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Mae West, for those unfamiliar with the American icon, was an actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol whose career spanned the 20th century.
But in this example, I am talking about a different Mae West. Networking geeks who’ve been around will recognize the two Metropolitan Area Exchanges, MAE-East and MAE-West, popular Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) that were established in the early 1990s.
True to its name, MAE-West was primarily located in San Jose, California and operated by MCI Worldcom. In its heyday, it was the second busiest exchange point on the internet, handling about 40 percent of all traffic. Its counterpart MAE-East, created by Metropolitan Fiber Systems, was based in northern Virginia and designated by the National Science Foundation as one of its four network access points.
These points formed a bridge between commercial network operators and the original government-funded National Science Foundation Network. At its peak, MAE-East saw around 50 percent of internet traffic. Subsequently, as other IXPs came into being, MAE-East’s stature dwindled. Many of the service providers at MAE-East eventually moved to Equinix’s location in Ashburn, Virginia. As one of the informal successors to MAE-East, Equinix has become a leading IXP today. And that brings us to SD-WAN, but doesn’t everything today?
Equinix, Digital Realty, Megaport, CoreSite, etc., are all well-known IXPs providing hubs where communication service providers (CSPs) can interconnect and exchange traffic. They act like the Grand Central terminals of the internet and are critical in ensuring fast reachability across all the various networks that span the internet worldwide. Their game is to snap up real estate in key locations, transform those sites into data centers, and make sure there are loads of connectivity options in those locations. Other service providers who need fast on-ramps to the internet and interconnections to other carriers will have to sign up with IXPs. Enterprises wanting to make sure their data and applications are quickly accessible worldwide also have to sign up for slots in IXP data center cages along with their purchase of IXP connectivity services.
As I indicated in my last post on SD-WAN, I believe that managed service offerings will be key to SD-WAN proliferation worldwide. And fast connectivity to the public cloud services, through these IXPs or through an alternate route, will be an essential part of the managed SD-WAN offering. As Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) vendors, like Aryaka and Cato, go about selling their SD-WAN solutions, and as major CSPs offer their own managed SD-WAN solutions — one of the key capabilities will be express connections to public cloud infrastructure. Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure, as well as, IBM Bluemix, Oracle, Alibaba, etc., will all start showing up as connectivity options in SD-WAN solutions. Even vendors selling SD-WAN platforms will tout the availability of virtual instances of their software within these cloud providers, enabling one-click access from branches and headquarters to virtual private clouds in public clouds.
In real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. In the SD-WAN game, I don’t see that it will be any different. In addition to all the different SD-WAN capabilities that the platforms should provide — multi-link support, security, routing, WAN optimization — as SD-WAN services become managed offerings, the menu needs to expand. It needs to include fast on-ramps to public clouds, seamless connectivity to private clouds, and superior quality of service (QoS) when connecting to major Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings. And to do so, it comes back to location, location, location, but this time the location is within the internet backbone topology. It is crucial to ensure that the SD-WAN core has strategic on- and off-ramps to the large global backbones and appropriate connectivity to the large cloud providers in the world.
An added value that some SD-WAN platforms, predominantly NaaS providers, will highlight is their short hop to major SaaS solutions and web properties like Facebook, Salesforce, etc. Thus, these providers are promising an optimized internet experience for their subscribers by connecting to various points of presence (POPs) around the world — most of which are located within IXP POPs. Certainly, large CSPs like AT&T might already have their own direct connections to cloud and SaaS giants, but most CSPs will likely lean on IXPs for some, if not all, of their backend connectivity. This means the likes of Equinix will become key beneficiaries of the managed SD-WAN movement. I expect the IXPs will want to further monetize the strategic locations they own and look for value-added services that they themselves can sell. IXPs will enter the SD-WAN market either with their own offering or in close partnership with SD-WAN vendors.
In the end, successful SD-WAN MSPs will have to be as multi-talented as the icon Mae West. They will have to add more and more capabilities to their platforms, with express lanes to cloud providers through IXPs becoming a new critical feature. And hopefully, if they succeed, they’ll be just as prosperous as Mae West — singing, dancing, and laughing all the way to the bank.