Digital Realty: Data Gravity Will Reshape the Interconnection Landscape

Interconnection ties the Internet together, allowing data to flow across networks and to your home or office. The nature of these connections has been changing, and data center developer Digital Realty believes there is more change to come.

In the future, Digital Realty asserts, interconnection will move closer to giant storehouses of data, rather than being concentrated in network hubs in city centers.

The company outlined its vision for a more distributed interconnection landscape in a recent paper, arguing that the current system for network connections is inefficient. Digital Realty believes data center geography will be guided by massive aggregation points for data, which create “data gravity” that attracts applications, services and infrastructure. In a world defined by data gravity, there will soon be too much data to manage through the current centralized system.

“Highly dense network points are creating inefficient architectures because network density doesn’t usually align with data density,” said Chris Sharp, the Chief Technology Officer for Digital Realty. “The mass amount of data being created and stored means that it is hard and/or expensive to move distances.

“Thus, efficient IT architectures in today’s world place applications and workloads as close to centers of data as possible to reduce the costs and complexity associated with storing and analyzing so much data. This shift is what is driving our thinking and roadmap with the industry,” Sharp said.

A Manifesto Outlines an Alternate Vision

That roadmap reflects Digital Realty’s growing ambitions in the interconnection business, which is dominated by colocation heavyweight Equinix, which has built lucrative business ecosystems atop its network hubs. In its recent “manifesto” titled Enabling Data Connected Communities, Digital Realty outlines an alternate future in which data gravity creates a more diverse geography of connections.

“We are laying out our industry manifesto and a call to action today to remove legacy barriers in the interconnection industry to address data gravity,” said Sharp. “We look forward to engaging with industry participants as we shape our vision for a fabric of fabrics that will unlock new opportunities and value for all sectors. We will be an industry steward championing this shift and together we can tackle data gravity head-on and build a new era of open, secure and dynamic connected data communities globally.”

To pursue its vision, the company has beefed up its PlatformDIGITAL roadmap with new investments in interconnection technology and infrastructure, and has announced plans to develop its own orchestration and fabric connectivity software. Digital Realty has acquired the IP and engineering team from Pureport to add in-house network software development to support the company’s vision.

It will also leverage its 2020 acquisition of Interxion, a European colocation player with strong interconnection bona fides, as well as its long-running collaboration with SDN specialist Megaport. The net result, it hopes, will be an “open fabric of fabrics” connecting focal points for data gravity – in many cases, located at Digital Realty’s connected campuses.

Project in Japan Lays Groundwork for Data Growth

What does this vision look like in the real world? An early implementation will be seen in a project in Japan, where Digital Realty is collaborating with Mitsubishi Corporation in a joint venture to deploy new data center capacity. The MC Digital Realty joint venture is teaming with ARTERIA Networks Corporation to link the NRT 10 data center campus in suburban Inzai City with Trans-Pacific submarine cables, bypassing the need to interconnect in downtown Tokyo.

ARTERIA will create a dedicated 100 gbps fiber connection between NRT 10 and international submarine cable landing stations in Minami-Boso in Chiba Prefecture, as well as Ibaraki Prefecture near Osaka.

An illustration of the MC Digital Realty NRT 10 data center in Inzai, Japan. (Image: Digital Realty)

An illustration of the MC Digital Realty NRT 10 data center in Inzai, Japan. (Image: Digital Realty)

Japan is a focal point for Digital Realty’s strategy, as data gravity intensity in the Tokyo metro is expected to more than double annually through 2024. MC Digital Realty has acquired land in Inzai, about 55 kilometers north of Tokyo near Narita Airport, with plans for a three-building, 100-megawatt campus.

Building affordable alternative data paths around major cities is not a new strategy. As content providers and cloud companies seek new ways to move data around the world, they are redrawing the map for subsea cables,  prioritizing routes to suburban cloud campuses rather than central business districts. Extending these benefits beyond the huge hyperscale computing players requires more robust interconnection options in more places – a reality that looms large in Digital Realty’s strategy.

In routing around Tokyo, Digital Realty is also seeking to create alternatives to Equinix, which operates 11 data centers in downtown Tokyo.

An Expansion into Colocation Accelerates

Digital Realty is the world leader in selling wholesale data center market, in which a tenant leases a finished suite of “turn-key” raised-floor space. Those tend to be larger deals than seen in retail colocation, in which tenants buy smaller amounts of space by the cabinet or cage.

But the company has been building momentum in colocation through a series of acquisitions, including deals to buy the 365 Main colocation business in San Francisco and the Telx network of carrier-neutral interconnection facilities in 2015, followed by the Interxion purchase last year.

Digital Realty doesn’t mention Equinix in its interconnection manifesto. But any effort to disrupt the status quo in interconnection must contend with the success of the Equinix interconnection platform, which generated $1.02 billion in revenue in 2020 (up 14 percent from 2019) atop more than 392,000 physical and virtual interconnections. Digital Realty is a distant second at about $327 million in interconnection revenue in 2020.

Progress on Interconnection and Peering

With the Interxion acquisition and a growing global footprint of 290 data centers in 49 markets, Digital Realty has a more powerful story for colocation customers. Its PlatformDIGITAL strategy, unveiled in late 2019, is a broad initiative to raise its game in enterprise colocation and interconnection. The company says its 2020 results – including the addition of Interxion – show the effort is bearing fruit:

  • Network cross connects have more than doubled to 168,000.
  • Uptake of virtual interconnection increase by 27% for its Service Exchange offering and 46% for its Cloud Connect product.
  • Growth in peering traffic volumes on the Digital Realty Internet Exchange (DRIX) including total port capacity on DRIX growing 46% year on year, and adoption of 100G ports growing 70%.

The competition between the two titans of the data center world illustrates the ongoing blurring of the boundaries between wholesale and retail colocation as providers seek to become a one-stop shop for IT infrastructure. Even as Digital Realty was laying out its vision for colocation, Equinix was touting is new strength in its xScale business, which sells wholesale data space for hyperscale customers.

In seeking to change the game in interconnection, Digital Realty is looking beyond its own facilities, footprint and fabric.

“Our manifesto approach lays out a collaborative journey map with the wider industry to develop this new native fabric that will interconnect our campuses globally,” said Sharp, who said the goal is “enabling customers to run applications and analytics close to the points of origin of where data is being created or stored.

“We’re also focused on being open to enable the type of any-to-any fabric that will enable a customer to deploy the architecture that best suits their business, rather than fitting them into a set of products that best suits our needs,” he said. “Our ambitions are to foster the development of communities that are centered around data. And by taking a distributed data-first approach, we are aiming to help the industry break free from legacy constraints and inefficiencies inherent in traditional centralized interconnection models.”

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