The world of interconnection has been changing rapidly over the last few years. What was once utilized only by large carriers in a handful of facilities around the world is now an ecosystem open to enterprise, content and cloud networks that reaches way out to the edge. One of the new breed of interconnection-focused companies is Console, which has developed a global software interconnection platform, blending automation with aspects of social networking to expand the ecosystem even wider. With us today to tell us where they are and how they got there is Console Chief Strategy Officer and Founder Al Burgio.
TR: When you founded the company as IIX five years ago, what problem were you trying to solve?
AB: At the time, we were looking at the direct interconnection landscape, both domestically and globally. From the beginning of the commercial Internet in the '90s, leading up to 2011, there wasn't really much of an evolution in that ecosystem relative to the size of the adoption of the public Internet. As a result of being able to bypass the public Internet, interconnection provided a number of benefits like better performance, security and reliability, but there were also challenges that hindered its exponential growth. It wasn't enterprise grade, the process remained highly manual and the total cost of ownership was astronomically high to implement on a global scale. Most enterprises were not familiar with interconnection because the technology was basically invisible -- you couldn't just go out and search for it on Google to buy instantly.
But, 2011 marked the beginning of the enterprise movement to the cloud, accompanied by increasing issues with the public Internet, including DDOS attacks and black holing (and those trends have not stopped). Driven by these issues, we felt that there needed to be an enterprise-grade platform that could make interconnection as simple as clicking a single button. We felt automation could extract all of the configuration complexity that’s normally a part of direct connections, as if everyone interested in direct connection was all in one building, no matter where they actually were on the planet. It would be more consumable, it would grow exponentially and it would bring visibility to what had previously been invisible. That's what we set out to do. We've created the first enterprise-grade, any-to-any digital ecosystem platform, where any organization can become part of that ecosystem.
TR: How should a next-generation interconnection platform feel to those using it?
AB: Say I’m on LinkedIn, and, based on my own self-defined criteria, I feel it's important to connect to you, so I send a request to connect. You accept that request, and we are now directly connected professionally. It happens in seconds; but, in that moment, you have no idea where I'm standing on the planet, nor do I know where you are standing. We just know it's important to be connected to one another. Zero degrees of separation. The same is true for interconnection. But, historically, that’s a process that has taken weeks if not months, a whole lot of money and seasoned Internet architects. Complicating things is that every other organization you'd want to connect to would need to make the same commitment. As a result, the alternative methods have had limited adoption. This is what Console is changing. Whether it's enterprises connecting to enterprises, enterprises connecting to clouds or clouds connecting to clouds, we've made it as simple as clicking a single button, regardless of where the customers are located. We establish direct connections instantly, as if both companies are in the same room together, with data instantly flowing and bypassing the public Internet, much like being connected on a social network.
TR: What does your global interconnection infrastructure look like today?
AB: Essentially, we have more than 170 global points of presence in various colocation facilities across the U.S., Canada, EMEA and Asia-Pacific regions. We continue to add more month over month. They are all meshed together via layer 1 by either dark or lit fiber. We also have various patented software technologies, including a routing technology that we created and have been able to virtualize. Let's say you are in New York and you want to connect to another business or cloud application. You may or may not know the edge of their network is in San Jose, but you click a button and a virtual router spins up for your exclusive use. Configuration is auto-generated and injected into that virtual router, establishing a connection with that other party on the platform instantly. That's what our technology does. It all occurs via our own intellectual property.
TR: What types of organizations do you see taking advantage of Console’s platform?
