The Whys of MAPS: How Microsoft Azure Peering Services Benefit Businesses of All Sizes
By: UPSTACK, in partnership with DE-CIX
For businesses and organizations using Microsoft 365 and other Microsoft SaaS solutions, such as Dynamics 365, network performance is critical to end-user productivity and satisfaction. But when it comes to optimizing performance and ensuring service levels meet organizational requirements, many decision-makers aren’t aware of all their options and tradeoffs. In this article, we explore Microsoft Azure Peering Services (MAPS) and why using a MAPS connection for Microsoft 365 benefits most businesses and organizations.
Understanding your connection options
Today, a significant number of enterprises and businesses still rely on the public internet to connect to Microsoft 365 and other Microsoft cloud services. On one hand, this approach has its merits because Microsoft 365 is based on a globally distributed architecture that is optimized for Internet usage, and it helps keep costs low. On the other hand, factors such as routing considerations across the public Internet and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks can cause performance and latency degradations that frustrate users and hinder productivity.
When performance becomes an issue, the question is, what other connectivity options are there? Somesh Chaturmohta, Principal Software Engineering Manager in the Microsoft Edge Network, says Microsoft’s recommendation is to adopt a MAPS solution (we get into why and what that involves below), but there is still confusion in the marketplace about whether ExpressRoute is another viable option. The short answer is that while ExpressRoute is an excellent fit for Microsoft Azure services, it is not the optimal choice for Microsoft 365. Chaturmohta explains, “In a nutshell, Microsoft designed ExpressRoute for extending private networks from on-premises to the cloud. While we did offer ExpressRoute as a connection solution for Microsoft 365 customers, over time we have found that solutions like Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365 perform better over MAPS because it provides better traffic routing across geographically dispersed locations.”
Why and when to choose MAPS
There are several reasons for using MAPS, which are primarily related to performance and user experience. MAPS is especially beneficial for organizations that rely heavily on interactive applications, such as Microsoft Teams and newer AI-infused applications like Microsoft 365 Copilot, where latency can frustrate and slow down users. Here are the “whys” for considering MAPS:
- Delivers high-performance connectivity with low latency while mitigating DDoS concerns.
- Provides a cost-effective way to get consistent, predictable performance with a service level agreement (SLA).
- Includes multi-level redundancy with primary and failover location definition for MAPS.
- Offers access to advanced telemetry for deeper insights into user latency measures and ongoing border gateway protocol (BGP) function along with alerts for unexpected events like hijacks and leaks.
- Improves Microsoft 365 performance within multi-branch and office networks.
In essence, MAPS provides a cost-effective direct, private, and secure connection to Microsoft’s SaaS cloud platforms so you can deliver optimal user experiences for Microsoft 365 and other Microsoft SaaS offerings. For example, during a major network outage in Germany in the spring of 2023, where there were thousands of incident reports, one German law firm using MAPS didn’t experience any impact or loss of productivity from the incident.
The question of when to choose MAPS really comes down to the importance of any or all of the above benefits to your organization. If performance is the main consideration, you can get a sense for how well your Microsoft applications are performing compared to other users in a given metro area by running a Microsoft 365 connectivity test at connectivity.office.com.
Considerations and potential hurdles
From a networking perspective, the requirements for using MAPS are relatively straightforward. To use MAPS, you will need:
- A public Autonomous System (AS) number
- IPv4 addresses that are registered in a major internet routing registry (IRR)
- A device that supports Border Gateway Protocol (BGP)
The biggest potential hurdle is that MAPS coverage is available across many regions globally, but it is not available everywhere and there may be limitations based on an office’s proximity to Internet exchange points. However, given the value of MAPS to Microsoft customers, Microsoft and its providers are constantly expanding the MAPS network.
In the United States, Microsoft customers can choose from a few MAPS service provider options. Beyond coverage, the biggest factor to consider when choosing a provider is whether carrier neutrality is important to your business, and how big of a priority MAPS is for a given provider.
Is MAPS right for your organization? 3 questions
If your organization relies heavily on Microsoft SaaS applications, chances are you can benefit from MAPS. Here are three key questions to consider.
|Are applications Microsoft 365, Microsoft Teams, Dynamics 365—and emerging applications like Microsoft 365 Copilot—critical to your users and business?||While Microsoft 365 may generally perform adequately over the public internet, its performance can suffer when used alongside more bandwidth-intensive applications. In such cases, adopting MAPS can be worthwhile to enhance performance and maintain a smooth user experience.|
|What kind of performance challenges has your organization faced with Microsoft applications, and how have these challenges impacted productivity and user experience?||If users have to wait any timeframe for applications to respond and/or they express frustration with the performance of Microsoft SaaS solutions, adopting MAPS can increase productivity and user satisfaction.|
|Have you moved beyond a single IP service provider connectivity solution to multicloud connectivity and datacenter colocation?||
When considering which peering service to use, organizations should first examine their current connectivity setup. Key factors to assess include the type of service provider used to connect to applications, branch office networks, and multi-cloud connectivity strategies.
For organizations co-located in a datacenter, MAPS is accessible directly through DE-CIX and, in some cases, resold by data center operators. For organizations with numerous branch offices, the respective office’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs) often can act as MAPS resellers.
Outstanding performance that’s only getting better
Chaturmohta says Microsoft is constantly working to ensure the best experience over the Internet, and the origins of MAPS ties back to enterprise customers requesting the ability to peer directly with Microsoft. “Direct peering did not work so well for select enterprises so we started working with Layer 3 providers and eventually Layer 2 providers to develop MAPS. The results have shown quality of service improvements for performance and latency-sensitive applications. Essentially, we adopted an internet-first strategy for Microsoft 365 connections,” says Chaturmohta.
The MAPS service uses Internet exchanges and ISPs to bring Microsoft 365 traffic as close to users as possible by enforcing cold potato routing to keep traffic on Microsoft’s network. DE-CIX is one of a limited number of internet exchange operators that offers MAPS. “MAPS improves the user experience by providing the shortest network path for Microsoft 365 traffic along with protection from DDoS attacks and SLAs,” says Chaturmohta.
Figure 1: How MAPS delivers connections to the nearest Microsoft PoP through DE-CIX exchanges.
Dive deeper into the advantages of MAPS with DE-CIX
DE-CIX is a Microsoft partner, and leading Internet Exchange operator and interconnection provider with more than 25-years’ experience managing BGP routing. DE-CIX offers MAPS support in the U.S. and globally through the largest carrier and data center-neutral interconnection ecosystem in the world. They are committed to delivering top-tier technical quality and cutting-edge support, ensuring optimized interconnections for all their customers.
DE-CIX hosted a webinar titled: Microsoft Azure Peering Service (MAPS) – Your key to M365 Private Connectivity. This 30-minute session digs deeper into the value of MAPS and how it improves the speed and security of M365 connections. The webinar covers:
- What is the MAPS service and what problems does it solve for Microsoft users?
- How does MAPS compare with Express Route?
- What are the security and performance benefits of MAPS?
Get help choosing the best interconnection option for your needs
For most businesses today, network performance directly impacts employee satisfaction and performance. However, factors ranging from geographical location to diversity of applications used within your organization can make it challenging to identify the most effective networking solution for your needs.
UPSTACK helps enterprises and businesses with comprehensive needs assessments and comparative analysis and for evaluating all Microsoft services, including MAPs, in addition to other network connectivity solutions. Our team uses a combination of deep technical expertise and real-world experience with Microsoft and competitive solutions to make informed recommendations for the unique needs of every business.
Ready to find the best interconnection solution for your organization? Contact your UPSTACK advisor today.