Data Center / Networking
Colocation Cross Connections Will Make You Jump Jump
Cover Photo Source: QTS
Many folks don’t realize how much they rely on their enterprise grade telecom network. Without a flawless network with all of the right connectivity, your day-to-day business operations would not be able to function.
A network is where internet service providers, telecom carriers, network providers, cloud providers, and businesses connect with each other. But how do all of these counterparts connect within a network? Securely sharing data with another business is not as simple as having a server in the same building as them, and constraints on space, power, and bandwidth add additional complexity to secure and reliable connectivity.
Enter cross connections! Cross connections or "cross connects" are wired links that bring networks together. They are a vital component of the internet as we know it. Needless to say, cross connects definitely make any apt network engineer Jump Jump.
What is a cross connect?
Cross connects are the hardware that enables separate entities within a network to securely and efficiently share data. They can be thought of as a direct point to point connection between two entities in a network.
Behind every network lies a vast sea (or labyrinth, depending on your cable management) of cross connections that transfer data between carriers, internet providers, the cloud, and beyond.
Cross Connect Use Cases
Cross Connect Cable Trays. Source: Datacenters.com
Local Cross Connects
Local area cross connects are a direct, cabled connection between two customers' ecosystems within a single data center. Cages, server racks, closets or entire suites can be connected with local cross connects that forego utilizing the Meet-Me-Room (MMR) fabric. It’s worth noting that a local cross connect can connect the same customer to its own ecosystem within a data center (e.g. two Netflix servers within the data center sharing information) or can connect two separate customers that agree to the connection (e.g. a Netflix server connecting to Lumen’s network). You could also say that your ethernet connection in your home office LAN is also a local cross connect.
Extended Cross Connects
Most common in carrier hotels or facilities with multiple colocation providers, an extended cross connect is a connection between two customer ecosystems within the same facility (but not the same data center). Cross connections are purchased from the colocation provider to utilize the building’s Meet-Me-Room for connectivity to the other party.
Innerducts or conduits are large and protected channels that enable customers with bulk fiber cable requirements to safely connect to their fiber provider in a data center. They are most commonly used by fiber carriers to create a pathway from a carrier’s fiber outside to the carrier’s or customer’s cage inside the data center. These channels are a safeguard for protecting fiber post-installation, as future cable installations may interfere with the quality of the fiber pathway (you’d be surprised how messy it can get!).
When connecting two customer ecosystems within a larger area such as a town or city, metro connects are utilized. The colocation providers will often provide dedicated Layer 1 and switch-based Layer 2 fiber connections for metro connects. When utilizing metro connects, customers can operate varying levels of redundancy depending on their needs.
An internet exchange is made up of various networks such as ISPs and media/content providers who physically connect to an ethernet switching fabric, enabling them to exchange traffic. Exchanging traffic in this manner, also known as “Peering”, reduces the cost to connect and increases the network reliability. When connecting to an internet exchange in a data center, a cross connect will link your patch panel to another patch panel that is connected to the internet exchange’s switch panel. Some, but not all, colocation providers allow customers to connect directly to internet exchanges.
Other Cross Connect Use Cases
Other forms of cross connect utilization (which we won’t belabor) include carrier ethernet exchanges, mobile internet exchanges, and cloud exchanges.
In addition to their many use cases, there are many different cross connect hardware options. We will be covering the pros and cons of each hardware option in a future post. Talk about a cliffhanger!
Now that you have an idea of all of the different types of cross connect use cases, we are going to get into the actual benefits of cross connect utilization.
Benefits of Cross Connects
Photo Source: Wikipedia Cross connect powers, activate!
The key benefits of cross connect utilization include:
Latency: The use of cross connects leads to lower network latency. Cross connects are a direct, wired connection that do not utilize the public internet, meaning these connections aren’t at the mercy of public bandwidth congestion. Additionally, as much as we’d like to think connectivity is above the laws of physics, the physical distance traveled has an impact on network latency. So local data center cross connects will connect you faster than a metro connect, and so on.
