Cross connects and interconnection services enhance a customer’s experience in a data center colocation environment by establishing physical cabling networks that create an ecosystem comprising telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers.

Cross connects are physical, point-to-point cabling systems that establish a direct connection between two designated end points within a colocation data center. These connections, frequently implemented using fiber-optic cables, enable high-density interconnectivity, serving a variety of customers.

Dgtl Infra provides a comprehensive guide to cross connects, detailing their role in colocation data centers, their importance to customers, and the standard charges or pricing involved. We also explore interconnection services, pinpoint the leading providers in this sector, and explain the concept of an interconnection hub. Dgtl Infra addresses crucial questions including, What is a Cross Connect at Equinix?, What is a Cross Connect at AWS?, and What is a Virtual Cross Connection?

What is a Cross Connect?

A cross connect is a physical, point-to-point cable that provides a direct link between two different customer-defined end points (e.g., networking equipment) within a colocation data center. Cross connects enable businesses to establish dedicated, private connectivity to one another, inside a colocation data center, for the purposes of exchanging data traffic. Consequently, this ensures that data is not transmitted over the public internet.

Cross-Connect Connection Datacenter Cable

Cross connects are physical cables that come in the following types: fiber, coaxial, copper (unshielded twisted pair), and plain old telephone service (POTS). Within the fiber category, there are two types of optical fiber cables used, namely, single-mode fiber (SMF) and multi-mode fiber (MMF).

What is a Cross Connect in a Data Center?

A cross connect is deployed in a carrier-neutral colocation data center, meaning that the facility provider offers network connectivity options from several different telecommunications carriers, and does not have a bias towards any one carrier within its facilities. For example, carriers including AT&T, Verizon, Zayo, Lumen Technologies, and Cogent Communications may all simultaneously be present in a carrier-neutral colocation data center.

Colocation data centers provide a physical meeting point for telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers. In this environment, customers can connect their IT infrastructure with a variety of partners, for the purposes of exchanging data traffic and accessing cloud services.

Cross Connect Diagram

Below is a cross connect diagram, showing examples of products including a standard cross connect, campus cross connect, intra-facility cabling, and intra-customer cross connect:

The four cross connect products illustrated above can be defined as follows:

  1. Standard Cross Connect: Physically links the IT equipment of two different customers within a colocation data center for the purposes of private peering and direct connectivity
  2. Campus Cross Connect: Enables one customer to connect to another customer in a different data center, which is typically located less than 6 miles (10 kilometers) away, within the same campus. These campus cross connects consist of pre-run, single-mode fiber in conduits between data centers
  3. Intra-Facility Cabling: Enables a customer to connect from their cage, to another customer within the same data center, via a meet-me room (MMR) with a shared or private patch panel
  4. Intra-Customer Cross Connect: Enables a customer to connect to their own non-contiguous equipment within the same data center

Data Transfer Rates of Cross Connects in Data Centers

The most common data transfer rates for cross connects in data centers are typically 1 Gbps, 10 Gbps, 40 Gbps, and 100 Gbps. Presently, service providers are enhancing their capabilities by upgrading from 10 Gbps to 40 Gbps or 100 Gbps cross connects. This improvement is motivated by the the need for significantly increased data transfer speeds, enhanced network efficiency and capacity, and improved support for high-bandwidth applications.

Cross Connect Example – Equinix Hosts IntelligentCross

One illustrative example of cross connect utilization involves Equinix, a leading colocation data center operator, and its partnership with IntelligentCross, a U.S. equities trading venue. This collaboration is primarily centered around Equinix’s NY4 data center, located at 755 Secaucus Road in Secaucus, New Jersey, just outside Manhattan, New York City.

Equinix’s Secaucus facility is pivotal in the financial services sector, hosting over 50 exchanges and offering specialized solutions, especially for major trading exchanges. Here, IntelligentCross leverages the facility’s capabilities, particularly using cross connects for its alternative trading system (ATS). This system, crucial in matching customer buy and sell orders, positions its primary matching engines within the NY4 data center.

Inside of Equinix NY4 Data Center Located at 755 Secaucus Road in New Jersey
Equinix NY4 Data Center.

For direct connectivity to IntelligentCross’ user acceptance testing (UAT) and production servers, customers are required to establish NY4 cross connects. These connections must specifically link with the servers of IntelligentCross’ network provider, Pico, a firm known for its expertise in serving financial markets clients.

