Software programmable interconnection is alive in some data centers

Software programmable interconnection goes beyond a single data center to connect multiple data centers via a fabric. (FierceTelecom)

While it may not be true that a cat dies every time a new phrase or acronym is introduced into the telecom industry, 451's Craig Matsumoto and a co-worker came up with "software programmable interconnection" (SPI) for data centers.

Speaking at the Layer 123 Network Transformation Congress this week, Matsumoto, senior analyst, managed services at 451 Research, cracked the cat joke during his presentation on how data centers are expanding their connectivity options by using elements of software-defined networking (SDN) and virtualization.

While SDN is being used in data centers, SPI goes beyond a single data center to connect multiple data centers via a fabric.

"We talk a lot about telcos," Matsumoto said. "The question is what does network transformation mean for the data center world? What are they doing about it?  We came up with this new term, software programmable interconnection. It's basically about the idea that data centers connect with one another with a fabric.

"For me covering data centers after covering telcos for so long, they've (data center operators) talked to me about using the SDN for pretty much anything that involved automation and the network. Anything that has software is SDN to them. We came up with a different term as a good way to encapsulate that some kind of software is being used that might or might not be SDN."

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Matsumoto defined some data centers as third party data centers, or as multi-tenant data centers, where companies are able to come in, rent some space and put their racks up to manage their own infrastructure there.

"The data center operators have to understand technology, and they have some very good expertise in technology, but they're not really technology companies," he said.  "They're real estate companies. A lot of them are real estate investment trusts. So, in tax terms and legal terms, they are literally real estate companies."

Wholesale data centers are in the business of selling "big empty spaces," or racks, to various tenants, according to Matsumoto. A wholesale data center company, such as Digital Realty, provides the space, powering and security measures at data centers while the tenants themselves manage their assets.

"The retail model also tends to be a little more hands on," he said. "So they'll have technicians on site in a lot of cases, and these guys can go into your cage and swap out equipment or do an upgrade depending on what you want them to do. 

"Whereas with wholesale, you tend to be more on your own. Your wholesale tenants kind of prefer it that way."

There are also interconnection data centers, which can be wholesale or retail, which are increasingly being used for connecting to other services.

While Digital Reality is a prime example of the wholesale model, Equinix is the prime example of the retail data center model, although the latter also has a wholesale data center initiative. Matsumoto said the two models are starting to blur, which means the services that users can get inside of a data center connect with other users in the same data center or with data centers in other locations.

Enterprise IT is moving outward and becoming more distributed, which means enterprises are relying on cloud providers. Because enterprises are going to the cloud, what used to be an enterprise data center could now be a colocation tenancy inside of someone else's data center with different functions that can then be pushed to clouds like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.

"They connect all the clouds over the internet, and that's been one of the appeals, Matsumoto said. "But as more and more mission critical stuff gets into the cloud, enterprises are starting to be interested in having private connectivity to the cloud. They don't want to trust everything in the public internet, and that's where a service like AWS Direct Connect comes into play.

"Enterprise has to connect to all of these different things. One by one, these different connections might change to different kinds of private connections with different kinds of dedicated services. The data center operator says, 'Why don't you do this way? All these things you want to connect to are already connected to our data centers.'"

Enterprises are typically spread out across large areas with multiple branch locations. All of the branch offices could be connected via the data center.

"Maybe the data center could be the heart of that network," Matsumoto said. "So the pitch from the data center operators is 'Hey, enterprise come and colocate with us, rent out your own little cage in your own little space, and with virtual cross connect, with SDN and virtualization that is happening on the inside of the data center, we can connect you to all this stuff.'"

A fleet of data centers could become a Grand Central Station, or hub, for enterprise interconnections across public and private clouds to enable SaaS services and reach suppliers and customers.

"One data center might not connect to everything that you want to connect to," Matsumoto said. "So here's where the software program interconnection part comes in, the magic of SDN. The idea is that Grand Central Station is not the one data center. It's a fleet of data centers."

While other data center operators are working on creating their own Grand Central Stations for data centers, Matsumoto said Equinix is the farthest along.

"Equinix  has been busy networking up all of its fabrics," he said. "They've done it region by region. So, in America most of their data centers have been connected to one another through SDN. The same for Europe and the same for Asia Pacific, and earlier this year they finally connected the three regions to one another. So, the Equinix ECX Fabric is now global."

Users of the fabric can tap into a portal to connect them across offices located in places like London and Singapore.

"All the data center operators are talking about doing this, but they're in varying stages of success with varying stages of completion," Matsumoto said. "The problem they're going to run into is trying to convince enterprises of this story. The logic of the story kind of holds together but lot of enterprises don't know very much about colocation, and don't really consider themselves to be in the market for that colocation kind service. In fact, a lot of them are still trying to figure out which fractions of their business they want in the cloud or not in the cloud. So they're still trying to figure out the cloud problem itself."

Matsumoto said that while service providers have largely missed out on the data center SDN transformation, they still have a role to play by providing connectivity services, such as MPLS, into data centers. Service providers can also lease their fiber since most data center operators don't want to be the owners of fiber. Service providers could also use their connections with cloud companies, such as AWS Direct Connect, to sell services over the Equinix fabric to customers.

"With 2020 hindsight, I can't help but wonder if it shouldn't have been a bigger role for telcos in this world." Matsumoto said. "Enterprises need all this connectivity everywhere. Maybe telcos could have found a better way to participate."