Console, a business unit of interconnect specialist IIX, offers point-to-point connections that don’t traverse the public Internet. The motivation is simple — better performance, better security — and it’s based on principles and processes that have been around for years. But to offer the service globally takes more work than most companies are willing or able to tackle, says Al Burgio, CEO of both IIX and Console.
“I put this in the ‘2.0’ category. There’s been an evolution of direct interconnect,” Burgio says.
The launch is paired with Console Connect Live, taking place today in San Francisco (just like Apple’s expected launch of the new Apple TV). There, Console intends to explain the service, also named Console, and spark discussion about the issues that would cause an enterprise to want Internet bypass.
Burgio’s “2.0” declaration is big talk, considering how many similar schemes exist. Several companies including Cisco offer SD-WAN capabilities that select the best path for data, with private MPLS connections being one option. And the MEF is championing its Third Network concept of temporary private connections for traffic such as voice calls.
Console’s difference is that it wanted to create a global service. That kind of scale meant building up points of presence (IIX owns more than 150, mostly garnered through the April acquisition of IX Reach) and using Layer 3 — the BGP routing protocol — to make these connections. It also required delving into the world of autonomous system (AS) numbers.
That’s all been possible for years, but only for a knowledgeable few, Burgio says.
Console is comparable to AWS Direct Connect from Amazon Web Services or ExpressRoute from Microsoft Azure. But with those services, “there’s still an expectation on the part of the customer that they need to know configuration,” he says. Console claims to have automated that part, as well as the esoteric process of getting an AS number.
Endless AS Numbers
Like IP addresses, AS numbers indicate “location” on the Internet — only they’re more elite, with numbers being assigned to entire networks rather than individual devices. Big-deal entities like Google get AS numbers of their own, handed out by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) through regional registries. There are roughly 70,000 AS numbers assigned now, Burgio says, and plenty more could be handed out.
Console has worked with the IANA registries to get that process automated; in fact, an enterprise could use Console without even knowing what an AS number is or which one they got assigned.
“There was no way to get an AS number auto-assigned before our platform,” Burgio says. “We basically created the ability to have an endless [AS number] inventory.”
So, the Console service boils down to the automating of very old processes. When two sides decide to connect, they’re given AS numbers, which lets Console create the dedicated BGP route between the networks. Console takes care of the BGP configuration as well.
Console frees up the AS numbers as customers decommission their Console connections, but it’s not as though AS numbers are in short supply. A glance at the IANA web site shows the numbers 395,165 through 4,199,999,999 are unassigned. Go ahead, pick your favorite.
Cloud and SD-WAN Partners
A typical use of Console’s service would be to connect an enterprise to a public cloud or to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider such as Salesforce.com. The business wouldn’t make much sense if Console had to seek out its customers one by one, so the launch comes with a list of cloud and SaaS partners that can serve as endpoints for these connections.
Most notable among them is Microsoft Azure, which is scheduled to share the stage at Console’s event. Azure users will be able to use Console’s service as an ExpressRoute option. SD-WAN vendor Velocloud is likewise saying it’s making Console available to its customers, giving them the option of directly accessing Console’s cloud partners.
There’s also a social aspect to the Console service, letting enterprises, cloud operators, and SaaS operators contact one another.
“Interconnect has traditionally been social. It’s, ‘Hey, your business and my business wanna connect. Why don’t we talk next week?’ Or you meet at a conference,” Burgio says. With Console, “you click a button, they accept, and you’re directly connected.”