Hunter Newby on Communications in America – Net Neutrality

This is Part 3 in a series of interviews with Hunter Newby, Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber

Hunter Newby, Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber believes most people do not fully understand the meaning of “Net Neutrality.”  There is a perception that “Net Neutrality is about the Internet,” says Newby.  “It is not, it is about physical access to the Internet.”

HunterNewbyAnd this is a combination of controlling the end points (users, computers, and applications), controlling what data or content the end points can access, and what other distant end point destinations are available.  Internet gatekeepers, including Internet Service Providers, telecom carriers, and governments, control “who can connect, what they can connect to, and how they connect” claims Newby.

“They are (the gatekeepers) going to have the ability to determine what we can or cannot see” Newby adds, “and that is what scares me the most.”

Newby is quick to point out the government states they will protect the rights of people to connect to “legal” content.  But who makes the decision what legal content is?  He uses the example of WikiLeaks.  While some may find the information scary, embarrassing, inappropriate, or unethical, the question is whether or not the data contained within a WikiLeaks website should be blocked from end points (users), and who is in a position to make that content-access decision?

If the gatekeeper is given that authority, and there no other access options available to end points, then the concept of Net Neutrality becomes a tool for the gatekeepers to control access to global Internet-enabled information resources.

For Newby, that presents a challenge and opportunity

The Neutral Connectivity Buss

Newby is an American, a patriot, and wants to ensure America’s economy and society remains strong, and stays in a global leadership role.  However he still acknowledges America has shortfalls in delivering broadband to all end points within the country.  His own company, Allied Fiber, “is created to address America’s need for more broadband access, wireless backhaul, data center distribution and lower latency communications services.”

And here is the problem.  Long haul fiber optic cables represent the physical means of not only connecting cities and regions to the global Internet (as one network among many levels of communications and connectivity), but also provide a means for end points to connect with other end points around the world.  In the United States nearly all telecom carriers operating long haul or long distance fiber also directly support end points.

This means that each long haul fiber operator has a direct interest in containing as many end points within their network as possible.  This includes moving up the OSI Stack to provide end points with additional value-added services to end points, in addition to physical access.  The carrier then may include everything from applications to content distribution within their own suite of services, either limiting access to competitive sources of similar services – or Newby points out in a worst case outright blocking those services making end points “hostages behind the gatekeeper.”  telecom-tower-at-sunrise

Newby promotes the concept of building neutral connectivity busses on the long haul networks, connecting competitive regional, metro, and local networks to the buss without concern of needing a traditional long haul carrier to provide that service – a carrier which may wish to restrict the local companies to those services or content available through the carrier’s own content or value-added services.

The closer a neutral long haul connectivity buss can get to local access providers, the easier it will become for new access providers to emerge, as they will have more options for global interconnection, free from the legacy of a single long haul provider with a monopoly on access and transit connectivity.

Newby’s idea of a neutral connectivity buss is not limited to copper or fiber to the end point.  In rural areas it is clear wireless technologies may provide better and faster connectivity options than physical cable.  Thus, in Allied’s case, Newby promotes the idea of building neutral towers at each in-line amplifier or signal regeneration site.

“We can promote this due to our multi-duct design by using the short haul duct/cable for splicing in towers, etc. It is not limited to just the amp sites” continues Newby.

This would further allow multiple wireless providers to emerge, serve, and compete in areas where only large carriers had the means to operate in the past.

Interconnection, Bypass, and Competition

Carrying a pedigree which includes the legacy of building one of the world’s largest carrier interconnection facilities (60 Hudson’s Telx Meet-Me-Room), Newby is one of the few people around the industry with a core understanding of carrier bypass and interconnections.  The “carrier hotel” industry was born to address the need of competitive communications companies to bypass traditional incumbent, or monopoly carriers to directly interconnect without the burden of buying transit connections.

In the United States, this may have been a requirement (in the old days) for Sprint to connect with MCI, without requiring a transit connection through AT&T to make the link.  As we added international carriers, such as British Telecom or France Telecom, and they were given the opportunity to own end-to-end circuit capacity on submarine fiber cables or satellites, they were also given the ability to directly connect with Sprint, MCI, or other emerging carriers at a neutral carrier hotel without the need for transit connections.

