Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute is a service that provides a private connection between an organization's on-premises infrastructure and Microsoft Azure data centers.
Azure ExpressRoute requires a valid and active Azure account. ExpressRoute customers must either have an existing relationship with a supported connectivity provider or connect to Microsoft cloud services through an exchange if the desired connectivity provider is not supported.
Microsoft announced the general availability of Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute on May 12, 2014 at TechEd North America. At that time, the cloud service provider offered circuit bandwidths from 200 Mbps to 10 Gbps. ExpressRoute was available to customers in the United States and Europe via three locations: California, Washington D.C. and London. ExpressRoute customers could connect to Azure services as well as virtual machines and cloud services deployed in virtual networks.
On July 21, 2014, Microsoft announced the availability of an additional seven ExpressRoute locations. In the US, those locations were Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York and Seattle. In Asia, those locations were Hong Kong and Singapore.
By March 2015, Microsoft had made ExpressRoute available across 16 locations globally. Its partner network had grown to 20 partners. In addition, Microsoft announced the ability to access Office 365 via ExpressRoute.
In February 2018, Microsoft announced the general availability of ExpressRoute monitoring with Network Performance Monitor (NPM). NPM allows ExpressRoute customers to monitor end-to-end connectivity and performance between their branch offices and Azure.
In April 2019, Microsoft announced the availability of ExpressRoute Direct and Global Reach. ExpressRoute Direct provides 100 Gbps connectivity, enabling customers to push more data to Azure. ExpressRoute Global Reach extends the use of ExpressRoute from on-premises to Azure to also provide connectivity between on-premises sites using the Microsoft Global Network.
As of this writing, Microsoft has more than 40 ExpressRoute locations.
Microsoft ExpressRoute offers the following features:
- Redundancy. Each ExpressRoute circuit consists of two connections to two Microsoft Enterprise edge routers from the connectivity provider or customer’s network edge.
- Connectivity to Microsoft cloud services. Customers can access Microsoft Azure services, Microsoft Office 365 services and Microsoft Dynamics 365 via ExpressRoute.
- Connectivity to geopolitical regions. Customers can connect to Microsoft in one of the provider’s peering locations and access regions within the geopolitical region.
- Global connectivity. ExpressRoute Premium enables customers to extend connectivity across geopolitical boundaries.
- Local connectivity. ExpressRoute Local enables customers to lower the cost of transferring data by bringing it to an ExpressRoute location near the desired Azure region.
- Cross on-premises connectivity. ExpressRoute Global Reach enables organizations to exchange data across their on-premises sites by connecting their ExpressRoute circuits.
- Connectivity to Microsoft’s global network. ExpressRoute Direct enables customers to connect directly to Microsoft’s global network at peering locations around the world.
- Bandwidth options. Customers have a variety of bandwidth options, from 50Mbps to 10 Gbps.
- Dynamic scaling of bandwidth. Customers can dynamically increase the circuit bandwidth of existing connections.
As of this writing, Azure ExpressRoute comes in two pricing plans: metered and unlimited.
The metered data plan ranges from $55 a month for a 50 Mbps connection up to $6,400 for a 10 Gbps connection. Under a metered plan, there is no charge for inbound data transfers, but outbound data is charged from $0.025 per GB to $0.14 per GB, depending on the Azure region where the data originates.
The unlimited data plan costs range from $300 per month at 50 Mbps up to $54,300 per month at 10 Gbps. Inbound and outbound data transfer is free of charge.
The Azure ExpressRoute premium add-on feature provides service availability in all of Azure's geopolitical regions around the world. Currently, these regions are: North America, Latin America, Australia, India, Asia Pacific (Singapore and Hong Kong), Japan and European Union. With a premium add-on, outbound data transfer ranges from $3,055 a month for a 50 Mbps connection up to $8,000 for a 10 Gbps connection.
ExpressRoute Direct ranges from $50,000 to $62,500 depending on where data is coming from. Circuit bandwidth for a premium circuit starts at $2,000 for a 5 Gbps circuit and goes to $10,000 a month for a 100 Gbps circuit. Outbound data transfer pricing ranges from $0.025 to $0.14/GB.
ExpressRoute Global Reach starts at $55 per month for 50 Mbps and goes to $21,250 per month for 100 Gbps. Global Reach Data Transfer pricing ranges from $0.04 per GB to $0.224 per GB, depending on where data is going to and from.
Microsoft requires a Virtual Network gateway to access a virtual network when using Azure Private Peering on an ExpressRoute circuit. Pricing ranges from $0.19/hour for 1 Gbps to $1.87/hour for 10 Gbps.
Azure ExpressRoute vs. VPN
Azure uses standard IPsec VPN, so the cloud service is interoperable with many VPN devices that provide a private connection over the Internet. A site-to-site VPN provides IP level connectivity between the customer’s premises and virtual networks in Azure. Organizations can securely connect up to 10 on-premises sites and virtual networks. However, Microsoft recommends only using this service if your cross-premises connectivity throughput is no more than 100 Mbps.
ExpressRoute connections do not go over the public Internet. Thus, Microsoft claims that ExpressRoute offers more reliability, faster data speeds, lower latencies and higher security than connections over the Internet.
Azure ExpressRoute vs. AWS Direct Connect
AWS Direct Connect is AWS’ equivalent of Microsoft’s ExpressRoute. Direct Connect provides a private, direct connection to AWS. While there was a time when there were distinct differences between the two services, they function more similarly as time goes on. For example, while AWS didn’t previously provide a service-level agreement (SLA), it now does. AWS also offers increased capacity connections, similar to ExpressRoute Direct.