Cross connects and interconnection services enable a customer’s full use of a data center colocation environment by providing physical cables to build an ecosystem of telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers.

Cross connects are physical, point-to-point cables that deliver a direct link between two different customer-defined end points within a colocation data center. Often fiber-based, these cable links facilitate high interconnection density among enterprise, peering, network, and cloud customers.

Dgtl Infra provides an in-depth overview of cross connects, including their application in colocation data centers, purpose for customers, and typical charges / pricing. Additionally, we review interconnection services, identify who the largest interconnection providers are, and define the meaning of an interconnection hub. Finally, Dgtl Infra answers key questions such as 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. In turn, this means that data is not exchanged over the public Internet.

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

Cross connects are physical cables which come in the following types: fiber, coaxial, copper (unshielded twisted pair), and plain old telephone service (POTS). Within fiber, 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 to 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.

Also, colocation data centers provide a physical meeting point for telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers. As such, 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 cross connect 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 (i.e., 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
Cross Connect Example – Equinix and IntelligentCross

An example of a specific use of a cross connect is highlighted by Equinix, a colocation data center operator, through its NY4 data center at 755 Secaucus Road in Secaucus, New Jersey – which is just outside of Manhattan, New York City. Equinix’s 755 Secaucus building hosts 50+ exchanges and provides unique solutions to the financial services sector, particularly to support trades for several major exchanges.

IntelligentCross, a U.S. equities trading venue, disclosed their use of cross connects, at Equinix’s NY4 data center. Particularly, IntelligentCross’ alternative trading system (ATS), which matches the buy and sell orders of its customers, locates its primary matching engines in Equinix’s NY4 data center.

IntelligentCross’ customers that want to connect directly to the company’s user acceptance testing (UAT) and production servers must have NY4 cross connects with the servers of IntelligentCross’ network provider, Pico (a company that focuses on serving financial markets clients).

Also, if an IntelligentCross customer is in any of the following 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), then orders will be able to be routed across the Pico backbone to the IntelligentCross servers in NY4.

Finally, IntelligentCross notes that standard NY4 cross connects are single-mode fiber, delivering speeds of 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). However, the alternative trading system (ATS) will support multi-mode fiber, delivering speeds of 10 Gbps.

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 in overhead cable trays from a customer space within the colocation data center to the facility’s meet-me room (MMR), which links together the patch panels.

Cross Connect – from Customer Space to Meet-Me Room (MMR)

Patch panels located in a meet-me room (MMR) are where the actual physical cross connects 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.

  • 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
  • Latency: connections made between customers, within the same colocation data center, reduce the distance that data needs to travel, driving lower latency. In comparison, connecting via networks outside of a colocation data center would increase the distance that data has to travel, resulting in higher latency

Additionally, cross connects are significantly less expensive than connections over long-haul fiber networks, when comparing similar bandwidth requirements.

Finally, 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.

What is an Interconnection Provider?

An interconnection provider is a colocation data center operator that delivers interconnection services, such as cross connects.

Top 10 Interconnection Providers Globally by # of Interconnections

Ranked by number of interconnections, the top 10 interconnection providers globally are Equinix, Digital Realty, Cyxtera, American Tower (including CoreSite), DigitalBridge (DataBank and Vantage SDC), CyrusOne, QTS Realty, NEXTDC, SUNeVision, and Switch – which collectively have over 800,000 interconnections.

#Interconnection Provider# of Interconnections
1Equinix435,800
2Digital Realty185,000
3Cyxtera Technologies40,000
4American Tower (incl. CoreSite)36,360
5DigitalBridge (DataBank + Vantage)30,000
6CyrusOne25,000
7QTS Realty20,000
8NEXTDC15,879
9SUNeVision (MEGA-i)15,000
10Switch, Inc10,600
Total Interconnections – Top 10813,639
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 fast and highly-reliable connectivity and data exchange with business partners and service providers within the Equinix ecosystem.

Presently, Equinix is the largest interconnection provider in the world with 435,800 total interconnections. Of this total, the company has 392,100 physical cross connects and 43,700 virtual connections.

Geographically, Equinix has 192,100 interconnections in the Americas, 157,200 interconnections in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), and 86,500 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.

READ MORE: AWS Direct Connect – Gateway, Locations, Partners, Pricing

However, AWS does not establish cross connects 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.

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

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

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, cross connect services are provided on a month-to-month or one-year contract term.

On a monthly basis, the recurring charge for cross connect services usually ranges between a price of $100 to $300, per cross connect, per month. Below are figures from Equinix to analyze cross connect pricing in further detail:

Equinix Cross Connect Pricing

Dgtl Infra compares Equinix’s reported interconnection revenue by region – for the Americas, EMEA, and Asia-Pacific – to the company’s number of interconnections by region, to determine an implied price per interconnection metric. In this analysis, both Equinix’s cross connects and virtual connections are included in the company’s number of interconnections.

Equinix – Interconnection Revenue (Quarterly) by Region and # of Interconnections
RegionRevenue# of Interconnections$ per Quarter$ per Month
Americas$187.5m192,100$976$325
EMEA$66.8m157,200$425$142
Asia-Pacific$60.8m86,500$703$234
Total / Average$315m435,800$723$241
Note: Financial and company data as of Q2 2022.

As highlighted in the table above, Equinix generates an overall implied price of $241 per interconnection, per month, across all geographies. By region, Equinix produces an implied price of $325 per interconnection, per month, in the Americas; $142 per interconnection, per month, in EMEA; and $234 per interconnection, per month, in Asia-Pacific.

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

Finally, it is worth noting that the EMEA interconnection market (particularly Europe) has evolved differently than the United States (i.e., Americas), in terms of data traffic exchanges and pricing models. In Europe, Internet Exchanges (IXes) such as DE-CIX, AMS-IX, and LINX have much more important roles, hindering the ability of colocation data center operators to charge United States-like prices for cross connects. Thus, Equinix’s implied price of $142 per interconnection, per month, in EMEA, is much lower than in the Americas and Asia-Pacific.

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 by the number of “participants” it houses within its facility – meaning telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers.

As shown below, interconnection hubs draw in applications and services such as 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

READ MORE: What is Data Gravity? Applications and Services on the Move

CoreSite LA1

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 330+ networks.

As such, 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 physical connections between enterprises, telecommunications carriers, internet service providers (ISPs), cloud platforms, and IT service providers, which enable the exchange of data traffic. Beyond cross connects, interconnection services also involve direct connectivity, blended IP, and peering exchanges:

  • Direct Connectivity: 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

READ MORE: Azure ExpressRoute – Benefits, Pricing, Providers, Locations

  • 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 cross connect 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.

READ MORE: Top 10 Cloud Service Providers Globally in 2022

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 PCCW’s Console Connect.

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