The concept of neutral Internet Exchange Points, Carrier Ethernet Exchanges, and neutral tandem telephony switches are all a continuation of the need for bypassing individual or monopoly carriers.

Newby now wants to take that several steps further.  “At Allied Fiber we want to be able to provide (any service provider or carrier) multiple paths of connectivity.  If they (the service provider) can connect to us, then they are free to do (or connect to) what they wish.”

A strong advocate of distributed interconnect and peering, Newby also sees Allied Fiber’s infrastructure as a giant, neutral carrier interconnection point.  As each in line amplifier or regeneration site requires a physical support facility, and as noted will also support antenna towers, it is also reasonable to extend the site to include neutral carrier colocation and neutral interconnection both within the site, as well as along the Allied Fiber route to other similar interconnection points.

As Allied Fiber also intends to extend their fiber to existing major and second tier carrier hotels (such as 60 Hudson, etc), this will give connecting service providers the ability to interconnect with other service providers throughout the United States and international locations through a neutral connectivity system – further relieving themselves of monopoly pricing and service restriction potentially imposed by incumbent or transit carriers.

And the product of this exercise is greater competition.  Newby is in the business of providing the “connectivity buss,”  and openly states Allied Fiber’s policy is “come one, come all.”  Regional and local networks/service providers can then take the transit carrier factor out of their list of business risk, with an outcome of better broadband and Internet access to end points throughout America.  A more competitive America.

Read other posts in this series, including:

Hunter Newby on Communications in America – The Yin and Yang of Mobility

This is Part 2 in a series highlighting Hunter Newby’s thoughts and visions of communications in America. Part 2 will highlight Newby’s ideas on the yin and yang of telecom infrastructure. Additional articles touch on net neutrality, the fiber optic industry, and the dilemma of supporting telecom “end points.”


HunterNewby_thumb

Most people today have a strong “sense of entitlement” towards telecommunications, Internet, and broadcast media.  We really don’t care about the underlying infrastructure needed to deliver our communications tools, we simply expect access to YouTube where and when we choose.

Hunter Newby, Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber, lives in a different world.  A world requiring right of ways, trenching, tower construction, a working knowledge in the science of photonics, and professional skills needed to translate his world into a form investors and the market can understand.

While Newby’s own company, Allied Fiber, focuses on building a high capacity national fiber optic backbone, he also accepts at a user or end-point level “wireless mobile will dominate.”  Newby accepts that in the 21st century “we cannot live without mobility.”  However he also is quick to point out communications mobility “cannot exist without fiber.”

The Yin and Yang of Mobility

The physical requirements for building high capacity mobile or wireless networks are constantly evolving.  Today there may be an apparent glut of fiber optic capacity, tomorrow cable and wireless networks may have used up most available long haul capacity (needed to interconnect networks on a national or global level).

Thus, Newby explains “the requirements for wireless and fiber are a Yin and Yang. “

If you imagine a Yin and Yang image, it is clear neither side dominates the other.  If one side expands in a direction, it must contract in another direction, as its available resources are focused on the expansion.  And each side has a finite set of available resources. A simple way to describe the Yin and Yang is to consider how “opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn.”

Newby looks at the development of telecom infrastructure needed to support mobility and end points (including human “end users”) as interdependent.  If you look at development of fiber optic infrastructure versus wireless, the development is not done in parallel.  “Development (of infrastructure) is not done in a straight line, but rather it is a wavy line” comments Newby.  “Requirements change, and the yingcorresponding infrastructures must change to respond to shortfalls.  And that is done by building excess infrastructure (in either fiber or wireless physical networks).”

And Then the Cycle Repeats

“Wireless will drive the need for more towers, fiber, and access capacity” advises Newby.  End point requirements continue to expand, as applications and network-enabled utilities continue consuming more network resources.  “Smart Grids,” intelligent homes, video, emerging 4G/LTE/MIMO/WiMAX delivery of everything from video to disaster recovery requires constant planning and upgrades of network infrastructure.

