“The New Network Edge” is nomenclature developed by some telecommunications and data center industry participants to describe what they see as a new paradigm in networking – getting content delivery closer to the end user and away from bottlenecked major peering points. The Internet started with just four major peering points centered in major metropolitan and technology areas in the US – Chicago, New York City, Washington D.C. and Palo Alto, California. In the early 2000s, five more were added – Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami and Seattle. These have since grown to more than 100 buildings in North America, all still clustered around these cities as well as a few other highly populated municipalities.
Currently, every Internet transaction has to go through at least one, and probably multiple, Internet Exchanges. For instance, say you are working in Salt Lake City, Utah, and you are trying to download a movie from Netflix; the nearest public Internet Exchange to you is in Denver, Colorado, so you may be waiting a while to watch your movie if it has to download from there. Other smaller cities have similar issues – Phoenix’s content gets delivered through Los Angeles, the entire state of Michigan from Chicago at best and New York at worst, and Houston might be getting its content from as close as Dallas, but many times from Virginia as well – a full 1,300 highway miles away.
Akamai’s original work-around for slow content delivery was to cache the data at the major peering sites but, as mentioned above, even that is really not sufficient for users in smaller cities that are geographically distant from ANY peering site. Now, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) and content providers are starting to build smaller data centers in Tier II and III cities in order to deliver the content faster. Some experts describe this as “tricking the Internet” into quicker connections for users located away from major peering exchanges.
Traditionally, the major Internet Exchanges were free for CSPs to interconnect but, because they are so congested now, paid peering models have emerged. One of the first to charge for a faster interconnection was Comcast, who are now part of a group investing in a $500 million project to build 50 of these new edge data centers in smaller US cities. EdgeconneX, the data center supplier for this project, has delivered 20 of these high-density Tier 3 small (5,000 to 10,000 square feet) data centers so far. The intent is to by-pass the long-haul network by attracting broadband ISPs, fiber network operators, content and application companies to interconnect with CDNs in these purpose-built data centers. Below is a list of its locations and participants so far.
All of these data centers are designed for high-density racks with power distribution upwards of 20kW per cabinet and 600W per square foot. The raised-floor height is 30 inches with N+1 computer room air conditioners (CRACs) in separate suites.
Six of these 20 data centers have content provider tenants so far, so EdgeConneX is starting to get traction. Peering sites have always been a part of the co-location portfolio, just usually in larger cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. In fact, Equinix, the largest retail co-location provider in the world, has one of the largest peering presences in the world as well. But, it divested its smaller data centers that were in secondary markets several years ago. Its business model is centered around the major exchange sites.
From a consumer perspective, while a large part of the US population live where the original peering points exist, the majority of them do not. And, the “rural” masses are very frustrated with the promise of broadband and everything-on-demand that does not quite work the way it should. Rural, of course, is a mischaracterization since Phoenix has a population of almost 1.6 million and Jacksonville of 842-thousand. In fact, if population density was the only criteria, San Diego, Austin and Indianapolis would have been included before Washington D.C.
EdgeconneX has built three of its new edge data centers that coincide with major peering hubs in Boston, Miami and Seattle. These choices make sense, as these cities do not have the volume of peering that some of the larger areas like New York and Northern Virginia do. In addition, these round out the four corners of the US and there are major fiber trunks available for network connections.