Microsoft Office 365 has become a staple cloud application for enterprise businesses globally.
As more and more companies access Azure to reach this software, they’re looking for the fastest, most cost-effective, and most direct cloud connections to get there. We’ll explore Microsoft’s private and public connectivity options and the various ways in which you can achieve access to Office 365. In many cases, Microsoft ExpressRoute is the way to go – however, building an optimised connectivity solution, via ExpressRoute, for all services can be challenging. The question is whether this is the ideal way to reach Office 365 when you’re looking for an easy and quick alternative to provisioning connections through the public internet.
Connecting to Microsoft Azure with ExpressRoute via Megaport
Yes, we do support ExpressRoute access to both peering interfaces; you can easily reach Azure with Megaport via the following methods.
- Azure Private Peering which provides access to Private VNETs within Azure
- Microsoft (Public) Peering which provides access to:
- Azure resources that live in a public space and Dynamics CRM.
- Office 365 resources (including Skype for Business).
Both of these peering interfaces are delivered via a single Virtual Cross Connect (VXC) using 802.1ad configuration. When you connect to Azure via an ExpressRoute with Megaport, the VXC forms the Layer 2 component of the connection and Layer 3 BGP connectivity is established directly between you and Azure. You can follow our step-by-step guide here.
While Azure Private doesn’t require approval and is available instantly, Microsoft (Public) Peering requires manual validation of public IP space by Microsoft. Some public endpoints including Office 365 require further validation. Working through this approval process can add a level of complexity and time to building out your cloud network architecture.
Connecting to Office 365 via the Public Internet
There are some alternatives to reaching Office 365 resources via ExpressRoute which don’t require going through the approvals process with Microsoft. However, we often forget that you need to go via the public internet to use particular aspects of Office 365. These include:
- Exchange Online
- Skype for Business Online
- OneDrive for Business
- Azure Active Directory
- Office Online
Using a VPN over the public internet is one way to achieve connectivity, however, it might not satisfy the performance or security requirements of your business.
Connecting to Office 365 via Megaport’s Internet Exchanges
As an alternative option, enterprises are building connections to Office 365 via an Internet Exchange like Megaport’s MegaIX. This method might not be right for all businesses because of the technical requirements involved, however, depending on your circumstances, the overall restrictions can be less stringent than connecting via ExpressRoute.
The benefits to connecting via an Internet Exchange include:
- High bandwidth
- Low latency
- Predictable shortcut path to services
If your business already complies with Microsoft’s prerequisites, it’s simply a matter of applying for a Bilateral Peering Agreement and provisioning your connectivity.
We own and operate a series of Internet Exchanges within the majority of our networks globally, as well as partnering with several third-party providers. Basically, an Internet Exchange can provide greater efficiency between networks and allow for traffic to be exchanged directly, thereby reducing bandwidth usage on your internet connections and potentially improving the performance of your applications. Traditionally the domain of Internet Service Providers, more enterprises are beginning to explore this solution.
Bilateral Peering for Office 365
There are two main types of Internet Exchange peering arrangements: multilateral and bilateral. A multilateral session is the default when you connect to many Internet Exchanges (including ours). In this scenario, you would establish a BGP session with both route servers (RS1 and RS2) for a given Internet Exchange market, and then advertise your routes towards the route servers. The route servers then update the route table with the newly received routes and advertise the new table to all multi-laterally peered participants, including back to you.
The second type of is bilateral peering which is set up by arrangement between specific peers. This sort of peering still occurs via the Internet Exchange but is a one-on-one system instead of one-to-many. A bilateral agreement is required to connect to Office 365.
Peering via Megaport’s Internet Exchanges
Joining an Internet Exchange is the same as everything else with Megaport; you simply deploy a Virtual Cross Connect (VXC) from your chosen Port to your selected destination Internet Exchange. A VXC from your Port to an Internet Exchange in the same metro is free of charge to the MegaIX, ECIX, and AMS-IX Exchanges. Other Internet Exchanges may have charges based on an initial joining fee and small monthly fee. Read our Knowledgebase article for more details on provisioning peering connections with us.
Choosing Between ExpressRoute and Internet Exchange
As enterprises continue to shift towards cloud-based communication services and collaboration tools, they’re looking for better control of their network connectivity and easier ways to reach the services they need. If you’re searching for a more reliable connectivity option than a VPN over the public internet, both Microsoft (public) peering, over ExpressRoute, and bilateral peering, via an Internet Exchange, are great options. If you hadn’t considered connecting to Office 365 via an Internet Exchange before, as you can see, there are some clear benefits to this alternative. Your choice should depend on the communication capabilities and preferences of your business – of course, both connectivity methods are supported by Megaport and can be accessed with our straightforward Portal-based provisioning.
Feel free to get in touch with us to discuss the best option for your Office 365 connectivity strategy. Want to share this advice with others? Make sure you retweet us and share this article on LinkedIn.
Author: Paul McGuinness