Amazon has introduced a new connectivity option called AWS Direct Connect. In plain speak, Direct Connect allows an Amazon customer to get a cross-connect between his own network equipment and Amazon’s, in some location where the two companies are physically colocated. In even plainer speak, if you’re an Equinix colocation customer in their Ashburn, Virginia (Washington DC) data center campus, you can get a wire run between your cage and Amazon’s, which gives you direct connectivity between your router and theirs.
This is relatively cheap, as far as such things go. Amazon imposes a “port charge” for the cross-connect at $0.30/hour for 1 Gbps or $2.25/hour for 10 Gbps (on a practical level, since cross-connects are by definition nailed up 100% of the time, about $220/month and $1625/month respectively), plus outbound data transfer at $0.02/GB. You’ll also pay Equinix for the cross-connect itself (I haven’t verified the prices for these, but I’d expect they would be around $500 and $1500 per month). And, of course, you have to pay Equinix for the colocation of whatever equipment you have (upwards of $1000/month+ per rack).
Direct Connect has lots of practical uses. It provides direct, fast, private connectivity between your gear in colocation and whatever Amazon services are in Equinix Ashburn (and non-Internet access to AWS in general), vital for “hybrid cloud” use cases and enormously useful for people who, say, have PCI-compliant e-commerce sites with huge databases Oracle RAC and black-box encryption devices, but would like to put some front-end webservers in the cloud. You can also buy whatever connectivity you want from your cage in Equinix, so you can take that traffic and put it over some less expensive Internet connection (Amazon’s bandwidth fees are one of the major reasons customers leave them), or you can get private networking like ethernet or MPLS VPN (an important requirement for enterprise customers who don’t want their traffic to touch the Internet at all).
This is not a completely new thing — Amazon has quietly offered private peering and cross-connects to important customers for some time now, in Equinix. But this now makes cross-connects into a standard option with an established price point, which is likely to have far greater uptake than the one-off deals that Amazon has been doing.
It’s not a fully-automated service — the sign-up is basically used to get Amazon to grant you an authorization so that you can put in an Equinix work order for the cross-connect. But it’s an important step in the right direction. (I’ve previously noted the value of this partnership in a blog post called “Why Cloud IaaS Customers Care About a Colo Option“. Also, for Gartner clients, see my research note “Customers Need Hybrid Cloud Compute IaaS” for a detailed analysis.)
This is good for Equinix, too, for the obvious reasons. For quite some time now, I’ve been evangelizing the importance of carrier-neutral colocation as a “cloud hub”, envisioning a future where these providers facilitate cross-connect infrastructures between cloud users and cloud providers. Widespread adoption of this model would allow an enterprise to say, get a single rack of network equipment at Equinix (or Telecity or Interxion, etc.), and then cross-connect directly to all of their important cloud suppliers. It would drive cross-connect density, differentiation and stickiness at the carrier-neutral colo providers who succeed in being the draw for these ecosystems.
It’s worth noting that this doesn’t grant Amazon a unique capability, though. Just about every other major cloud IaaS provider already offers colocation and private connectivity options. But it’s a crucial step for Amazon towards being suitable for more typical enterprise use cases. (And as a broader long-term ecosystem play, customers may prefer using just one or two “cloud hubs” like an Equinix location for their “cloud backhaul” onto private connectivity, especially if they have gateway devices.)