AB: We have an ecosystem that consists of cloud infrastructure providers, SaaS providers and other organizations that may exist within one supply chain, including customers. Cloud infrastructure and SaaS was originally accessed via the public Internet, but the user experience and throughput were not consistent, and there were also security and performance issues. The alternative, to directly connect, introduced complexity and manual configuration, and was therefore not viable for the masses, or even the majority of SaaS and cloud infrastructure organizations. They aren't all the size of an Amazon or a Microsoft with an army of seasoned network architects that can deal with a degree of configuration complexity. If you take a video conferencing company or storage company, historically, for them to have their own direct connect offering, they would need significant human resources to devote to that program. Even technology companies fluent in the manual processes could still have challenges because of all the manual complexity that would be introduced between themselves and their customers. Console makes it easy for not only the enterprise to participate, but for the SaaS and cloud organizations to introduce a direct connect program to their customers. For many of the organizations on our platform, it's the only direct connect offering that exists.
TR: How do you bring a cloud, SaaS or enterprise customer on board to an interconnection platform?
AB: We have two partner programs: one for our data center partners and one for our network service provider partners. These programs position our platform and ecosystem to provide the last mile for our partners. That last mile could be a cross-connect in a data center or a local loop. For example, Porter Airlines initially needed to connect to AWS and business-critical aviation software. They were looking at a very complicated multi-vendor solution, and could not figure out how to tackle this in a timely manner. Once on the Console platform, they could quickly connect directly to AWS, and then invite business-critical partners to the platform to directly connect.
TR: What role has M&A played in your expansion? Do you foresee additional inorganic moves from here?
AB: Early on, one of our greatest tasks was to build a global network, and that's obviously something that doesn't happen in a day. It takes a lot of time even if you dedicate a fair amount of resources to it. We knew we needed to develop this network alongside our efforts to create the interconnection technology. We knew there were ‘1.0’ interconnection platforms out there that we could acquire on favorable terms to accelerate the growth of our global infrastructure. We could then just inject our technology in the new locations and develop a global presence in a matter of months rather than years. That was some of the strategic reasoning behind several of our early acquisitions. Everything has been rebranded as Console and is fully integrated. We are still looking at other strategic opportunities as well. It's not all about footprint per se, but we do look at technology. We have an ongoing and very healthy product roadmap, but we will evaluate what may already be in the market that is interesting, or just keep building the technology ourselves. We also look at key verticals and industries that we are focused on, including financial, media and entertainment, travel and hospitality, education and advertising that have some degree of adoption already - perhaps direct connect 1.0 - and could benefit from a platform like Console.
TR: Geographically, is your network everywhere it needs to be yet? Or is there expansion yet to come?
AB: We're in the vast majority of key regions, and we are continuing to grow our presence within those regions. APAC is relatively new for us, and we'll be adding on to our presence there, for example. There's much more to come, but I'm very content with the size of the network we have today. For a direct interconnection platform, it's massive and will continue to grow.
TR: What enhancements do you have planned for your platform?
AB: Our focus has been on performance, security, ease of use and information sharing. We continue to roll out new features and functionality for enterprise IT. But, in terms of other products, we are focused on the theme of security and performance beyond the benefits of our existing platform. Some of these new features won’t require us to create additional technology because we have a stash of technology that we just haven’t launched yet. For instance, we've put a very feature-rich virtual router into the data plane of the enterprise. Whether they know it's there or not, that's what is driving the automation. Its sole purpose today is to directly connect you to someone else, but it's a fully-fledged router with firewall capabilities, and we have other features on our roadmap to introduce to our customer base over time.
TR: Earlier you described Console’s platform as having aspects of a social network, can you elaborate?
AB: Interconnection has always been social. With interconnection 1.0, organizations would meet at an event, speak over the phone or email about what buildings they could connect in and discuss how they were going to set everything up. We set out to make direct interconnection between enterprises simple by eliminating complexity and friction. In order to do that, we felt we needed to allow for collaboration and communication within our platform. It made sense for us to leverage social networking techniques that people were already accustomed to. You can also just be a user on the social platform without utilizing the direct-connect technology. For example, if you just have an interest in the industry, or you might be in the marketing department of an organization and want to communicate with others in your ecosystem, you can still join the Console platform. It operates similarly to LinkedIn, for example. We felt that the design was really key to adoption, and our early customers verified this for us in the early stages of development.
TR: Thank you for talking with Telecom Ramblings!
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