Microsoft Azure’s infrastructure services are categorized into compute, storage, and networking – and within networking is Azure ExpressRoute, which enables private site-to-site connectivity, through different global providers, locations, and pricing models.

Azure ExpressRoute is a Microsoft service that lets customers create private connections between Azure data centers and infrastructure, that is on-premises or in a colocation facility. ExpressRoute connections do not traverse the public internet and offer high-speed, low-latency, and reliability.

Dgtl Infra provides an in-depth review of Azure ExpressRoute, including its benefits, pricing, providers, and locations. Additionally, we answer key questions about the service such as What is Azure ExpressRoute vs VPN? and What is the AWS Equivalent of ExpressRoute?

What is Azure ExpressRoute?

Azure ExpressRoute enables the creation of high-speed, low-latency, reliable, and private connections between Azure data centers and on-premises infrastructure or deployments in a colocation facility. To do this, Azure ExpressRoute connections utilize connectivity providers and do not route through the public internet, which suffers from a higher-degree of data packets being dropped during transmission.

For example, Azure ExpressRoute can help an enterprise (e.g., HSBC) create a private connection between their data center and Microsoft’s cloud services, such as Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365, through connectivity providers like Verizon, AT&T, and BT (British Telecom).

The following diagram depicts the network architecture of an ExpressRoute circuit:

Connectivity Models

To access Azure ExpressRoute, connectivity providers deliver three primary forms of connectivity at a colocation facility:

  1. Any-to-any (IPVPN) network
  2. Point-to-point Ethernet connection
  3. Cloud Exchange – virtual cross-connection via an Ethernet exchange
Azure ExpressRoute – Connectivity Models

Connectivity Scope

By connecting to an Azure ExpressRoute location within a geopolitical region, customers will gain access to Microsoft Azure’s cloud services across all regions within the geopolitical region. Recall that Azure regions are global data centers where Azure compute, storage, and networking resources are located.

READ MORE: Microsoft Azure’s Data Centers – Regions and Availability Zones

Local, Standard, Premium – Examples

Azure ExpressRoute offers three different circuit SKUs, known as Local, Standard, and Premium, which provide varying degrees of connectivity scope.

As shown below, an on-premises network is connected to an ExpressRoute peering site (ER POP) in London, UK:

Azure ExpressRoute – Circuit SKUs
  • Local: a Local SKU ExpressRoute circuit enables connections to resources in Azure regions in the same metro as the peering site. In this case, the on-premises network in London can access resources in Azure’s UK South region (which is also located in London) over ExpressRoute. Notably, a Local SKU allows for a cost-effective way to transfer data, because data transfer is included in the ExpressRoute port charge, meaning there are no separate data egress fees
  • Standard: a Standard SKU ExpressRoute circuit provides connectivity to resources in all Azure regions in a geopolitical area. Under this scenario, the on-premises network in London can connect to resources and access Azure’s cloud services hosted in regions such as West Europe (Amsterdam, Netherlands) and France Central (Paris, France) through ExpressRoute
  • Premium: a Premium SKU ExpressRoute circuit facilitates connectivity to resources and cloud services globally across all Azure regions. Specifically, this global connectivity is delivered over the Microsoft core network. In this case, the on-premises network in London can link a virtual network created in West Europe (Amsterdam, Netherlands) to an Azure ExpressRoute circuit created in Japan East (Tokyo, Japan)

Microsoft Enterprise Edge (MSEE)

Microsoft Enterprise Edge (MSEE) represents two routers in an active-active highly available configuration. These routers enable a connectivity provider to connect their circuits directly to their data center.

In the context of ExpressRoute, the MSEE signifies the edge routers on the Microsoft side of the ExpressRoute circuit, which is the ExpressRoute circuit’s point of entry into Microsoft’s network.

What are the Benefits of Azure ExpressRoute?

Azure ExpressRoute facilitates the creation of high-speed, low-latency, reliable, and private connections. In turn, the service is a cost-effective option for uses cases like periodic data migration, replication for business continuity, disaster recovery, connecting data centers, and hybrid cloud elasticity.

Below are further details on the benefits of Azure ExpressRoute’s speed, latency, reliability, and privacy features.

Speed

Azure ExpressRoute provides a fast connection to Microsoft Azure, with circuits available to be purchased for a range of fixed bandwidths, including 50 megabits per second (Mbps), 100 Mbps, 200 Mbps, 500 Mbps, 1 gigabit per second (Gbps), 2 Gbps, 5 Gbps, and 10 Gbps. Additionally, through ExpressRoute Direct, which is a physically separate line, customers can connect directly into Microsoft’s global network, at peering locations, where 100 Gbps connectivity is available.

The high throughput of Azure ExpressRoute can facilitate connectivity to or between customer data centers. For example, with ExpressRoute Global Reach, a customer can connect its private data centers together through two ExpressRoute circuits, meaning that cross-data center traffic will traverse through Microsoft’s network.

