Microsoft Offers Secure Connection To Azure Cloud

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Microsoft's new service it launched this week for directly connecting to its Azure cloud platform will empower IT solution providers to build scalable and secure hybrid cloud solutions for enterprise customers, the software giant told CRN today.

From TechEd North America, Microsoft's premier conference for IT professionals, the company revealed general availability for ExpressRoute, which directly connects to Azure without sending data over the Internet.

Microsoft’s global strategic partner, Equinix, a leader in data exchange and collocation services, simultaneously said it will begin offering ExpressRoute connections in three of its IBX data centers: Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., and London, with another 13 data centers to be added around the globe by the end of the year.

[Related: With GreenButton Acquisition, Microsoft Beefs Up Azure Cloud For High-Performance Computing Apps]

Yousef Khalidi, Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft, told CRN that ExpressRoute was born out of conversations with midsize businesses and enterprise customers who made it clear that the way they wanted to "access cloud resources was not through the open Internet."

When you access cloud on the Internet, the "stuff in between customers and the cloud is basically the Wild West. You have no idea how the packets are flying through," Khalidi said.

With ExpressRoute, all end users need to do is choose an Internet service provider or data exchange and then notify Microsoft. It takes days, sometimes hours, to securely connect to Azure over a dedicated connection, Khalidi said. "For many enterprises, it's the price of entry to go into the cloud. They are not comfortable going to cloud without something like ExpressRoute," he told CRN.

The new service for directly accessing Azure’s infrastructure provides “the best of both worlds for enterprises and solution providers,” said Chris Sharp, vice president of cloud innovation at Equinix. Enterprises can benefit from the scalability of the cloud while connecting with high speed and low latency through a secure port, he said.

“This removes a lot of technical barriers, where now they can get on this cloud exchange and have all these resources available to them to build a truly dynamic hybrid cloud,” Sharp said.

Equinix recently launched the Equinix Cloud Exchange, which can simultaneously link customers to multiple public and private clouds and on-premises infrastructure. Integrating ExpressRoute into its data centers adds to that offering, Sharp said.

"What we've been working on with Microsoft, it’s not only a switch but a business intelligence layer that lies on top of the exchange. It's an API and portal through which customers can interact with each other,” he said.

Accelera Solutions, a cloud solution provider based in Fairfax, Va., has already begun to leverage the technology for its enterprise customers.

Terrill Andrews, Accelera's executive vice president of program management, told CRN the company has started hooking up enterprises to the Equinix exchange, and to the Azure cloud, through ExpressRoute.

Accelera, an agnostic cloud provider with 12 years of experience creating virtualized workspaces, needs “a broad array of tools at our disposal to develop these hybrid cloud infrastructures,” Andrews said.

"Having Azure available to us through ExpressRoute, it really broadens the type of hybrid solutions we can provide our customers," he said.

The ExpressRoute service comes "in a couple flavors," Khalidi explained.

Enterprises can either access Azure through an ISP carrier, or they can build a connection to an exchange. In addition to Equinix, Level3 and England-based TelecityGroup are partnering with Microsoft.

Equinix touts its partnership with Microsoft as a game-changing advancement in enabling businesses to enjoy greater performance while reducing capital expenses. Deploying robust hybrid clouds with the technology allows businesses to handle spikes in workloads with "infinite access to the Azure environment," Sharp said.

"What this does is it creates an environment for customers like Accelera to architect differently and truly achieve an elastic hybrid cloud. Now they can move high-volume workloads into the public cloud seamlessly," Sharp said.

ExpressRoute offers a great opportunity for channel partners, Khalidi said. "We are making the connection to Azure a no-brainer, but there's still work to be done on their own network and with their provider," the Microsoft engineer said.

"Some customers have very complex networks and they need channel partners to integrate with the networks. So there are a lot of opportunities here. There is money to be made for all the integration work you have to do," Khalidi said.

Accelera's Andrews expects to see more and more enterprise customers migrate data through ExpressRoute as they pursue the cost and scalability benefits of the Azure cloud.

"We need to have as many options and capabilities at our disposal as possible to put together these hybrid solutions for our customers, and the Azure ExpressRoute really does that for us,” he said.



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