Creating a State-Wide Azure/Office 365 Cloud Brokerage Service

Hayward Scott

The shift from in-house IT to a public, private, hybrid or multicloud environment can be daunting for any IT team, whether they are working in the private or public sectors. This is why cloud enablement training and services are critical to helping any organization ensure a successful cloud deployment.

To address the specific questions and challenges that public sector IT departments have about the planning, design and deployment of cloud infrastructures, Equinix Professional Services (EPS) created a cloud enablement training program, the “ExpressRoute Strategy and Connectivity Workshop,” for U.S. federal, state and local government agencies. Though these workshops were initially targeted for the public sector, today EPS offers both a public sector workshop, and a workshop for private sector customers as well.

Equinix and Microsoft team-up to bring cloud enablement to government agencies

Like many of our private sector customers, our public sector customers are often limited by network performance, security and uptime because connectivity is restricted to internet-based virtual private networks (VPNs). Many of these agencies see the benefits of moving to the cloud (e.g., scale, agility, usage-based pricing), but need help planning their network and cloud strategies and overcoming budget and security concerns.

Equinix Professional Services works with our public sector customers to guide them through complex IT infrastructure changes, network transformation, and hybrid and multicloud deployments. By leveraging our expertise in working with enterprise customers all over the world and our unique, customer-proven IT design blueprints, we provide the insights required for our customers to make decisions on where and how to deploy their network and cloud strategies.

As a Microsoft Gold Certified Cloud Platform Partner, and a trusted partner, Microsoft confidently relied on EPS to deliver Azure and Office 365 (O365) cloud enablement workshops and deployments to state and local government entities across the U.S. with outstanding results.

ExpressRoute Strategy and Connectivity Workshop

The ExpressRoute Strategy and Connectivity Workshop helps government agencies develop an optimized, scalable and cost-effective Azure ExpressRoute and cloud connectivity strategy. It does this by educating government agencies on how they can leverage Equinix Cloud Exchange™ (ECX) Fabric and Azure ExpressRoute to directly and securely access Azure and O365 cloud platforms.

Microsoft’s physical infrastructure for ExpressRoute resides in Equinix International Business Exchange™ (IBX®) data centers worldwide and is available via the ECX Fabric. The ECX Fabric is an advanced virtual interconnection solution that offers real-time provisioning and provides on-demand and direct access to leading cloud providers through a single port. Because the ECX Fabric interconnects participating IBX data centers worldwide, customers can access leading cloud providers regardless of the region they are in by co-locating in an Equinix IBX facility, or by establishing a private connection via a network service provider inside of Equinix.

The ExpressRoute Strategy and Connectivity Workshop provides a highly customized assessment, network architecture design recommendation, and implementation roadmap to empower government agencies to make educated network and ExpressRoute decisions. The workshop best positions customers to:

  • Accelerate a path to Azure compute and storage resources and O365 business application services
  • Reduce complexity and cost, while improving performance
  • Easily manage and extend their hybrid cloud deployments with increased control, visibility, and security.

Cost-effective state-wide Azure/Office 365 cloud services brokerage

A state-wide agency wanted to provide comprehensive and cost-effective IT services (e.g., computing, networking, cloud electronic messaging and business applications) to many of its federal, state, county and local government entities. In particular, it wanted to provide a state-wide Azure/O365 cloud service brokerage via a scalable, reliable and secure network that could also leverage data and voice technologies. The state agency also required a disaster recovery (DR) site in another state to protect its valuable data and IT services assets. To do all these things, the agency needed to move from an Internet VPN-based network infrastructure to an edge-based interconnected cloud infrastructure.

The agency attended one of the first Equinix ExpressRoute Strategy and Connectivity workshops. Through the workshop and the professional assessment of its IT infrastructure they were able to create a strategic blueprint for cloud enablement and saw how it could become the vendor-of-choice to deliver the hybrid cloud interconnection the government agencies they serviced required.

Equinix assembled a network and Azure Cloud focused team to assist with the agency’s cloud enablement. The team discussed current infrastructure, estimated network growth, outlined business requirements, and architected a network and cloud strategy that could extend the agency’s existing network to cloud edge interconnection hubs for secure, high-performance low-latency connectivity. The result was a detailed network design, creating an interconnected cloud edge architecture that extended the existing network to enable reliable cloud connectivity for the agency and its sub-agency customers. By leveraging the Equinix Performance Hub and ECX Fabric and Internet Exchange interconnection solutions, the agency created regional network aggregation points of presence within the state, and a DR site in a remote state. This gave the state agency and its customers low-latency Azure and O365 cloud interconnection, high-bandwidth IP peering, and fast and reliable backup and protection for their applications and data. Additionally, Equinix provided support to the state agency’s networking team to test, troubleshoot, train and advise the state agency throughout the cloud enablement process.

Illustrated below are the state agency’s cloud enablement process and business benefits:

  • Increased demand for connectivity to cloud platforms
  • Restricted to low-performing Internet-based VPN
  • Needed a process to establish cloud governance with the accountability to charge cloud usage costs to other state agencies

  • Equinix and Microsoft delivered an ExpressRoute Strategy and Connectivity workshop
  • The agency deployed high-performance, low-latency and secure interconnection hubs in three regions (one was DR) to Azure and O365 cloud platforms by leveraging ECX Fabric and Azure ExpressRoute.
  • Equinix Hyper Care followed to support the ECX Fabric and Equinix Performance Hub and Internet Exchange Hub implementations

  • Established private cloud connectivity, enabling greater performance, security and uptime
  • Centrally managed hybrid and multicloud connections, improving agility and innovation
  • Interconnected sub-agencies to cloud brokerage services, reducing latency and enabling monitoring for sub-agencies, establishing a true pay-for-what-you-consume model

The state agency performed its first ECX Enablement “turn-up” and now has the skill set needed to repetitively onboard other state agencies independently, enabling massive connectivity potential throughout the state

Said the Sr. IT Manager of the state-wide agency “We needed help confirming our network could support O365 peering via ExpressRoute, as well as peering options, provisioning and configuration requirements. Equinix Professional Services’ workshop, and subsequent deliverables, clarified all our connectivity questions and helped us develop a more flexible and scalable ExpressRoute deployment roadmap.”

Direct and secure interconnection for greater cloud enablement success

By partnering with Microsoft, Equinix offers a unique interconnection option that removes many of the barriers that keep government agencies from quickly moving to the cloud. Azure ExpressRoute provides a private, dedicated, high-throughput network connection between on-premises and Microsoft Azure Government, Microsoft Azure and O365 platforms. Because ExpressRoute connections do not go over the public Internet, they offer more reliability, faster speeds and lower latency, and greater security than typical internet connections. In most cases, using ExpressRoute connections to transfer data between on-premises and Azure can also yield significant cost benefits.

The Equinix ExpressRoute Strategy and Connectivity workshops allow us to have candid conversations with public sector customers about the drawbacks of their current networks and make sure they architect an Azure ExpressRoute edge that is aligned with their business and technical requirements. By realizing they have much more control around the vendor-neutral interconnection to the cloud and users on Platform Equinix, public sector agencies gained greater visibility into the network and can realize increased flexibility, scalability, and network optimization, while lowering costs. They can also ensure that critical applications can always be accessed while providing a greater user experience than using VPNs. Our public sector customers also benefit from the expertise of the Equinix team in terms of cloud security and design, governance best practices, data and billing considerations, and customized deployment roadmap.

Read more about our Platform Equinix Vision and how we partnered with Microsoft to deliver a U.S. state agency-wide Microsoft Azure and O365 cloud brokerage service.