The Evolution of Interconnection

Carrier hotels and Internet Exchange Points come of age

For many people the year 2021 has been a time of reflection and learning. As challenging as it has been, it is not over yet. Fortunately, accurately documented history by those who came before acts as a guide now and for times still to come. Those learning journeys apply to a great many subjects, none greater than life itself, but that documented history also encompasses the evolution of network interconnection.

The data collected between 2003-2004 at the main physical locations of network interconnection throughout 21 North American markets has provided historical reference points with which to compare to present times. This was known as the “Meet Me Series.” A sufficient amount of time has passed since the dawn of the carrier-neutral colocation and interconnection facility. Now, it is possible to look at the origins of the industry in nascent form and the locations, in order to quantify and be able to see how each site and market has performed.

Does the once dominant site of that year still reign? Were any new neutral interconnection sites in the same market created to compete? How successful in terms of network density have they been? The answers to these questions and additional in-depth perspectives can be found in my online “Meet Me Series” (link at the bottom of the article).

As background, the physical sites themselves, known most often in the industry by their street address, have typically been referred to as Carrier Hotels. This basically translates to a building where multiple networks have a physical presence with the intention of connecting to other networks. These buildings also sometimes are referred to as Interconnection Data Centers, a term applied to a data center, or space within one, that has the specific purpose of being where the networks in the building interconnect. In a Carrier Hotel this is known as the Meet Me Room.

As a general rule of thumb, Carrier Hotels were originally built for a different purpose, such as an office building or department store. These structures evolved to become dominated by networks, with each building its own interesting and unique transformation story.  Data centers, on the other hand, mostly were purposefully built with specific design and engineering requirements for networks. This makes them more efficient and cost effective. However, data centers lack the years, now decades, of the head start that older Carrier Hotels have in terms of reaching physical layer multi-network critical mass.

Comprehending this terminology and its associated definitions are essential for researching physical layer interconnection sites, in order to determine the best option for a specific requirement. The general answer for that was usually the option with the greatest number of networks present. This has changed a bit though over the years.

Hunter Newby, Owner, Newby Ventures

Enter the Internet Exchange (IX)

The advent of IX appearing in a meaningful way in North America has changed the lens through which network interconnection sites are viewed, sought andand—in many cases—the location of the actual physical sites themselves. This shift in interconnection gravity occurred as a result of the proliferation of Internet Protocol (IP) applications, such as Voice over IP, the underlying transport protocol and Ethernet. The shift began once these technologies took hold within the corporate Local and Wide Area Networks (LAN/WAN) and internal telephone company networks themselves, with their legacy voice to VoIP transition. It was not that long ago when these technologies were considered to be unproven, garage experiments to the incumbent telephone companies. That was a very protectionist and self-serving perspective. The incumbent mindset must be understood and their messaging always questioned. It is not in your best interest that they seek to serve, so they rarely speak objective truths.

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