Furthermore, an IntelligentCross customer housed in any of these data centers: Mahwah (New York Stock Exchange/NYSE), Carteret (Nasdaq/Equinix NY11), Equinix CH4 (Chicago Mercantile Exchange/350 East Cermak Road), or Equinix DC3 (44470 Chilum Place in Ashburn, Virginia), maintains the capability to route orders via the Pico backbone directly to the IntelligentCross servers stationed in NY4.

In terms of technical specifications, IntelligentCross indicates that the standard NY4 cross connects operate over single-mode fiber, offering transmission speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). Additionally, the company’s ATS is also compatible with multi-mode fiber, supporting significantly higher speeds of 10 Gbps, thereby enhancing performance and efficiency in high-speed trading operations.

What is a Cross Connect Panel?

Cross connects are established via patch panels in two different locations: i) customer space (e.g., cabinet or cage), where customer equipment resides and ii) a data center’s meet-me room (MMR), where direct connections between two parties are created.

Cabling is routed through overhead cable trays, conduit systems, or beneath the data center’s raised floor, extending from a customer’s space within the colocation data center to the facility’s meet-me room (MMR), which interconnects the patch panels.

Cross Connect – Customer Space to MMR

Patch panels located in a meet-me room (MMR) are where the actual physical linkages are established between the customer (Customer A) and connecting customer (Customer B).

What is the Purpose of a Cross Connect?

Cross connects provide increased reliability, security, and lower latency connections to networks, cloud platforms, and IT service providers within a colocation data center. In addition, they facilitate multi-link connectivity to these partners.

  • Reliability: Dedicated and private connections mean that network performance does not suffer from unpredictable public internet conditions like packet loss, latency, and jitter
  • Security: Point-to-point, private network connections enable a higher degree of security by establishing dedicated communication paths, reducing exposure to external threats, and allowing precise control over data transmission and access protocols
  • Latency: Connections established between customers within the same colocation data center shorten the distance data needs to travel, thereby driving lower latency. Conversely, connecting through networks outside of a colocation data center increases the distance data must travel, leading to higher latency
  • Multi-Link Connectivity: Cross connects can support ‘one-to-many’ connectivity. For example, cross connects can link one enterprise customer to several telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers.

Furthermore, these interconnections are significantly less expensive than those over conventional telecom networks, such as long-haul fiber networks, particularly when comparing similar bandwidth requirements.

What is an Interconnection Provider?

An interconnection provider is a colocation data center operator responsible for delivering interconnection services, such as cross connects.

Top 10 Interconnection Providers Globally

Ranked by their number of interconnections, the top ten global interconnection providers are Equinix, Digital Realty, Cyxtera, CoreSite (now part of American Tower), DigitalBridge (inclusive of DataBank and Vantage), CyrusOne, Teraco Data Environments, NEXTDC, Iron Mountain, and SUNeVision. Collectively, these companies have over 875,000 interconnections.

#Interconnection Provider# of Interconnections
1Equinix456,300
2Digital Realty216,000
3Cyxtera Technologies40,000
4CoreSite (American Tower)37,427
5DigitalBridge (DataBank + Vantage)30,000
6CyrusOne26,000
7Teraco Data Environments22,000
8NEXTDC17,816
9Iron Mountain16,000
10SUNeVision (MEGA-i)15,000
Total Interconnections of Top 10876,543
Note: Interconnections include both physical and virtual cross connects.

What is a Cross Connect at Equinix?

Equinix defines a cross connect as a point-to-point cable link between two Equinix customers in the same IBX (retail colocation) data center. The company’s cross connects deliver a highly-reliable connectivity solution, as well as fast data exchange with business partners and service providers within the Equinix ecosystem.

Presently, Equinix is the largest data center interconnection provider in the world with 456,300 total interconnections. Of this total, the company has 405,400 physical cross connects and 50,900 virtual connections.

Geographically, Equinix has 199,900 interconnections in the Americas, 160,800 interconnections in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), and 95,600 interconnections in Asia-Pacific.

What is a Cross Connect at AWS?

Amazon Web Services (AWS), the largest cloud service provider globally, utilizes cross connects at its AWS Direct Connect (i.e., cloud on-ramp) locations, which are housed in colocation data centers.

However, AWS does not establish these dedicated connectivity links on its customer’s behalf. Therefore, when AWS customers have equipment deployed in an AWS Direct Connect location, they can request a cross connect, to link with AWS equipment, from their colocation data center provider. Typically, AWS equipment within an AWS Direct Connect location is housed within an AWS-exclusive cage.

Once this network connection is established with AWS’ equipment, customers of AWS can create a virtual interface using the AWS Direct Connect console.