While it is natural to think on a local level, such as how many towers are needed to provide high performance access capacity for a single community, Newby is quick to remind us that single communities must be connected to the global community.  To connect Montreal to New York requires long haul capacity supporting millions of end points.  If we add Chicago, Toronto, St. Louis, Dallas, Vancouver, and Los Angeles end points to the community the requirement jumps up to potentially billions of end points.

Now add Asian cities, European cities, Africa, and Latin America to the global community and Newby admits it is easy to become overwhelmed with the scale of planning companies like Allied Fiber need to consider when designing backbone infrastructure needed to fulfill end point requirements. Just as the communications industry has done since Alexander Graham Bell made the first telephone call in 1875.


Hunter Newby, a 15-year veteran of the telecom networking industry, is the Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber.

Read other articles in this series, including:

Hunter Newby on Communications in America – Are We Competitive?

This is Part 1 in a series highlighting Hunter Newby’s thoughts and visions of communications in America.  Part 1 will highlight Newby’s impressions of America’s competitiveness in the global telecom-enabled community.  Additional articles will touch on net neutrality, the “ying and yang” of the telecom industry, as well as  the dilemma of supporting telecom “end points.”

HunterNewbyMembers and guests of the Internet Society gathered at Sentry Center in New York on 14 June for the regional INET Conference.  The topic, “It’s your call, What kind of Internet do you want?” attracted Internet legends including Vint Cerf and Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, as well as a number of distinguished speakers and panelists representing a wide range of industry sectors.

Hunter Newby, Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber, joined the panel “Pushing Technology Boundaries” to discuss the future of Internet-enabled innovation.  The panel had robust discussions on many topics including net neutrality, infrastructure, telecom law, regulation, and the role of service providers.

Pacific-Tier Communications caught up with Newby on 22 June to learn more about his views on communications in America.

Are We Competitive?

Newby believes America lags behind other nations in developing the infrastructure needed to compete in a rapidly developing global community.  Much of the shortfall is related to physical telecommunications infrastructure needed to connect networks, people, content, and machines at the same level as other countries in Asia and Europe.

“The US lacks an appreciation for the need to understand physical (telecom) infrastructure” said Newby.  He went on to describe the lack of standard terms in the US, such as “Broadband Communications.” Newby continued “In some locations, such as North Carolina, broadband communications are considered anything over 128Kbps (Kilobits per second).”

Newby note there is considerable disinformation in the media related to the US communications infrastructure.  Although the US does have a national broadband plan, in reality the infrastructure is being built by companies with a priority to meet the needs of shareholders. Those priorities do not necessarily reflect the overall needs the American people.

While some companies have made great progress bringing high performance telecom and Internet access to individual cities and towns, Newby is quick to remind us that “we cannot solve telecom problems in a single  city or location, and (use that success) to declare victory as a country.”  Without having a national high performance broadband and network infrastructure, the US will find it difficult to continue attracting the best talent to our research labs and companies, eroding our competitiveness not only in communications, but also as a country and economy.

Newby returns to a recurring theme in his discussions on communications.  There are no connectivity “clouds” as commonly shown in presentations and documents related to the space between end points in the Internet (an end point being users, servers, applications, etc.).  The connectivity between end points happens on physical “patch panels,” telecom switches, and routers.  This happens in the street, at the data center, carrier hotel, central office, or exchange point.

Bringing it All Down to Layer 1 – Optical Fiber

Newby believes the basis of all discussions related to communications infrastructure starts at the right of way.  When access to a ground or aerial right of way (or easement) is secured, then install fiber optic cable.  Lots of fiber optic cable.  Long haul fiber, metro fiber, and transoceanic submarine fiber.  Fiber optic cable allows tremendous amounts of information to travel from end points to other end points, whether in a local area, or across wide geographies.

Long distance and submarine fiber optic cable are essential in providing the infrastructure needed to move massive amounts of information and data throughout the US and the world.  While there is still a large amount of communications provided via satellite and microwave, only fiber optic cable has the resources and capacity needed to move data supporting communications within the network or Internet-enabled community.

Newby makes a point that in the US, very few companies operate long haul fiber networks, and those companies control access to their communications infrastructure with tariffs based on location, distance, traffic volumes (bandwidth/ports), and types of traffic.  Much of the existing fiber optic infrastructure crossing the US is old, and cannot support emerging communication transmission rates and technologies, limiting choices and competitiveness to a handful of companies – none of which provide fiber as a utility or as a neutral tariffed product.

