Anatomy of an Interconnection


COVID-19 is impacting all aspects of how we live, work, and play. There’s been quite a bit written about several of these impacts lately, including the rapid increase in the use of cloud computing. As a result of this increase, there has also been a substantial rise in the number of cloud interconnections. But what is a cloud interconnection?

Let’s start by defining what an interconnection is. Google defines an interconnection as “a mutual connection between two or more things.” This definition is fine for describing an interconnection in its simplest form. However, add the word ‘cloud’ and interconnection becomes a lot more complex.

A cloud interconnection is a link for routing information between two separate networks. Each network has its own addressing scheme and its own rules for how things can connect to it. It’s a little like making an international phone call. To make a call to another country you need to know both the dialing system (the country addressing scheme) and the country code (the rules for how to connect). You don’t just connect…you ‘inter’ connect. You are making a connection between two different telephone networks.

Here’s another reason that interconnections are somewhat misunderstood. The other type of connection is an ‘intra’ connection, or a connection within an internal system. This type of connection happens so often that we just dropped the ‘intra’ and simply refer to them as ‘connections’. It’s certainly easier to use the simpler term but sometimes people forget that all types of connections are not the same. And this is especially true with cloud connections.

Cloud interconnections aren’t as easy to deploy as they seem

Interconnections to clouds have to translate the network addressing from a customer network to the cloud service providers network. Cloud interconnections also have to be able to meet the security and the technical protocol requirements imposed by the cloud service provider.

Plus, every cloud service provider has different requirements. Often, in order to comply with the requirements of the cloud service provider, you may discover that you need to install more network equipment or obtain a new network connection from your network service provider. It’s not exactly simple.

Of course, all of this is complicated by the fact that cloud service providers tell us that cloud applications can be deployed in minutes, and this is true. They just ‘forgot’ to include the amount of time it could take you to interconnect to the cloud. This leads to people thinking that cloud interconnections are as simple as plugging in an Ethernet cable (which is an ‘intra’ connection, not an ‘inter’ connection).

What’s inside a network interconnection?

As organizations move beyond the initial shock from the impact of COVID-19, they are starting to examine future needs. Many of them are moving applications out of internal data centers and into either colocation facilities or public cloud environments. To make this change, these organizations are building new network interconnections at an increasing pace. But, building a network interconnection requires more than just plugging in a cable.

Network interconnections are required to accomplish multiple tasks. Interconnections are primarily used to join two separate networks together.

This means the interconnection must be able to translate the network addressing schemes between the two networks, exchange routing information so devices on each side can communicate to each other, enforce security policies so that bad actors in either network are unable to attack the other network, and finally, the interconnection must operate efficiently and reliably. Creating an interconnection can be complex and can lead to serious issues if it is not built or configured correctly.

Let’s look inside an interconnection and examine the network functions needed to make them operate correctly.

To build a basic network interconnection, several functions are needed: network address translation, routing, packet filtering, and sometimes encryption. These functions are created with either hardware or software, and typically, they are delivered using devices such as routers and firewalls. Often networks have multiple tiers or layers of routing which could require installation of even more equipment to create a new interconnection.

Once you see what’s inside an interconnection, it’s not surprising that it can be a bit tricky to build. Not only must your IT team install the equipment, but they will also need to configure the devices so that they properly interoperate with the other network. Since the same set of network functions are needed on both sides of the interconnection, whoever is operating the network at the other end will need to build and configure their devices as well.

Stop thinking about building interconnections the old device-centric way

If you need new equipment, it’s not unusual for a new cloud interconnection to take weeks, if not a couple of months, to be created and made operational. Years ago, this amount of time was small in comparison to the overall effort of deploying an application. Now, however, IT teams and Cloud Service Providers move much faster. When you consider the cost-savings gained by moving applications or workloads into a colocation facility (colo) or cloud environment, the time it takes to build a network interconnection can have a large financial impact.

Now that you know a bit more about what’s inside an interconnection, you can start to think about how you might be able to minimize your interconnection build times. To build an interconnection, you need a routing function, but you don’t need a router.

Additionally, you need data encryption, but you don’t necessarily need a firewall. Stop thinking about building interconnections the old device-centric way and consider how you could get the functions you need without the cost and time lost to buying, installing, and setting up new equipment.

Many colocation data center operators and network service providers such as Stateless are deploying technologies to create Layer 3+ software-defined Interconnection solutions that will allow you to create network interconnections in minutes and rethink how network connectivity should be built, offered, and consumed despite everyone saying it could not be done. It shouldn’t be so time-consuming and agonizing to build large, scalable, customized interconnections.  We all deserve information and connectivity when we need it.