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

What are Cross Connect Charges?

Cross connect services are priced with an ongoing monthly recurring charge and a one-time, non-recurring charge installation fee. Typically, these services are provided on a month-to-month or one-year contract term.

Network that is Connecting to a Patch Panel Inside of a Datacenter

On a monthly basis, the recurring charge for these connection services usually ranges between a price of $100 to $300, per cross connect, per month. The following figures from Equinix provide a more detailed analysis of this pricing:

Equinix Cross Connect Pricing

Below is a comparison of Equinix’s reported interconnection revenue by region – specifically, the Americas, EMEA, and Asia-Pacific – against the company’s number of interconnections in these regions to derive an implied price per interconnection. This analysis includes both physical links and virtual connections in Equinix’s interconnection count.

Equinix – Interconnections by Region

RegionRevenueInterconnections$ per Quarter$ per Month
Americas$204.3 million199,900$1,022$341
EMEA$76.3 million160,800$475$158
Asia-Pacific$66.5 million95,600$695$232
Total / Average$347 million456,300$761$254
Note: Financial and company data as of Q2 2023.

In the table above, it is highlighted that Equinix sets an average price of $254 per interconnection, per month, across all geographies. Broken down by region, Equinix charges $341 per interconnection, per month, in the Americas; $158 per interconnection, per month, in the EMEA region; and $232 per interconnection, per month, in the Asia-Pacific region.

Equinix has previously estimated that approximately 75% of its interconnection revenue is derived from cross connects, with the remaining 25% comprised of its Equinix Fabric, Equinix Internet Exchange, and Metro Connect services. Thus, excluding Equinix’s “other” interconnection revenue from the above figures could reduce the company’s implied pricing per interconnection by approximately 25%.

What is an Interconnection Hub?

An interconnection hub is a colocation data center which acts as the center of connectivity for a particular region or network. Specifically, an interconnection hub differentiates itself from a traditional colocation data center environment by the number of “participants” it houses within its facility – meaning telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers.

As illustrated below, interconnection hubs attract various applications and services, including software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), wide area network (WAN), mobile internet, and Internet of Things (IoT) platforms.

Interconnection Hub Colocation Data Center Illustration
Source: Interxion

Example – CoreSite LA1 Data Center

An example of one of the most prominent interconnection hubs in the world is CoreSite’s LA1 data center, also known as One Wilshire, which is located at 624 South Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, California. CoreSite is the largest tenant at One Wilshire, leasing 176,685 square feet of gross area.

Nearly every major data center in Los Angeles accesses One Wilshire as its primary fiber optic terminal and interconnection point, with the facility housing over 330 networks. Consequently, CoreSite’s LA1 data center is an important interconnection hub for exchanging international data traffic between the West Coast of the United States and Asia-Pacific.

Interconnection Services

Interconnection services are the comprehensive suite of scalable solutions facilitating direct, secure, and high-performance physical or virtual connections. These connections occur among a diverse ecosystem of enterprises, telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and information technology (IT) service providers. By establishing these interconnections, participants can efficiently exchange data traffic, optimize access and communication, enhance network speed and reliability, and enable seamless interoperability across global digital infrastructure.

Structured Cabling Systems that Link IT Infrastructure

Interconnection services enhance network efficiency through direct cloud access, blended IP, and peering exchanges:

  • Direct Cloud Access: Private connections to public cloud service providers, which allow enterprises to bypass the public internet, through a cloud on-ramp. Major cloud on-ramps include AWS Direct Connect, Azure ExpressRoute, Google Cloud Interconnect, Alibaba Cloud Express Connect, Oracle FastConnect, and IBM Cloud Direct Link
  • Blended IP: Combines multiple upstream ISPs and local internet exchanges to deliver the highest data transfer speed, as compared to a single internet carrier
  • Peering Exchanges: Connectivity to large Internet Exchanges (also known as Internet Exchange Points or IXPs) such as Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX), DE-CIX, and London Internet Exchange (LINX) – for the purposes of Internet peering

What is a Virtual Cross Connection?

Virtual cross connection is an interconnection service that utilizes software-defined networking (SDN) to link customers, instead of physical cables. A prominent reason for a customer to utilize virtual cross connection is to access a cloud platform that is not currently available at their colocation data center. With virtual cross connection, a customer can connect globally to their desired cloud service provider.

Examples of the virtual cross connection services of data center operators include Equinix Fabric and Digital Realty’s ServiceFabric Connect. Additionally, third-party software-defined networking (SDN) interconnection providers are Megaport, PacketFabric, and Console Connect.

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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