As shown above, if a customer has a private data center in San Francisco, California, connected to an ExpressRoute circuit in Silicon Valley and another private data center in London, UK, connected to an ExpressRoute circuit in London, then ExpressRoute Global Reach can facilitate the exchange of data across these two data centers.

Latency

Azure ExpressRoute’s latency is affected by a number of different factors, with the two most common being:

  • Geographic Latency: physical distance of the fiber run, in miles or kilometers, between two end points – which is by far the largest component of latency, when dealing with wide area network (WAN) connections
  • Equipment Latency: physical and virtual components and number of network “hops” involved

In terms of quantifying Azure ExpressRoute’s latency, Microsoft provided the following values for latency when sending traffic from Azure ExpressRoute’s peering location in Seattle, Washington, to various Azure Regions globally:

ExpressRoute LocationAzure RegionDistanceLatency
SeattleWest US 2120 miles5 ms
SeattleWest US680 miles18 ms
SeattleCentral US1,465 miles40 ms
SeattleSouth Central US1,790 miles51 ms
SeattleNorth Central US1,735 miles55 ms
SeattleEast US 22,340 miles73 ms
SeattleEast US2,300 miles74 ms
SeattleJapan East4,790 miles106 ms
SeattleUK South4,790 miles146 ms
SeattleWest Europe4,870 miles153 ms
SeattleAustralia East7,755 miles165 ms
SeattleSoutheast Asia8,070 miles170 ms
SeattleBrazil South6,790 miles189 ms
SeattleSouth India8,025 miles202 ms

Reliability

Azure ExpressRoute’s circuits have built-in redundancy in every peering location, which translates into higher reliability. Each circuit consists of two connections to two Microsoft Enterprise Edge (MSEE) routers at an Azure ExpressRoute location, from the connectivity provider and the customer’s network edge – one to each MSEE. Therefore, by design, there are no single points of failure in the ExpressRoute path within the Microsoft network.

Connectivity providers use redundant devices to ensure that a customer’s connections are handed off to Microsoft in a redundant manner. However, customers themselves can choose not to deploy redundant devices / Ethernet circuits at their end.

Privacy

Azure ExpressRoute’s point-to-point, private network connections enable a higher-degree of security and privacy. In turn, customers can build applications that span on-premises infrastructure and Azure without compromising privacy or performance. In contrast, this hybrid cloud elasticity would not be achievable when routing traffic through the public internet.

Privacy and security are critical for industries that are regulated and require dedicated and point-to-point connectivity, such as banking, retail, and government.

Azure ExpressRoute Pricing

Azure ExpressRoute services are sold side-by-side with a connectivity provider, whose charges apply in addition to Microsoft’s pricing. At the time that a customer creates a circuit, it can choose between Azure ExpressRoute’s two pricing models:

  • Unlimited Data: billing is based on a fixed monthly port fee, where all inbound and outbound data transfer is included free of charge
  • Metered Data: billing is based on a fixed monthly port fee, where all inbound data transfer is free of charge. However, outbound data transfer is charged per gigabit of data transfer, based on a pre-determined rate, hence this is a fixed data model. Also, data transfer rates vary by region

Unlimited Data – Pricing

The fixed monthly port fee of Azure ExpressRoute’s Unlimited Data pricing model at fixed bandwidths, ranging from 50 megabits per second (Mbps) to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps), is set out below:

Circuit BandwidthStandard CircuitPremium Circuit
50 Mbps$300/month$375/month
100 Mbps$575/month$675/month
200 Mbps$1,150/month$1,300/month
500 Mbps$2,750/month$3,150/month
1 Gbps$5,700/month$6,450/month
2 Gbps$11,400/month$12,900/month
5 Gbps$25,650/month$28,650/month
10 Gbps$51,300/month$54,300/month
Note: monthly price estimates are based on Zone 1 and 730 hours.

Metered Data – Pricing

Below sets out the fixed monthly port fee of Azure ExpressRoute’s Metered Data pricing model at fixed bandwidths, ranging from 50 Mbps to 10 Gbps:

Circuit BandwidthStandard CircuitPremium Circuit
50 Mbps$55/month$130/month
100 Mbps$110/month$200/month
200 Mbps$145/month$295/month
500 Mbps$290/month$690/month
1 Gbps$436/month$1,186/month
2 Gbps$872/month$2,372/month
5 Gbps$2,180/month$5,180/month
10 Gbps$3,400/month$6,400/month
Note: monthly price estimates are based on Zone 1 and 730 hours.

Additionally, outbound data transfer is charged based on a pre-determined rate, which is dictated by the “Zone” of an ExpressRoute peering location. Azure ExpressRoute has four pricing zones, which charge the following on a price per gigabit basis:

Outbound Data Transfer Pricing
ZonePrice / GB
Zone 1$0.025
Zone 2$0.05
Zone 3$0.14
Zone 4$0.10

Overall, Azure ExpressRoute’s pricing involves no upfront cost, no termination fees, and is structured on a pay-per-use basis.

Azure ExpressRoute Providers

Azure ExpressRoute providers enable high-speed, low-latency, reliable, and private connections between on-premises infrastructure and Microsoft Azure. Over 100 Azure ExpressRoute providers, including connectivity providers, systems integrators, and data center operators, are grouped below, by the region where the provider is headquartered:

  • United States / Canada: Aryaka Networks, AT&T, Bell Canada, Cologix, Comcast, CoreSite, Cox Business, Digital Realty, Equinix, Fibrenoire, Flo Networks (Transtelco), Internet2, Iron Mountain, Lumen (CenturyLink / Level 3), PacketFabric, Telus, T-Mobile, Vantage Data Centers, Verizon, Zayo
  • Europe: Arelion (fka Telia Carrier), BICS, BT (British Telecom), Colt Technology Services, DE-CIX, Deutsche Telekom, eir, euNetworks, EXA Infrastructure (fka GTT), Fastweb, GÉANT, GlobalConnect, InterCloud, IRIDEOS, IX Reach (BSO), Jaguar Network (Iliad), Jisc, KPN, NL-ix, NOS, Orange, Retelit, Sohonet, Swisscom, Telefónica, Telehouse (KDDI), Telenor, T-Systems, Vodafone
  • Asia Pacific: AARNet, Airtel, AIS, AT TOKYO, BBIX, BSNL, CDC Data Centres, Chief Telecom, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Chunghwa Telecom, Devoli, Digital Edge, Epsilon, Far EasTone, Global Cloud Xchange (GCX), iAdvantage (SUNeVision), IIJ (Internet Initiative Japan), KINX, Kordia, KT (Korea Telecom), LG Uplus, Megaport, National Telecom, NEXTDC, NTT Communications / Global Data Centers, Optus, PCCW Global, Princeton Digital Group (PDG), REANNZ, Reliance Jio, Sify Technologies, SingTel, SK Telecom, SoftBank, Spark NZ, Tata Communications, Telin (Telkom Indonesia), Telstra, TIME dotCom, Tokai Communications, TPG Telecom, UIH, Vi (Vodafone Idea), Vocus
  • Latin America: Ascenty, C3ntro, Claro, Scala Data Centers, TIVIT, Uninet (Telmex)
  • Middle East: du (datamena), Etisalat UAE, GBI, Orixcom
  • Africa: BCX, Liquid Telecom, MTN, Teraco, Vodacom

Azure ExpressRoute Locations

Azure ExpressRoute locations, which are also known as peering locations or meet-me-locations, are colocation facilities where Microsoft Enterprise Edge (MSEE) routers are located.

READ MORE: Colocation – Definition, Meaning, Data Center, Services

Azure ExpressRoute locations are the entry point to Microsoft’s network and are globally distributed. The following is a summary of Azure ExpressRoute locations, grouped by region:

  • United States / Canada: Atlanta (Georgia), Chicago (Illinois), Dallas (Texas), Denver (Colorado), Las Vegas (Nevada), Los Angeles (California), Miami (Florida), Minneapolis (Minnesota), Montreal (Canada), New York City (New York), Phoenix (Arizona), Quebec City (Canada), Quincy (Washington), San Antonio (Texas), Seattle (Washington), Silicon Valley (California), Toronto (Canada), Vancouver (Canada), Washington, D.C. (Northern Virginia)
  • Europe: Amsterdam (Netherlands), Berlin (Germany), Copenhagen (Denmark), Dublin (Ireland), Frankfurt (Germany), Geneva (Switzerland), Hamburg (Germany), London (UK), Madrid (Spain), Marseille (France), Milan (Italy), Munich (Germany), Newport/Wales (UK), Oslo (Norway), Paris (France), Stavanger (Norway), Stockholm (Sweden), Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Asia Pacific: Auckland (New Zealand), Bangkok (Thailand), Busan (South Korea), Canberra (Australia), Chennai (India), Hong Kong (SAR), Jakarta (Indonesia), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Melbourne (Australia), Mumbai (India), Osaka (Japan), Perth (Australia), Pune (India), Seoul (South Korea), Singapore, Sydney (Australia), Taipei (Taiwan), Tokyo (Japan)
  • Latin America: Bogotá (Colombia), Campinas (Brazil), Querétaro (Mexico), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), São Paulo (Brazil)
  • Middle East: Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), Dubai (United Arab Emirates)
  • Africa: Cape Town (South Africa), Johannesburg (South Africa)

Through these locations, ExpressRoute Direct customers can connect to Microsoft’s network around the world via cross connects with ExpressRoute providers.

