For businesses to grow in the digital economy, they need to be smart. They not only need to optimise their workflow to increase efficiency and speed of production so that they can deliver competitive products to market faster, but they also need to ensure the quality and performance of digital products throughout their lifecycle, wherever their customers go. It does not matter whether we are talking about a connected car and its infotainment system, a financial management app, or an electric toothbrush with its associated dental hygiene app – these products all need to work seamlessly and flawlessly while their users are underway, travelling to business meetings or off on holiday with the family.
The advantages of the cloud are being leveraged to achieve this. The average employee today uses more than 30 cloud-based apps to carry out their daily business, with the total number of cloud-based environments, applications, and workloads per company running into the hundreds. Quite apart from reducing Capex IT investment and enabling flexible scaling according to needs, the myriad of services in the cloud allow the automation of processes, the training and operation of AI software, and the provision of environments for software and product development, testing, and innovation, not to mention location-independent communication and collaboration tools for a mobile workforce.
So, the cloud has become the all-purpose enabler for business success. But with everyone else also using it, how can you get ahead of the competition? The question which is often neglected in the formulation of a hybrid or multi-cloud strategy is how to even get to the cloud. Even in regions with high cloud adoption, we can see that the most common way of accessing the cloud and transferring data to and from different services is via the public Internet. There are good reasons to avoid this route. The preferable route is via direct interconnection using a distributed Cloud Exchange – this provides access to a single integrated ecosystem of cloud providers and allows the corporate network to be connected directly to the cloud networks in use and bypass the public Internet. What companies need, more than just a cloud strategy, is a cloud interconnection strategy.
Connecting directly to clouds accelerates cloud services
You may have already heard the saying “latency is the new currency”, and I can assure you, it’s true. The lower the latency, the faster the response time, and the better the performance of cloud applications and ultimately user experience, as well as the proper functioning of connected systems. Latency basically means delay – it’s the time it takes for a data packet to travel from a device connected to the Internet, such as a smartphone, to a server (such as the ones where your cloud services are hosted), and back again, so that you can actually see the result. Think about the heart-stopping delay that can occur after you’ve pressed the “buy now” button for an exclusive item on an e-commerce site, while you wait to actually see that your transaction has been processed and the product has been purchased. And delays are something modern business simply can’t afford.
Shortening the pathway between the corporate network and the cloud by ensuring a direct connection improves the performance of not only enterprise applications (such as production-related analytics and design applications, ERP and financial apps, and virtual conferencing apps), but also customer-facing applications. Therefore, direct interconnection and short data pathways accelerate your work in the cloud.
Connecting directly to clouds adds control
There are also major advantages in terms of security to directly connecting the enterprise infrastructure to relevant networks. Using the public Internet is, again, a risky choice here, because there is no way to control the pathways that the data takes. The Internet was conceived as a “best effort” tool for communication. This is not sufficient for securing business critical data or sensitive end-customer data. On the Internet, data is passed over from network to network based on the current situation and the policies of each network, and there is no way of controlling where the traffic is exchanged and who might be lurking in the shadows. This way, there is not only the threat of data leaks, but also of phishing servers disguised as legitimate destinations – luring either an employee or a customer to a fake log-in field where they input their credentials.
Setting up direct interconnection between the networks – for example, your corporate network and the networks of the cloud service providers you are using – makes it possible to bypass the long and potentially dangerous route over the public Internet, thus lowering latency and improving security. Through direct interconnection, you know exactly which network is sending traffic and which is receiving it. This gives the legitimate partners full controllability over the data flows and minimises the risk of security breaches.
By accessing each cloud from multiple geographical locations (e.g. using different data centers within a metro area) via a distributed interconnection platform, you also increase resilience, reducing the chance of downtime caused by localised outages at one of the access points. The connectivity to the cloud can be made even more robust by remotely accessing additional cloud regions from each of the cloud providers – this is possible through an interconnection platform that connects different metro markets as well as offering local interconnection. This protects systems against more broadscale incidents.
Connecting clouds directly to each other lets them work at top speed
There’s one more step that’s needed to make your cloud connectivity state-of-the-art. This is to enable cloud-to-cloud communication by connecting your cloud environments directly to one another using a cloud routing service implemented on a Cloud Exchange. For many automated processes, data from one cloud needs to be provided to applications running in another cloud. Let’s take, for example, a smart factory producing products for just-in-time delivery – this will need to be fed customer order data, and it will need to be synchronised with inventory databases and logistics systems. It will also need real-time access to the AI systems monitoring product quality and the condition of the production plant. These and countless other processes, which may well be running in different clouds, are needed for a seamless and high-quality execution of the order.
The way data transfer between clouds is normally handled is that the data from one cloud is transported to the corporate infrastructure, and from there on to the second cloud service provider. Depending on how close the corporate network is to the nearest cloud on-ramps for each cloud service provider, this can mean a substantial detour for the data. This not only results in latency issues, but also in higher costs for the backhaul of the data. Using a cloud routing service massively shortens the path that data needs to travel. It does this by interconnecting the cloud services at the point of the on-ramps, directly on the Cloud Exchange platform. This reduces the length of the data pathway, regardless of where the company itself is located, speeding up transmission and also cutting the costs. The corporate infrastructure can still be directly connected to the clouds, but this pathway would only be used when needed. Time-sensitive use-cases – such as database applications – can thus interact with each other across clouds in the lowest possible latency as if they were in one single cloud environment. Now, this is what we can call a smart cloud interconnection strategy.
Cloud interconnection – breaking through the barriers to business success
There’s a lot more you can also do once you’ve set up such connectivity. It’s possible to increase the resilience of the connectivity by ensuring redundancy in the lines being used to each access point. It’s possible to take a global approach to cloud connectivity and connect your worldwide operations and workforce to the nearest cloud on-ramps for their given location, ensuring the lowest latency wherever they are based. It’s also possible to set up robust back-up and disaster recovery processes using a secondary cloud (with close to real-time synchronisation through the cloud routing service), so that this cloud can seamlessly take over operations in the event of an outage at one of the primary cloud providers.
There is no doubt: the cloud is an unparalleled tool for boosting productivity. But clouds themselves can also be accelerated using the right connectivity. For some applications, it is actually not feasible to run them in the cloud without optimised interconnection. And this will become increasingly important with each new iteration of applications. Developing a cloud interconnection strategy will help you to make the most of the benefits of the cloud. Direct connections to clouds boost security, performance, and the bottom line, while enabling cloud-to-cloud communication accelerates processes even further. With your clouds working at top speed, the sky’s the limit.
Ivo Ivanov has been Chief Executive Officer at DE-CIX and Chair of the Board of the DE-CIX Group AG since 2022. Prior to this, Ivanov was Chief Operating Officer of DE-CIX and Chief Executive Officer of DE-CIX International, responsible for the global business activities of the leading Internet Exchange operator in the world. He has more than 20 years of experience in the regulatory, legal and commercial Internet environment. Ivo is regularly invited to share his vision and thought leadership in various industry-leading conferences around the globe. Ivo has an educational background focused on Law and Business. Fluent in German, English, Russian and Bulgarian, he attended a German business school and holds two Law degrees. After graduation, he worked as a lawyer, with a focus on e-commerce, IP, telecommunications, and data protection law.