  The Playbook was authored by Christian Koch and edited by Sean Patrick Tario with contributions from Jim Davis. They plan to update the Interconnection Playbook every six months.

Here are some key takeaways:

Oversimplification of Interconnection is Confusing

A key driver to the development of the Interconnection Playbook is the massive changes that cloud and software have influenced in networks and digital transformation.  According to the report’s findings, interconnection as a noun is defined as “the physical linking of a carrier’s network with equipment or facilities not belonging to that network. The term may refer to a connection between a carrier’s facilities and the equipment belonging to its customer, or to a connection between two (or more) carriers.”  Furthermore, U.S. Regulatory law defines interconnection as “the linking of two or more networks for the mutual exchange of traffic.”[1]

This oversimplification of the definitions of ‘Interconnection’ is a key driver to the development of this Playbook, which also includes a wide variety of industry definitions, making it a great resource for any enterprise or network buyer throughout the world.  

Drivers of Change

According to the Interconnection Playbook, there are two main drivers to the need for interconnection clarification: Cloud Computing and software-driven everything.  According to the authors, “Cloud computing… has made us rethink how we interconnect with partners, customers, and service providers.” While, according to the authors, “software gives us the ability to do more for less. Efficiency gains can be made across multiple functions, from capacity management and planning to service delivery and general network management.”  The results are that “software is allowing us to pay for services, interface with digital platforms and manage network connectivity and interconnection ‘on demand,’ just as we do with cloud computing resources.”

Driving confusion is industry nomenclature that tends to oversimplify and generalize technology and software solutions – primarily out of context.  Let’s consider the author’s observations on two terms set forth by two industry analyst firms: Software Defined Interconnection (SDI) and Software Programmable Interconnection (SPI).  SDI is a term used by Gartner, while SPI is the term used by 451 Research. In both cases, the ideas are similar: “network infrastructure is abstracted from applications by a software-based control plane, and both terms suggest that the network is programmable in some fashion. But the terms only broadly define a set of technologies; in the datacenter, deployments can take many forms (and paths).”

 “Software is allowing us to pay for services, interface with digital platforms and manage network connectivity and interconnection ‘on demand,’ just as we do with cloud computing resources.”

– Authors of the Interconnection Playbook

Digital Transformation

According to the authors, “Digital transformation has manifested as a strategy where enterprises are increasingly de-emphasize owning and building their own data centers and WANs to focus on adding value to their core products and services. They’ve focused on using cloud services to gain flexibility and to shift from a capex-heavy model to an opex model for digital infrastructure.”

As companies consider a digital transformation strategy, key components include network connectivity and the data center.  According to Structure Research, “From a datacenter industry perspective, the growth of interconnection services is forecasted to reach $3.2bn in revenue on a global basis by 2024.”  As the authors consider the data points, they observe that the number of virtual interconnections versus physical interconnections indicate that shared ports or capacity links commonly offered by cloud exchanges and/or Internet exchanges outpace the growth of physical (one-to-one) connections. 

The ability to virtually connect is enabled only through an initial physical interconnection.  This is an important note to make since the ability to manage virtual connections can provide an array of automated interconnections through a single connection. 

Software-Based Platforms for Automated Interconnections

According to the Playbook, “Software-based platforms for automated interconnection are going to be key to enabling enterprises to better manage cloud resource consumption and application performance. These platforms enable customers to quickly connect with SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) and CSPs (Cloud Service Providers); they can also facilitate networking in a campus environment where providers have multiple facilities in a region.

On the same day this report was published to the market, CoreSite, a premier provider of secure, reliable, high-performance data center and interconnection solutions across the U.S., announced that DE-CIX, the world’s leading Internet Exchange (IX) operator with the largest carrier and data center-neutral IX in the major markets of New York and Dallas, had joined CoreSite’s Open Cloud Exchange.  The apropos announcement is an excellent example of how a physical interconnection (DE-CIX to the CoreSite Open Cloud Exchange®) enables virtual connections for a greater set of customers dynamically, flexibly and cost-effectively.  “Through the CoreSite SDN-based Open Cloud Exchange, which provides a single port into a layer 2 Ethernet switching platform, customers can now reach DE-CIX New York to access over 220 networks through a single interconnection.” Furthermore, the physical interconnection – which enables a variety of virtual interconnections – also extends reach to a greater number of markets, as also illustrated by the CoreSite and DE-CIX announcement. “CoreSite customers in Boston and Northern Virginia can now provision connections to DE-CIX to reach networks not available in each local market. Through CoreSite’s Open Cloud Exchange, customers gain easy access to global and specialized networks through a single interconnection.”