As the cost of long distance or long haul fiber is extremely high, most carriers do not want to carry the expense of building their own new fiber optic infrastructure, and prefer to lease capacity from other carriers.  However, the carriers owning long haul fiber do not want to lease or sell their capacity to potentially competitive communications carriers.

Most US communications carriers operating their own long haul fiber optic networks also provide additional value-added services to their markets.  This might include voice services, cable or IP television, virtual private networks, and Internet access.  Thus the carrier is reluctant to lease their capacity to other competitive or virtual carriers who may compete with them in individual or global  markets.

Thus a dilemma – how do we build the American fiber backbone infrastructure to a level needed to provide a competitive, high capacity national infrastructure without aggressive investment in new fiber routes?

Newby has responded to the dilemma and challenge with his company Allied Fiber, and advises “the only way to properly build the physical infrastructure required to support all of this (infrastructure need) is to have a unique model at the fiber layer similar to what Allied (Allied Fiber) has, but not solely look at fiber as the only source of revenue.”

For example, Newby advises revenue can be supplemented by offering interconnecting carriers and other network or content providers space in facilities adjacent to the backbone fiber traditionally used for only in-line-amplifiers (ILAs) and fiber optic signal regeneration.  The ILA facility itself “could be an additional source of recurring revenue,” while allowing the fiber provider to remain a neutral utility.

Or in short, Newby explains “we need to put a 60 Hudson or One Wilshire every 60 miles” to allow unrestricted interconnection between carriers, networks, and content providers at a location closest to the infrastructure supporting end points.

The Backbone

America can compete, and break the long distance dilemma.  Newby is certain this is possible, and has a plan to bring the US infrastructure up to his highest standards.  The idea is really pretty simple.

  1. Build a high capacity fiber optic backbone passing through all major markets within the US.
  2. Connect the backbone to local metro fiber networks (reference the Dark Fiber Community)
  3. Connect the backbone to wireless networks and towers (and provide the access location)
  4. Connect the backbone to all major physical interconnection points, carrier hotels, and Internet Exchange Points (IXPs)
  5. Make access to the backbone available to all as a neutral, infrastructure utility

Newby strongly advises “If you do not understand the root of the issue, you are not solving the real problems.”

And the root of the issue is to ensure everybody in America has unrestricted access to unrestricted communications resources.


Hunter Newby, a 15-year veteran of the telecom networking industry, is the Founder and CEO of Allied Fiber.

Read other articles in this series, including:

Mobile Operators Want their Ethernet over Fiber

A new telecom paradigm is on the verge of becoming reality. Not a disruptive technology, not the right brain flash of a new radical idea – rather it is a logical development of existing infrastructure using better operational execution. It is an acknowledgement of fiber optic infrastructure as an inherent requirement in the development of the 4th utility – broadband Internet, compute capacity, and storage as a basic right for all Americans.

The “utility” label has merit. Just as we need roads, water, and electricity to function in the modern world, we need communications. Much like the roads, electrical distribution, and water distribution systems crossing North America, the communications infrastructure follows a similar matrix of hubs, spokes, loops, and major exchange points interconnecting every square mile of the continent. The matrix includes a well-interconnected mixture of fiber optic cable, wireless, cable TV, copper telephone lines, and even satellite connections.

However, the arteries of this telecom circulatory system remain fiber optic cable. Fiber optic cable allows tremendous densities of communication, information, and data to travel across the street, or across the continent. Fiber goes north and south, east and west, connecting everything from wireless towers, satellite earth stations, collocation and hosting centers, communication carriers, Internet Service Providers, and end users to each other on a global scale.

Geography of the 4th Utility

Let’s take a deeper look at this circulatory system in geographic terms. When looking at a US map, latitude lines run horizontally, parallel to each other based on degrees north or south of the equator. The northern 40th parallel runs from Northern California to New Jersey, hitting parts of 12 states along its path. If we look at the US Interstate Highway system you will see some of the longer “arteries” stretch from the West Coast to the East Coast, such as interstate highway 10, running 2460 miles, hitting 8 states from California to Florida, and 35 major cities.

