Selecting Your Data Center Part 3 – Understanding Facility Clusters

Now that we have determined the best geographic location for our data center, it is time to evaluate local facility options. The business concept of Splicing Fiber Optic Cableindustry clustering is valid in the data center industry. In most locations supporting carrier hotels and Internet Exchange Points you will normally see a large number of data centers within a very close proximity, offering a variety of options, and a maze of confusing pitches from aggressive sales people.

The idea of industry clustering says that whenever a certain industry, such as an automobile manufacturer selects a location to build a factory or assembly plant, others in the industry will eventually locate nearby. This is due to a number of factors including the availability of skilled workers within that industry, favorable city support for zoning, access to utilities, and proximity to supporting infrastructure such as ocean ports, rail, population centers, and communications.

The data center industry has evolved in a similar model. When you look at locations supporting large carrier hotels, such as Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, London, and New York, you will also see there are many options for data centers in the local area. For example in Los Angeles, the One Wilshire Building is a large carrier hotel with collocation space within the building, however there are at many options within a very close proximity to One Wilshire, such as Carrier Center (600 W. 7th), 818 W.7th St., the Garland Building, 530 W. 6th, the Quinby Building, and several others.

The bay area has similar clusters stretching between Palo Alto and San Jose, and Northern Virginia (Ashburn, Reston, Herndon, Sterling, Vienna) has a high density of facilities in proximity to the large Equinix Exchange Point in Ashburn.

When you have data center clusters, you will also find each facility is either fully meshed with commercial dark fiber interconnecting the buildings, or has several options of network providers offering competitive “lit” services between buildings. 

Note the attached picture of downtown Los Angeles, showing all the major colocation facilities and physical interconnection between the facilties with high capacity fiber (Wilshire Connection).

Discriminating Features Among Data Centers

The Uptime Institute, founded in 1993 (and recently acquired by the 451 Group) has long been a thought leader in codifying and classifying data center infrastructure and quality standards. While many may argue the Uptime Institute is focused on enterprise data center modeling, the same standards set by the Uptime Institute are a convenient metric to use when negotiating data center space in a commercial or public data center.

As mentioned in Part one of this series, there are four major components to the data center:

  • Concrete (space for cabinets, cages, and suites)
  • Power
  • Air-conditioning
  • Access to telecom and connectivity

Each data center in the cluster will offer all the above, at some level of quality scale that differs from others in the cluster. This article will focus on facility considerations. We will look at the Uptime Institute’s “tiered” system of data center classification in a later post.

Wilshire Connection Los AngelesConcrete. Data centers and carrier hotels supporting major interconnection points or industry cluster “hubs” will generally draw higher prices for their space. The carrier hotel will draw the highest prices, as the value of being colocated with the telecom hub brings more value to either space within the meet-me-room, or adjacent space within the same building. Space within the carrier hotel facility is also normally limited (there are exceptions, such as the NAP of the Americas in Miami), restricting individual tenants to a few cabinets or small cages.

The attraction of being in or near the carrier hotel meet-me-room is not necessarily in the high cost cabinet or cage, it is the availability of multiple carriers and networks available normally with a simple cross connect or jumper cable, rather than forcing networks and content providers to purchase/lease expensive backhaul to allow interconnection with other carriers or networks collocated in a different facility.

Meet-me-rooms at the NAP of the Americas, 60 Hudson, the Westin Building, and One Wilshire in the US, and Telehouse in London offer meet-me-room interconnections with several hundred potential interconnection partners or carrier within the same main distribution frame. Thus the expensive meet-me-room cabinets and cages make up their value through access to other carriers with inexpensive cross connects.

NOTE: One thing to keep in mind about carrier hotels and meet-me-rooms; most of the buildings supporting these facilities were not designed as data centers, they are office conversions. Thus the electrical systems, air-conditioning systems, floor loading, and security infrastructure are not as robust as you might find in a nearby facility constructed as a data center or telecom central office.

Facilities near the carrier hotel will generally have slightly lower cost space. As industry concerns over security within the carrier hotel increase, and the presence and quality of adjacent buildings exceeds that of the carrier hotel, many companies are reconsidering their need to locate within the legacy carrier hotel. In addition, many nearby collocation centers and data centers are building alternative meet-me-rooms and distribution frames within their building to accommodate both their own tenants, as well as offering the local community a backup or alternative interconnection point to the legacy carrier hotel.

This includes the development of alternative and competitive Internet Exchange Points.

This new age of competitive or alternate meet-me-rooms, multiple Internet Exchange Points, and data center industry clusters gives the industry more flexibility in their facility selection. In the past, Hunter Newby of Allied Fiber claimed “if you are not present in a facility such as 60 Hudson or the Westin Building, you are paying somebody else to be in the building.” This has gradually changed, as in cities such as New York a company can get near identical interconnection or peering support at 111 W. 8th St or 32 Ave of the Americas as available within 60 Hudson.

As the clusters continue to develop, and interconnections between tenants within the buildings become easier, then the requirement to physically locate within the carrier hotel becomes less acute. If you are in Carrier Center in Los Angeles, the cost and difficulty to complete a cross-connection with a tenant within One Wilshire has become almost the same as if you were a tenant within the One Wilshire Building. Ditto for other facilities within the industry cluster. In fact, the entire metro areas of New York, the bay area in Northern California, Northern Virginia, and Los Angeles have all become virtual extensions of the original meet-me-room in the legacy carrier hotel.

The Discriminating Factor

Now as potential data center tenants, we have a somewhat level playing field of data center operators to choose from. This has eliminated much of the interconnection part of our equation, and allows us to drill into each facility based on our requirements for:

  1. Cost/budget
  2. Available services
  3. Space for expansion or future growth
  4. Quality of power and air conditioning

Part four of this series will focus on cost.

As always, your experiences and comments are welcome

John Savageau, Long Beach

Prior articles in this series:

Wilshire Connection photo courtesy of Eric Bender at www.wilshireconnection.com

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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