No company has gone further in redefining the network's edge than EdgeConneX, the Comcast Ventures-backed data center company that has been pushing its infrastructure play deep into the network, initially providing content storage mostly for MSOs.
Now, say company executives, EdgeConneX is making a much bigger play, expanding into Europe and looking at the cloud and Internet of Things markets as major new edge opportunities.
With the hiring of telecom veteran Don MacNeil as CTO last summer, EdgeConneX Inc. is also signaling its move into a broader customer base, a move reinforced by the opening in January of its first European data center, in Amsterdam. Having built what it considers a unique set of assets, the data center company is planning to capitalize in a big way.
In interviews with Light Reading, MacNeil and Phill Lawson-Shanks, chief solutions architect, outline a next phase of operations for EdgeConneX that will use its strategic assets in new ways. The company is riding a wave of credibility spawned by independent performance measurements from SamKnows, which conducts the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's annual Measuring Broadband America research. Its research, confirmed by video quality experts Conviva Inc. , shows ISPs that connected with an EdgeConnex data center saw up to 65% improvement in latency with video buffering and better performance.
Based on those findings, EdgeConneX is now doing a growing business with large cloud operators, says Lawson-Shanks, and was drawn into the European market by the largest cable operator there (which would be Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY)). It will now be building out edge data centers across the UK for Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED), and expects to build across the mainland as well, Lawson-Shanks says.
"We consider that phase one of the story," says MacNeil. The second phase is building cloud onramps that are faster and perform better, to deliver things such as analysis of IoT data more quickly, based not only on the location of the data centers but also their design.
"Since our data centers are new, we are building down the curve in terms of power densities," he says. "Legacy data centers are one to three kilowatts per rack, whereas we are designed to support 10 to 15 kilowatts per rack."
In addition, EdgeConneX has built in a level of automation that allows a wide range of customers to control their data center infrastructure through a "single pane of glass" management console that offers visibility into distributed, unmanned locations that can be operated in a similar fashion to telco-serving offices.
But the core value is in location: Its buildout sites are largely driven by customers -- "We don't build on spec," says Lawson-Shanks -- but they aren't in the typical data center sites such as Ashburn, Va. The Dutch capital of Amsterdam may be the exception -- the edge data center there is south of the airport, near a number of very large data centers but also near the city's many peering facilities. More typically, an EdgeConnex facility in Phoenix lets cable operators cache their video content there, rather than hauling it down from Los Angeles.
EdgeConneX is well positioned for the virtualization wave, MacNeil says, because while network service providers want to host applications in the network -- rather than in hardware on customer premises -- having a single cloud-based location of things such as virtual firewalls or even softswitches for VoIP invariably creates performance bottlenecks.
"At XO, we did two deployments [of virtual firewalls] and very quickly we were being pushed for performance reasons to do more clusters of deployments of virtualized firewalls closer into the region," he says. "The same thing happened in my experience as well with voice-over-IP. A lot of people would like to believe you can get away with one magic platform properly placed. But latency, which is largely driven by distance, becomes the big driver for performance and the only way to solve that is shortening your path."
Certainly EdgeConneX is not the only company building out at the edge of the network -- companies such as 365 Data Centers are doing that as well. MacNeil and Shanks-Lawson say their company's advantage is newer infrastructure being built from the ground-up.
Larger firms such as Equinix Inc. (Nasdaq: EQIX) -- which actually acquired Switch & Data and then sold off 16 of its data centers to 365 -- don't go as deep into the network as EdgeConneX. "They could have done what we are doing but they didn't," Lawson-Shanks says. "They sold off the smaller sites instead."
The next big play will be IoT, which will put sensors and other connections into millions of places, generating a data flood. The EdgeConneX execs say much of that data will need to be analyzed at the edge of the network, not hauled back into the core, so it can be acted on quickly and won't unnecessarily consume network resources.
"We think we are well-positioned to address that," Lawson-Shanks says.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading