IBM Taps Equinix For Private-Line Cloud Connections

IBM SoftLayer joins Google, Amazon, and Microsoft Azure in routing connections for privacy-oriented cloud users through Equinix data centers.
Should IT Go Agile? The Pros And Cons
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Amazon, Google, and Microsoft Azure have become popular with privacy-concerned cloud users because they rely on Equinix data centers to connect distant users to cloud data centers via high-speed private lines. Now you can add IBM to the list.

Before cloud computing was part of the national parlance, Equinix built out a series of data centers in key metropolitan markets, seeking to be close to trading and commercial centers. It put a heavy emphasis on serving as a telecommunications hub. Each of its data centers brings together between 60 and 120 communications companies and provides a convenient place for customers to transfer from one provider to another.

These data center hubs are enjoying a newfound popularity in the age of cloud computing. Amazon established its Direct Connect private-line access through Equinix and AT&T hubs. Google offers Google Cloud Interconnect private-line access to its Cloud Platform in part through the Equinix hubs, and Microsoft Azure's Express Route also depends heavily on Equinix.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, Equinix announced that IBM's SoftLayer cloud unit is now using nine of its hubs as on-ramps to its cloud data centers. "The marriage of SoftLayer's Direct Link private networking capabilities with the Equinix Cloud Exchange allows enterprises to avoid the variable performance of the public Internet and maximize the throughput and predictability of their cloud applications." wrote Richard Carrara, global solutions architect for Equinix, in his blog post, "SoftLayer Centers of Gravity: What Enterprises Really Want."

[Want to learn more about Cloud Exchange? See Equinix Cloud Exchange: Private Access To Public Clouds.]

The combination also allows SoftLayer customers to avoid the security hazards and sometimes variable performance levels of the public Internet. Since the private connecting lines are 10 Gbps fiber-optic lines, they can offer a measure of sustained throughput that might be hard to achieve via an Internet connection, Carrara wrote.

IBM plans to have 46 SoftLayer data centers operating around the world by the end of the year. The Direct Link private line connection to SoftLayer will be available through Equinix facilities in Chicago, Dallas, Silicon Valley, and Washington, D.C., in the US; Paris and Amsterdam in Europe; and Singapore, and Tokyo in Asia; and Sydney.

Another key point in establishing the SoftLayer-to-Equinix connection is that cloud users get a single port at Equinix through which they may access all their SoftLayer accounts and virtual machines. In many cases, an enterprise WAN connects to the Equinix facility. From there it can access different SoftLayer data centers or even alternative cloud providers. The Cloud Exchange in the Equinix hub can take incoming traffic from one enterprise and redirect it to many different destinations.

"If Cloud Exchange didn't exist," said Jim Poole, vice president of service providers for Equinix, in an interview, "each company that wanted to connect to IBM SoftLayer, Amazon, and Azure would order a separate private line for each. If they wanted to cross-connect (connect workloads in different cloud centers), there'd be a separate charge for that." A company in that position would probably over-provision each line and have a poor prospect of achieving full utilization, and the getting full value, of its private-line spending.

With a single private line to Cloud Exchange, companies avoid that dilemma and reach multiple suppliers. They also keep future options open. Equinix also indicated it will bring a fifth, to-be-named cloud supplier into its facilities on Wednesday.

Poole said Equinix sampled a large set of customers and found their overall network use was growing 14% a year in Equinix facilities. Their use of private-line connections to public clouds, however, "was growing at a rate of 65%."

Private line use to connect to the public cloud is likely a reflection of greater use of the cloud for enterprise production workloads, movement of corporate data, and reliance on cloud-based transactions systems, Poole said. As hybrid cloud computing grows in popularity, more enterprises will want their private data centers connected mainly via private line to the public cloud compute power for performance purposes and for security.

Equinix has virtualized its data center network connections so that customers may sit at an Equinix portal, log into the Cloud Exchange, and then select a cloud destination for a given workload. They can also establish their own cross-connects, where they direct an application in one cloud to be linked to another part of the application in another cloud.

IBM's SoftLayer unit has its own appeal when it comes to cross data center connections. As SoftLayer was built out as an independent company, it established its own high-speed, fiber-optic connections between data centers. IBM acquired SoftLayer and those connections in 2013.