How well connected is your data centre provider?

We’re not talking can they get you tickets for Wimbledon

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published 2023-07-06 09:17:34

We’re not talking can they get you tickets for Wimbledon, or do they know the Royal Family, rather, in simple terms, how easy is it for you to work with your business ecosystem thanks to the connectivity options your colocation partner can, or can’t, provide?

If you’ve ever seen a map of the various networks which cross the globe - from the subsea cables that do the heavy lifting, to the most local of links – you’ll know just how much copper and fibre optic cabling is buried beneath you. And what goes on underground is increasingly being replicated by the wireless networks and satellites above us!

So, there is no shortage of networks out there, but how easy is it for your business to access them as and when required from your colocation provider, and how much choice do you have?

The minimum external connectivity options provided by a data centre is two. That means you have a choice of two carriers, and the backup position that, if one fails, you should be able to switch over to the second one quickly and seamlessly (worth checking with your provider as to just how quickly and seamlessly!).

In reality, your data centre should be able to provide you with multiple connectivity providers (in the tens), hence you have a great choice of networks – with differing speeds maybe – which should mean you pay a competitive price. And you certainly have plenty of options when it comes to the need to failover.

At this point, it might be worth digressing from the IT network connectivity discussion to remind you that power connectivity is also a fairly important aspect of any data centre facility. Thanks to the vagaries of utility company workers and their contractors, it’s not unknown for them to dig through a power cable! You’ll want to be reassured by your provider that the dual (or more) power feeds coming into the data centre are as independent of each other as possible. Not as easy as it sounds. 

Back to connectivity. You’ll connect with your chosen carrier via their Point of Presence (PoP) – generally found in what’s called a Meet Me Room (MMR). For added resilience, it’s possible that your data centre will have more than one such room – situated as far as possible from each other. Your facility will have multiple carriers, hence multiple PoPs, and these PoPs will connect with one another via Peering Points. The speed of these various connections might vary slightly, but for the vast majority of applications, a few milliseconds of difference shouldn’t matter.

If we accept that your chosen colocation provider knows what they are doing when it comes to PoPs and Peering Points, then it’s worth finding out a little bit more about how they cater for both cross connects and on-ramps.

Cross connects link up two different customers in the same data centre with a direct cable connection – avoiding the need to use any external carrier. The colocation partnerwill charge for this, but the advantages of having such inter-customer connections are significant. Indeed, plenty of providers have developed (parts of) their facilities into specialist hubs for certain industry sectors. The idea being that companies operating in the same industry can locate themselves in one facility and then conduct much of their business without having to leave this building. The advantages of this approach include speed of interaction between the various companies, and the likelihood that the facility is optimised to meet the demands of that specific industry.

The missing piece of the connectivity ‘puzzle’ is access to the cloud. And that’s where on-ramps come in – another name for public cloud provider PoPs. Direct access to multiple cloud providers, as opposed to connecting via a traditional ISP, brings with it a worthwhile cost-saving (and time-saving). Hence, it’s worth asking your data centre partner whether or not they can provide Amazon Direct Connect, Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute or Google Cloud Interconnect, for example.


We then have Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) and convergence to consider. An IXP is a private network created by an organisation (ie. a network provider) for the benefit of its customers. IXPs create a single data exchange point for networks – this reduces both costs and network traffic.

Convergence is simply the mixture of direct interconnection and IXP-like services which various network providers offer, often via a software-defined network.

Colocation providers are increasingly aware of the importance of providing as many and as varied and as flexible and as cost-effective ways of connecting internally and externally from their facilities, so make sure to understand what is or isn’t available connectivity-wise when talking to any potential provider.

Similarly, they are also responding to the increasing demand for cloud and managed services to be provided to/accessed from their colocation facilities. So, it’s well worth finding out just what IT infrastructure and applications can be accessed from any provider without ‘leaving’ their facility.

The data centre location is another critical consideration when it comes to connectivity. In simple terms, just as a business based in Cornwall, for example, will have to transport its goods on some B roads, then an A road or two, before finally accessing the motorway network – hence transport costs could be high and delivery times relatively long; so, a data centre located away from the major network transport routes may have to make several ‘hops’ between different networks before gaining access to the fastest, major routes. Yes, we are talking fractions of sections, but depending on the nature of your business, time could well be money. In other words, where your colocation is based could well matter to you – especially in relation to your business ecosystem. The more network hops and connections to be made between you and a supplier or customer, the more chance of something going wrong. Hence, choosing a colocation provider with access to what used to be called the ‘information superhighway’ (as opposed to the data dead end!) may well make sense. Something to consider at the very least.

Before finishing, it is also worth mentioning the network ‘plumbing’ itself. Copper cabling is still used in data centres, but has been largely superseded by fibre optic cabling – offering much higher bandwidths and allowing data to travel much longer distances without the need for boosting. Microwave communications are also used for data centre connectivity – providing lower latency than fibre optic, but requiring a direct line of sight. 

It will also be interesting to see how wireless (Wi-Fi) communications do, or don’t, make any inroads into the data centre market over time. After all, a wire-free environment is about as flexible as it gets! 

And then there are satellites to consider. Some data centres offer satellite teleports to provide uplink and downlink services. Such ‘traditional’ satellite communications are now being joined by the development of Low Earth Orbit Satellites – which offer significant cost advantages. However, any form of connectivity which doesn’t rely on a physical transport cable is, for now at least, regarded as less than reliable for the high-volume, high-speed data traffic which is the lifeblood of any digital business.

As with so many aspects of IT infrastructure, you’ll first need to understand your connectivity options, what you require now and into the future, the price you are prepared to pay for what level of reliability and flexibility you need, and then find a colocation provider that can best meet your expectations.

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