Reliability: As mentioned above, given cross connects do not rely on public internet connections, you’ll experience enhanced network reliability when utilizing cross connects. Oftentimes, cross connects are backed by the same service level agreement (SLA) as your broader data center agreement, meaning you are guaranteed uptime.
Security: Your network security is enhanced when you utilize cross connects as they are a completely private connection utilized only between consenting parties. For example, in a hybrid network solution, the customer can choose to implement a direct cross connection with their cloud service provider, reducing your data’s exposure to public networks.
Optionality: The ability to connect to a wide range of carriers and internet service providers in a well peered colocation facility means your business has more optionality in the specific internet services you want to utilize. Perhaps your go-to service provider does not offer wavelength connectivity in your data center, but a Tier 2 provider does, and cross connects enables you to utilize their service.
Convenience: A well peered colocation facility is a very convenient form of connectivity for your network. The ability to directly connect to carriers and internet service providers, rather than having to string together multiple connections to reach your provider of choice, is an added convenience of cross connect utilization.
Cost (Sometimes): More optionality for connectivity means the customer has leverage and the ability to compare your price negotiations. So in a well peered data center, you are able to scope out all of the options for connectivity and engage in a cross connect with your provider of choice. Additionally, utilizing cross connects in a data center environment can sometimes be cheaper than connecting to the local bandwidth option. We discuss the cost of cross connects later on in this post.
Who Uses Cross Connections?
Green = Netflix ISP Locations | Orange = Netflix Internet Exchange Points (circles are sized by volume)Source: Netflix
A prime example of the importance and prevalence of cross connects exists with a company many of us hold near and dear to our hearts, Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX). Netflix video downloads accounted for an estimated 15% of global internet usage in 2019, which surely increased in 2020 with Netflix adding a record 37 million new subscribers amid the global pandemic.
When is the last time a painfully slow-to-load video kept you from clicking “Yes, I’m Still Watching” yet again? Chances are that hasn’t happened very recently. How is Netflix able to achieve this with the massive amounts of data they have to store and transmit all over the world?
Netflix utilizes a cross connected global network via Amazon Web Services (AWS), content distribution partners, and internet service providers to ensure that the content you want to watch is ready at a moment's notice. In fact, they have their own program called Netflix Open Connect that partners with and provides open peering networks to internet service providers to help deliver NFLX content more efficiently. The vast list of peering locations and internet exchange participation can be found here.
Netflix shut down its last company owned data center in 2015 and moved to a 100% cloud based network. They began working with AWS in 2008, but didn’t shift over to 100% cloud until 2015. The relationship is paramount, and is even listed as a key risk in Netflix’s 10K, given its reliance on AWS.
We’d love to know how much of AWS’s revenue is driven by Netflix’s prolific network of cross connects.
Cross Connection Pricing
If cross connects alone don’t make you jump-jump, the cost might. Considering that cross connects are a short cable or fiber and once they are plugged in require little to no maintenance, it’s surprising that they are a recurring revenue stream for all of the data center providers.
Based on our experience (and others), you can expect to pay anywhere from $200 - $300 per month per cross connect. And not just that, some providers charge you for both ends of the connection. Pretty steep if you ask us.
Source: Equinix GXI Report Volume 4
However, based on projections for interconnection capacity, we can hope that there will be some downward pressure on cross connect pricing in the coming years. According to an Equinix study, private interconnection capacity is expected to grow at a CAGR of 45% by 2023, reaching 16,300+ terabits per second of data exchanged annually. Note that interconnection bandwidth is defined as the total capacity provisioned to privately and directly exchange traffic, and cross connects make up only a portion of that capacity.
Whether you’re the network engineer at a CCaaS company, a managed wifi provider, or just trying to learn more about colocation, it’s essential to understand the benefits of and use cases for cross connects.
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