In addition, I-10 intersects with 45 other interstate highway junctions, and has several thousand entry and exit points serving both major cities and rural locations along the route. If you dig into the electrical grid you will find a similar mesh of interconnections, nodes, and relationships originating at power plants, and ending at the utility outlet in a bedroom or office.

The fiber optic system follows a similar model. The east-west and north-south routes follow the interstate highway system, rail system, and electrical grid – taking advantage of rights-of-way and interconnect nodes all along the route. The routes are generally shared by several different fiber optic providers and carriers, further extending their reach by collocating fiber at major carrier hotels along the coast, such as 60 Hudson in New York, the Westin Building in Seattle, NAP (network access point) of the Americas in Miami, and One Wilshire in Los Angeles, where they splice their fiber with major intercontinental submarine fiber optic systems.

Within North America further domestic interconnections are provided at each major city junction point throughout the country reinforcing the mesh of fiber networks in cities such as Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Dallas, Omaha, and Minneapolis.

The Local Value of a Global Fiber Optic Circulatory System

All this fiber is of little value if its utility does not reach every potential end user in America, or around the world. Much like the interstate highway system sporting several thousand access points and exits, the new fiber optic backbone will support fiber optic connections to every end user in the country, or push wireless broadband to every other addressable mobile and rural user. In the new world, the utility does not end at a wall outlet, but ends wherever the user is located. And that mobility is a local challenge.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber, an emerging fiber utility provider in the United States, advises that “It’s all about fiber…to the tower. For that component the long haul (fiber routes) is just how we get out there and back.” So while we may be able to analogize fiber routes with cities and interconnection points with the idea of a system starting at the driveway in a house to the East Los Angeles interchange and I-10, the wireless towers provide an undefined end point to the telecom grid that is unique.

The main difference discriminating the road system and electrical grid from the fiber grid are that in the telecom industry each route has many competing commercial providers. By definition, competition is not neutral. And if not neutral, it is not a utility, and cannot be expected to provide service in a location (or market) that will not be of financial advantage to the service provider – resulting in locations potentially stranded from the infrastructure.

Is this Really Different than the Existing Telecom Infrastructure?

Newby continues “The truth is that it’s the fiber that binds. Our route and its design is unique to today’s needs, unlike the design and needs of the cables from 10+ years ago. There are no neutral colos on those cables every 60 miles. There are also no FTTT (fiber to the tower) ducts (supporting) a separate fiber cable with handholes every 3000 ft on those systems.”

Following telecom deregulation in the United States, companies such as AT&T are no longer monopolies, with infrastructure development based on economic factors. If Carp, Minnesota (population ~100) does not offer sufficient economic incentive for AT&T to build broadband infrastructure, then it is unlikely to happen. Unless broadband is available through wireless networks, connecting to a broadband fiber backbone, and the rest of the world.

With companies such as Allied Fiber entering the market, access to the east-west, north-south routes will include a truly neutral alternative to the private road system of the existing telecom carriers. The long haul fiber routes will connect to regional neutral fiber routes, such as provided by companies such as Fiberlight in the eastern United States, and even more importantly provide both access to towers and interconnections at least every 60 miles (or more often) along the route.

That is because the long haul utility cable system will need to regenerate their signals at 60 miles points, offering a location for towers and regional fiber providers additional local access to supplement the carrier hotels and collocation facilities located at major junction or interconnection points. And financial incentives are available to companies through programs such as the Rural Development Telecommunications Program (RDTA) supporting the US government’s 4th utility Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP).

Hunter Newby brings evangelism to his vision.   

“Add to that the neutral colos allow the rural wireline and wireless carriers to colocate locally – in their county, or closeby by using the short haul duct to get to the closest AF colo – and in those locations they can buy high capacity transport and transit at wholesale rates from the large US and international carriers coming through. Right there! Wholesale! The rural carriers don’t even have to lease dark from us to get to the big cities/carrier hotels if they don’t want to or can’t afford to yet.

The ability to gain access to the power of the major US carrier hotels, but not have to actually get to them is the next frontier in the US.”