Data Center Operators Offering Azure ExpressRoute

In the prior sections, we identified the various providers and locations of Azure ExpressRoute. Next, we highlight more specific details on two of these providers, namely data center operators Equinix and CoreSite, which have made Azure ExpressRoute available in their colocation facilities.

Equinix

Azure ExpressRoute is available through Equinix data centers in 33 metros on 5 continents, making Equinix the largest global provider of ExpressRoute access for Azure. Specifically, Equinix hosts Azure ExpressRoute in the following regions and cities:

  • United States / Canada: Atlanta (Georgia), Chicago (Illinois), Dallas (Texas), Los Angeles (California), Miami (Florida), Montreal (Canada), New York City (New York), Seattle (Washington), Silicon Valley (California), Toronto (Canada), Washington, D.C. (Northern Virginia)
  • Europe: Amsterdam (Netherlands), Dublin (Ireland), Frankfurt (Germany), Geneva (Switzerland), Hamburg (Germany), London (UK), Milan (Italy), Paris (France), Stockholm (Sweden), Zurich (Switzerland)
  • Asia Pacific: Canberra (Australia), Hong Kong (SAR), Melbourne (Australia), Osaka (Japan), Seoul (South Korea), Singapore, Sydney (Australia), Tokyo (Japan)
  • Latin America: Bogotá (Colombia), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), São Paulo (Brazil)
  • Middle East: Dubai (United Arab Emirates)
Equinix – Azure ExpressRoute Locations

Additionally, Equinix Fabric (formerly Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric), a software-defined interconnection service that offers direct connections to multiple cloud services, from a single physical port, can be combined with Azure ExpressRoute. In so doing, Equinix facilitates on-demand, direct access to Microsoft Azure.

CoreSite

Azure ExpressRoute is available through CoreSite data centers in Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Denver, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Northern Virginia. The company integrates Azure ExpressRoute with its CoreSite Open Cloud Exchange to provide greater performance, reliability, and access to an end-to-end, fully redundant connection.

As such, direct connections to Microsoft’s cloud services, including Microsoft Azure and Microsoft 365 (Office 365 and Dynamics 365) are available through colocation with CoreSite.

Additionally, CoreSite highlights the following key performance indicators and cost benefits of Azure ExpressRoute:

  • Latency: geographic proximity to Microsoft Azure compute nodes in a region offers fewer network hops and no packet loss (driven by bypassing the public Internet), which results in a 44% reduction in latency
  • Costs: all data transferred over ExpressRoute private connections benefit from reduced data egress rates, which results in a 60% reduction in costs
  • Reliability: privately connecting at the edge of Microsoft Azure’s network backbone offers predictable network performance, driven by fewer network hops and no packet loss, which results in up to a 60% reduction in variability

What is Azure ExpressRoute vs VPN?

Historically, connections to public cloud service providers have travelled through a VPN tunnel over the public internet. This means that application performance has often suffered from unpredictable internet conditions like packet loss, latency, and jitter.

In response, direct and private network connections between data centers and cloud service providers are being delivered by services like Azure ExpressRoute. Therefore, instead of subjecting application performance and user experience to the variability of the public internet, directly connected data centers have built a private “express lane”, completely bypassing the public internet.

Overall, the key difference between Azure ExpressRoute vs VPN is that Azure ExpressRoute is unexposed to the public internet. Instead, Azure ExpressRoute enables the creation of high-speed, low-latency, reliable, and private connections, meaning a more consistent application-level experience.

What is the AWS Equivalent of ExpressRoute?

Azure ExpressRoute is simply Microsoft Azure’s term for a cloud on-ramp. Each of the top cloud service providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Alibaba Cloud, Oracle Cloud, and IBM Cloud, have their own version and terminology for a cloud on-ramp.

READ MORE: Top 10 Cloud Service Providers Globally in 2022

READ MORE: Amazon Web Services (AWS) Data Center Locations

The AWS equivalent of ExpressRoute is known as AWS Direct Connect, which is Amazon Web Services’ term for a cloud on-ramp. Also, the other major cloud on-ramps, which provide private network connectivity to each of the cloud service providers, are known as Google Cloud Interconnect, Alibaba Cloud Express Connect, Oracle FastConnect, and IBM Cloud Direct Link.

READ MORE: AWS Direct Connect SiteLink

Mary Zhang covers Data Centers for Dgtl Infra, including Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX), Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR), CyrusOne, CoreSite Realty, QTS Realty, Switch Inc, Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM), Cyxtera (NASDAQ: CYXT), and many more. Within Data Centers, Mary focuses on the sub-sectors of hyperscale, enterprise / colocation, cloud service providers, and edge computing. Mary has over 5 years of experience in research and writing for Data Centers.

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