However, the accepted definition of multi-cloud and hybrid cloud architecture is another point of clarification required according to the Playbook.  “With a multi-cloud architecture, an organization uses a variety of services from more than one provider. Use of multiple SaaS applications such as and Office365 along with IaaS services from Amazon Web Services (AWS) would be an example of a multi-cloud architecture.”  Whereas “hybrid cloud computing refers to use of a combination of private and public cloud services in a policy-driven fashion. In its purest form, the resources are cooperatively being used to provide a single business function or service.”

This is an important clarification due to the Playbook’s citation that “the percentage of enterprises that use multiple clouds as part of an overall IT strategy is 84 percent (vs. 81 percent in 2018), while those planning a hybrid cloud strategy grew to 58 percent (from 51 percent in 2018), according to a survey of 786 IT professionals conducted by Rightscale (Flexera) 2019 State of the Cloud Report.”

How does this translate to interconnection you may ask?  The Interconnection Playbook addresses that directly by clearly stating that the benefits of using interconnection services for connecting a hybrid cloud architecture include:  cybersecurity/risk management; data sovereignty and enhanced efficiencies in the digital enterprise. 

On page 15 of the Interconnection Playbook, the authors outline a variety of scenarios related to hybrid cloud architecture, clearly defining the current state, desired state, challenges and solution scenarios for consideration.  For instance, “One option is to leverage a cloud exchange platform within a third-party datacenter that is offsite to the enterprise. In terms of connectivity into the datacenter (ingress traffic), the enterprise might consider leveraging an SD-WAN backup over broadband as a backup to an existing MPLS link, with diverse paths into the datacenter providing an extra measure of protection against outages and interruptions.”  The scenario is truly viable but requires a number of steps and network solutions combined to implement effectively. Alternatively, a company like PacketFabric offers an even simpler solution to delivering a hybrid cloud architecture as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 1

Recommendations for Enterprise Multi-Cloud and Hybrid Cloud Service Models

The Playbook clearly outlines key recommendations for enterprise companies looking to deploy multi-cloud and hybrid cloud service architectures.  They include assurances that companies should “map requirements and data flows for existing applications; prioritize applications and their performance and security requirements; plan ahead for new applications; and engage with cloud, datacenter and network experts.”

The Playbook examines the locations and benefits of a variety of players in the market, including CenturyLink, DE-CIX, LINXMegaportPacketFabric and Pureport.  The authors provide a comparison chart on page 20 highlighting each provider’s number of on-net locations, available port speeds (from 1G, 10G, 4G, 100G to 400G), billing and commitment terms (hourly, month-to-month or other), API compatibility, Web-Based Management Portals, number of Cloud Service Providers, Internet Exchanges and whether an overall marketplace is offered. 

In Conclusion

Overall, the Interconnection Playbook provides a great overview of the various interconnection models as they enable software-defined networking possibilities. Enterprises embracing digital transformation seeking a multi-cloud or hybrid-cloud architecture are challenged to implement solutions that provide the privacy, security and business-enablement needed.  With the number of options and industry-leading providers available to implement a winning software-enabled interconnection solution for the enterprise, the Interconnection Playbook is a must-read primer to understand the variety of capabilities available and to be sure the right questions are asked in the discovery process. As with any network solution, the more options you have and the greater variety of interconnections you make, the more likely you are to provide a robust solution that saves your company money while increasing overall productivity. 

[1] 47 C.F.R.51.5 of the United States regulatory statutes definition of interconnection.

About the Author

Ilissa Miller is the CEO and Founder of iMiller Public Relations, a Public Relations and Marketing Consultancy serving the Global Communications Infrastructure Sector.  She is also the President of NEDAS, an association focused on the wireline and wireless convergence, as well as a Co-Founder of the Independent Data Center Alliance.