The 4th Utility is an American Entitlement
Newby concludes “The fiber laterals will all be built to us (the long haul neutral fiber providers). The tower companies won’t build them, but there are several transport providers that will. The mobile operators want their Ethernet over fiber.” Fiber that connects them to the content and people available on a global network-connected community. Broadband access that allows Americans to function in a global community.

Those wireless companies, whether mobile operators offering LTE/4G services, or WiFi providers offering a local competitive service, will pay the same tariff to connect to the neutral towers and fiber systems without prejudice. Just like an electrical utility doesn’t care if the outlet is supporting a private individual’s television set, a small storefront business’s display case, or an aircraft assembly plant, the only discriminating issue is in volume and required capacity.

A utility. Broadband access is now an expected utility – not a value-added service, available to all, but rather as an entitlement to living in America.

Giving Ourselves a Broadband Facelift for the 2010 Matrix

Of all the memories the telecom community has of the 80s and 90s, one of the most vivid is the sight of long haul fiber optic cable systems being buried throughout the United States. A product of deregulation, competition, and the birth of the Internet, American telecom companies saw a desperate need for greatly increasing transmission capacity, and responded with investments in long haul fiber, metro fiber, and digital switching needed to meet all visions of what we knew in those wonderful days of innovation.

Globally, broadband Internet, 3G + wireless, and the convergence of everything from entertainment to telephony into digital formats is driving not only Internet technologies, but also physical telecom transmission systems to the threshold of existing capacity. This explosive growth in information and communications technologies creates an interesting dilemma for telecom companies.

Do you spend your efforts finding ways to control the use of existing capacity? Or do we acknowledge the fact our network-enabled global community is not likely to get any smaller, and the world now needs our telecom thought leadership to both greatly expand what we already have, while aggressively investing in developing transmission technology that will enable, not restrict, growth in all things digital.

Not a US-Only Challenge

When a child in South Africa, Hanoi, or Denpasar has equal access to Hulu TV, Skype video chats, and eLearning systems from either a fixed workstation or mobile phone, it can be argued technology is serving the purpose of enabling and providing a new generation with the intellectual tools they need to flatten the geographic and political barriers we have lived with since the beginning of time.

All great, benevolent thoughts. Our children may need the tools to correct the problems we’ve created through irresponsible use of fossil fuels, exploitation of natural resources, human transmitted disease, war, and creation of toxic “stuff” that continues to restrict our planet’s ability to create an acceptable quality of life for all.

Face it, educated people in general do not make as many BIG mistakes as those who blindly follow others due to ignorance or lack of exposure to a wide variety of knowledge. Internet and telecom-enabled technologies may facilitate some people who thrive on physical or ideological control, however that is also diluted as the percentages bring their own knowledge of fact, and exposure to a liberal dosage or prism of different perspectives.

Or in other words, we can hope primary school students from different countries and cultures who meet each other through chatting or cooperative educational projects will be more likely to collaborate on useful endeavors in later life than those who are only exposed to a narrow view of society, culture, ideologies, and leadership.

Getting to the Vision

All this is great. An altruistic, warm, and fuzzy view of the future. Getting our vision to reality requires a tremendous amount of work. The current caretakers of industry and leadership do not have all the intellectual tools needed to keep up with a developing generation of children who were birthed in the Internet Age.

However we (the current caretakers) are pretty good at building things. Among those things are fiber optic transmission systems spanning oceans, continents, cities, and now even homes. We are good at building wireless transmission towers, and are still pretty good at building devices that can connect all this fiber, tower, and wireless infrastructure together.

And the younger generation is beginning to envision ways to exploit the transmission “matrix” that is beyond the comprehension of our current caretaker generation.

“The world is becoming one, big, ubiquitous, homogeneous system because of “the network” and the network exists and needs to exist because it exists (in other places) already. This is the justification to build. It is a self-fulfilling chain reaction.” (Hunter Newby, CEO Allied Fiber)

The Republicans in the US like to scream the need for Americans to “Drill Baby Drill,” exploiting domestic sources of fossil fuels, reducing our dependence on foreign sources for energy. In the telecom industry we are beginning to feel the need to “Dig Baby Dig.”

We need to increase our ability to continue delivering the network transmission capacity required to give our next generation the tools needed to really make a “Matrix-enabled” future, rather than spend our efforts scrambling, as in the energy analogy, to control or reduce our dependence on existing sources of telecom capacity.

