Colocation Operators Expand Cloud Interconnects to Accommodate Hybrid Adoption

By offering faster network connections between colocation facilities and public clouds, colo operators are hoping to remain a competitive option as customers adopt hybrid cloud.

Christopher Tozzi, Technology Analyst

August 19, 2020

4 Min Read
Equinix data center in San Jose
Inside Equinix's SV5 data center in San Jose, California (Photo: Equinix)

In the data center world, being able to connect colocated infrastructure to public cloud services without compromising network performance is like having your cake and eating it, too. For colocation customers seeking hybrid cloud architectures, this best-of-both-worlds solution is increasingly available as colocation providers, probably in a bid to remain competitive with public cloud companies, unveil more interconnection services that enable faster network connections between colocation facilities and public clouds.

Among the latest such offerings is support for Alibaba Cloud interconnection on Equinix. Equinix already provided similar solutions for AWS and Azure.

Support for public clouds on Platform Equinix means that Equinix customers can configure private network connections between workloads located in Equinix colocation facilities and public cloud services. In turn, customers enjoy lower latency and higher bandwidth than they would be able to achieve when relying on the public Internet to integrate workloads between colocation centers and the public cloud. The end result is an enhanced ability to include colocated infrastructure within hybrid cloud architectures.

It’s not just Equinix that is investing in interconnection for hybrid cloud. Digital Realty offers equivalent services, and Switch goes so far as to proclaim itself a “backbone to the cloud” rather than just “an interconnect into a public cloud vendor.”

VMware, too, recently announced a new offering, Transit Connect, that simplifies the process of building fast and reliable network connections between AWS and on-premises or colocated data centers. Hybrid cloud interconnection for VMware-based environments has been available from specific colocation providers previously, but Transit Connect enables support on any colocated infrastructure.

Interconnection and the Future of Colocation

At first glance, it may seem strange for colocation vendors to be investing heavily in solutions that make it easier for their customers to connect colocated infrastructure to public cloud services. You might think that colocation companies would be more interested in keeping their customers’ workloads squarely within colocation facilities, rather than helping them adopt public cloud services that, in many senses, compete with workloads hosted in a colocation center.

It appears, however, that colocation vendors like Equinix and Digital Realty have instead concluded that if they can’t beat public cloud, they may as well join it by offering networking solutions that will allow colocated infrastructure to become part of hybrid clouds. That’s a better outcome than one in which customers abandon colocation completely in favor of the public cloud due to network-performance limitations within a hybrid model.

It’s worth noting, too, that many hybrid cloud interconnection solutions are subject to some limitations that work in colocation providers’ favor. For one, most of the solutions rely on private connectivity services offered by public cloud vendors themselves, such as Azure ExpressRoute and AWS Direct Connect. These services have some drawbacks: They add complexity to the deployment of public cloud services. They are not compatible with every public cloud service. And they are maintained by public cloud providers, which places colocation providers at lower risk of being held accountable by their customers if something goes wrong.

In these respects, the private network services highlight the weaknesses of public cloud offerings. They give colocation customers a reason to keep as many of their workloads as possible within colocation facilities, where they are easier to deploy and manage, even if they sometimes use public cloud services when absolutely necessary.

At the same time, interconnection solutions that target hybrid cloud architectures allow colocation providers to play up one of colocation’s greatest strengths relative to public cloud: The broader selection of data centers that colocation companies offer, which make it easier for customers to run workloads closer to end-users than they could when using public clouds’ limited selection of data centers. If you can take advantage of public cloud services without risking network delays while still running workloads in the colocation facility of your choice, that’s one less reason to migrate entirely to the public cloud.

Going forward, colocation providers seem poised to encourage hybrid cloud adoption as a way of protecting their share of the market and discouraging customers from migrating to the public cloud wholesale. They may even gain some new customers by attracting those who are currently on-premises, but want to migrate to a cloud architecture of some type without going all-in on the public cloud. For the latter, being able to build a hybrid cloud whose infrastructure lives primarily in colocation facilities, while still connecting seamlessly to public cloud services when it makes sense, is a compelling offering.

About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology Analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

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