The UK Internet: How Its Evolution is Driving Higher Performing, Scalable and Reliable Interconnection

Brenden Rawle

london

In a previous Interconnections article, I looked at the importance of London as a key hub for the new cloud era. I discussed how enterprise customers searching for agility and collaboration are drawn to rich ecosystems, where they can easily access partners, services and customers. This is a crucial new model for IT that’s becoming increasingly prevalent. But if we dig a little deeper, there’s another, even more fundamental change taking hold within the UK internet, cloud and telecoms sectors. And to understand what that is, we need to go back in time…

In early 1994, UK ISP pioneers met to discuss a new interconnection model. Things moved quickly, and in November 1994, Pipex, BT, Demon Internet, UKERNA/JANET and UKnet all connected their networks to a small switch located in a Telehouse data center in London Docklands to enable traffic exchange. This event heralded the start of internet peering in the UK and the dawn of LINX – the London Internet Exchange. This was a milestone event; the moment when a group of like-minded pioneers kicked off what was to become one of the most important digital ecosystems of the next two decades.

The next few years saw strong organic growth in the world of internet peering and the Telehouse site was among the first generation data centers of the Docklands, which then included other Telehouse facilities and those owned by Telecity (now part of Equinix). Over the next 15 years, a significant majority of UK internet peering infrastructure was built out in this small part of East London, where a large supply of open land supported the new facilities.

It’s hard to put an exact date on it, but around seven years ago, public internet services started to shift significantly from delivering traffic with “best-efforts” to a channel that carries more critical traffic types, requiring more reliable service delivery. And at this point, service providers started to look at this small part of East London and view it as a single “geographic point of failure,” which made them seek ways to better ensure service delivery and reliability by developing new and potentially redundant internet peering hubs for business continuity and disaster recovery.

Today, we see significant investment in building a new internet peering hub in the UK, based around the Equinix campus in Slough.

It started slowly. LINX deploying a node in LD4 was an early boost. Equinix LD5 joined Equinix LD4 in 2011, initiating the first private peering arrangements. In more recent years we have seen major new peering deployments from companies such as Amazon, BT and Microsoft, as well as some of the other largest web companies in the world. We’ve also seen an increase in other businesses coming in. For example, 25% of European equities trades originate from the Equinix London Slough campus, a further draw for network service providers who see the thriving financial services ecosystem as another reason to be present at the campus.

In June 2015, Equinix opened LD6, and then another significant customer deployment cemented Equinix Slough as a major internet hub site. In the summer of 2016, the world’s leading video streaming service selected Equinix LD6 as the new location for its new, open peering point. This new deployment means almost all the top internet content providers are available today within the Equinix London Slough campus ꟷ a true internet hub.

As we move into 2017, the relevance of the Equinix Slough campus only continues to grow. To cater to the demand we see in internet bandwidth and cloud services, Equinix has agreed to purchase a data center from IO, which will become LD10, and further strengthens our role in supporting the UK digital economy.

This expansion is part of the fundamental evolution in the architecture of the UK internet. It is a conscious effort by Equinix and network and cloud service providers to bring scalability and resilience to this critical piece of UK infrastructure. From a humble start with a single switch 22 years ago, the UK internet took the first steps on its journey. With the emergence and expansion of the Equinix Slough campus, that journey continues today, tomorrow and beyond.

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Brenden Rawle
Brenden Rawle Director of Interconnection in EMEA