Written by Christian Koch ⋅ 4 min read
The interconnection of communications networks is the foundational element of the Internet, describing the mechanism by which an individual organisation’s network is linked with another organisation’s network. This was commonly achieved by connecting a physical medium, such as a Coaxial, Twisted Pair, or the more common type these days, an optical fibre cable. Coupled with communications equipment and communication protocols, these networks would then be able to transmit data between their networks and may be referred to as peering.
Most of these interconnections occur in a multi-tenant data centre or legacy telecom central office. Still, there are no restrictions around the physical location other than requiring the presence of two or more individual networks.
A data centre facilitates the interconnection of networks by offering a product known as a cross-connect, which is that physical cable used to interconnect networks. Similarly, an Internet Exchange Point or Internet Exchange facilitates what is commonly known as peering, the logical method of interconnection that enables the transmission of data between these networks.
This article is the first in a multi-part series, where we’ll explore how interconnection is evolving, the underlying shifts in technology and macro trends driving the growth of what was once known as The Information Superhighway.
Cloud Computing – A Paradigm Shift and Catalyst
By now, everyone is likely familiar with cloud computing and its technological, operational, and economic benefits. Still, cloud computing is responsible for a lot more than removing the friction related to the consumption of computing and storage infrastructure.
Cloud computing democratised access to information technology resources, allowing individuals and organisations to run software, applications and store data on infrastructure that can be turned on, expanded or shut down on-demand without owning or managing that infrastructure themselves. And while this new operating model was packed with positive benefits, it didn’t come without creating new challenges.
As cloud computing matured, new strategies and architectures were adopted by technical teams across many types of organisations. The most popular and common models you hear about today are hybrid and multi-cloud, referring to the combined use of the public cloud and a private cloud, and the use of multiple public clouds, respectively.
These changes have introduced new methods for interconnecting networks, driving the innovation and adoption of cloud connectivity through what is called a cloud exchange or, later conceived, a network-as-a-service platform.
These platforms, similar in technical architecture and operation to an Internet Exchange (IX or IXP), facilitate the interconnection between an organisation’s individual network and either their own or other organisations network that now lives in the cloud.
The Rise of Virtual Interconnection
With so many organisations using cloud computing and implementing new IT Architectures, the need to transform the network became more apparent. The benefits such as on-demand access, pay-as-you-go billing, and overall—the effectiveness of using virtualised resources were something that networking would soon need to align to.
As these new network platforms were born, and whether you want to call them a cloud exchange, interconnection platform, or network-as-a-service platform, the key innovation introduced was the alignment of the network to the cloud. By allowing an organisation to instantly provision connectivity through a self-service web portal or API, they gain agility and become more effective at building and operating networks, improve performance for their customers or users, and even achieve better control over their costs.
While virtual interconnection is still in the early stages of adoption, it is quickly moving towards the mainstream. As an example of just how quickly things are moving, a top public multi-tenant data centre reported the addition of 7,800 interconnections in the second quarter this year, where virtual interconnections accounted for 27%, or 2,106 of that total, an improvement of 5% over the previous quarter, where 22% or 1,144 of 5,200 added interconnections were virtual.
In the following article in this series, we’ll look at how macro trends and new technologies are driving change and growth in the market, along with advancements across the spectrum of internet infrastructure, including optical networking and new subsea cables, and their respective impact on interconnection.
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