Leaving Equinix

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It’s been three years to the day since my last post — a side effect of my being completely immersed in my job at Equinix (where I was, until last week, Director of Cloud & IT Services). I’ve been based in Zürich and working ostensibly in London for the past 5 years (having spent the last decade in Europe, and probably a year of it in Silicon Valley), though in reality I’ve spent most of my time on the road — according to TripIt I’ve traveled almost a million kilometres to almost 200 locations, be it to visit partners, customers, attend & present at events, or work with colleagues in other offices, as well as the occasional holiday. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to be more grounded for the coming years (though if the last week is any indication I’m not so sure)!

When non-technical people ask me who Equinix is (Americans often confuse it with Equinox, the gyms — maybe they’ll tie up one day so your treadmill will power the data centres?), I tell them they’re essentially the “landlord of the Internet”. That’s not entirely true — there are a number of carrier-neutral, multi-tenant data center providers in the market — but it’s understandable, and few can hold a candle to Equinix’s quality, scale, global reach, and (arguably most importantly), business ecosystems. Another analogy I use is the “Hilton of the Internet”, where companies wishing to participate can rent a room, meet each other at the “lobby bar” (regional events and Marketplace), and communicate over the “phone system” (Internet exchanges). Chairman Peter Van Camp refers to the data centres (“International Business Exchanges” or “IBXs”) as “international airports where passengers from many different airlines make connections to get to their final destinations”. You get the idea.

As the Internet developed, Equinix founders Jay Adelson and the late Al Avery identified a need for a neutral location for carriers to connect together — the Switzerland of the Internet if you like. Over the 15+ years since it was founded in 1998, Equinix has grown from its first location in the USA to a global footprint of 105 data centres in 33 metros (cities) in 15 countries spanning 5 continents (by the time you read this they may have many more thanks to the acquisition of Telecity which will basically double the size of the EMEA region). The company usually expands through acquisition or by building new data centres, typically following a “metro” model whereby an accessible (but not necessarily central) location is chosen for a “campus” of data centres (London for example now has 6 data centres, half of which are on the same road in Slough). Recent builds look something like these:

AM3Amsterdam AM3

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Melbourne ME1

Having established a critical mass of network service providers, Equinix IBXs became attractive to early content providers like Yahoo! They needed to reach the eyeballs which were connected to the carriers (at the time, typically by dialup or ADSL services), and rather than tapping into multiple/many carriers in one location they’d have to arrange to connect to those carriers wherever they were. Furthermore, the carriers themselves needed to connect to each other (that’s the “inter” in “internet”), and they found it easier to do so in a neutral location rather than on their own turf.

Equinix went on to establish similar ecosystems around the financial industry, where trading exchanges (like Internet exchanges) would act as magnets for high frequency traders, news providers, etc. — there are now thriving financial hubs in 16 Equinix metros. More recent ecosystems include advertising, whereby a content provider could ask — in the milliseconds it takes to render a page — for advertisers to bid on ad placements. While light travels quickly, over long distances it can significantly impair the performance of an application (plus it travels slower inside glass fibres), and for these applications there’s no prize for second! The most interesting ecosystem though (in my somewhat biased opinion anyway) is the cloud ecosystem. By chance many of the content providers of yesterday (Amazon, Google, Microsoft) transformed into the cloud providers of today, and I think it’s safe to say now that Equinix is the “home of the cloud” (a term I introduced in 2011, albeit somewhat aspirational at the time).

When I joined Equinix the only way to access cloud providers was over the Internet, or by special arrangement (typically only available to the largest customers like Netflix). This was a problem for most enterprise consumers, and indeed 8 of the top 10 blockers for cloud adoption according to analysts are partially or fully addressed by bypassing the Internet. We first launched AWS Direct Connect with Amazon that year, and I proposed that the process should be more automated (at the time it required filling out paperwork and waiting for someone in the data centre to run a fibre from your infrastructure to a port you had to rent in Amazon’s). The solution proposed by product was a box of robots, and while I was no stranger to boxes of robots from my time at Google, I was convinced we could do better. Here’s the back-of-an-envelope blueprint I submitted in my first month in the company, which (following years of research and development by the CTO office and product teams) essentially went on to become the Equinix Cloud Exchange (I called it CloudConnect at the time, but there were trademark issues):

Cloud Exchange

This hybrid- and multi-cloud architecture allows customers to seamlessly integrate legacy/on-premises, hosted private, and public cloud infrastructure, and I believe it (or something like it) will be the “default” reference architecture for most enterprises in future. Anyone can automate a switch fabric though — indeed a number of competitors have (we even had something like it at UNSW ~20 years ago which would allow you to put any port anywhere on campus onto any network, via a web interface, using the same standards no less!). What differentiates Equinix’s is the presence of hundreds of cloud providers, including all of the top providers in the market today (thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of the GAM and CAT teams).

For the enterprise CIO, they should look at the data centre as an operating system, only rather than installing best-of-breed applications like Office and Photoshop, they simply connect to services like Office 365 and AWS (after all, cloud is simply the migration from product to service). Alternatively I often use the shopping mall analogy, only rather than visiting to buy products from a store (like Apple), you’re buying from a service provider (like Apple).

Anyway, having spent the past decade on the provision of services at Citrix, Google, and Equinix, I’m hanging up my Equinix hat and getting to work on the consumption and application of information technology to solving business problems (among other things). Watch this space.