How it is Going to Happen

In the US, for the past 30 years deregulation has allowed the telecom industry to build their infrastructure without any oversight other than what local or state governments impose for licensing and access to rights of way. Most debates have surrounded topics such as net neutrality, control over markets, or conduct of both content and users connecting to the Internet.

The US National Science Foundation inadvertently created the current, sometimes restrictive environment within the US Internet community by passing control of the NSFNet backbone to a select few commercial providers (AT&T, MCI, and Sprint). This award increased incentives for carriers to control their part of the US Internet space, and reduce incentives to aggressively build out physical capacity needed to meet the exponentially increasing demands for bandwidth and capacity.

It did not greatly meet infrastructure requirements needed to support the convergence of everything that can, does, should, and will travel over Internet Protocol (IP) networks over the next 25 or 30 years. While there are some positive developments in the local loop (FiOS, LTE, WiMAX, Uverse, etc), Newby cautions in the US there is a dearth of long haul and metro capacity needed to string all the local initiatives together.

The answer is to dig. Dig more conduits around the United States and Canada, drop the highest existing capacity fiber cabling within the conduits, connect wireless towers supporting LTE/4G+ to the high capacity backbone, connect buildings and homes, and develop new even higher capacity transmission technologies to parallel or exceed similar models of growth such as Moore’s Law and Metcalf’s Law.

But to give us the space needed to develop those technologies, for now, dig baby dig. Give fiber optic long haul, metro, and local digs the same tolerance we give to filling potholes and expanding lanes on a freeway system – while in the background we hope our leadership designs high speed rail, better road construction materials, and better ways to move from point “A” to point “B.”

Consider broadband, hyper-band, and uber-band development the true 4th Utility justifying extreme social priority, without which we will suffer the same fate as losing electricity, water, and roads. As with roads, everything we do going into the future will ride the broadband “matrix,” and without enough available lanes we will reduce ourselves to a frustrating gridlock of intellectual, business, and social development.

Dig baby dig…

NOTE: I was first introduced to the concept of the “Matrix” in the early 1990s, when a friend of mine suggested I read a book by John S. Quarterman entitled “The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide.” 20 years after, and it is still the most enlightening view of the Internet, what the internet cloud and should be, as well as look into the future as anything I have ever read on the topic. It takes William Gibson, Neal Stephensen, and translates their fiction into a reality which continues to become part of our day to day lives. Or maybe it gave both authors additional ideas needed for them to develop fiction…

The Need for Speed – and Big, Fat, Dumb Pipes

The Europeans mock us. The Koreans boast a claim they are the world’s most wired country. Finland is bringing broadband to reindeer. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published in their 2009 statistics the U.S. now ranks 15th among the group’s 30 member countries for broadband subscriptions. This is down from 12th in their previous study. No way!

Is the United States actually that far behind the world in broadband deployment? Should the home of Cisco Systems, Brocade, IBM, and HP hang our heads in shame at our inability to deliver a world class communications infrastructure?

Geography and Statistics

Well, we shouldn’t hang our heads in shame, however there is ample opportunity to further develop our national broadband infrastructure.

Looking at the following table you can easily see the US has a huge landmass, with much lower than Euro-Asian average population density. Kudos to Canada and the Nordic countries, although let’s be honest – 90% of Canada’s population is within 100km of the US border, and most of that is in cities. Same for the Nordics, and Iceland is not what you would normally refer to as a large landmass.

The US is big, and other countries with a similar landmass such as Russia and China did not even qualify for the top 35 countries in the study

Broadband Access in OECD Countries(From OECD Study dated June 2009)

Taking Inventory of the US Telecom Toolkit

Now let’s brush off the “feel good” paragraph and get back to the real issue. Making broadband accessible to every person in the United States who wants or needs access to network-enabled applications and resources.

We have a fairly robust toolkit of telecom resources available to deliver our bits:

  • ILECs (Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers)
  • CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Carriers)
  • Long Distance Carriers
  • Cable Television Service Providers
  • Cable (fiber optic) wholesale infrastructure providers (may also provide other services)
  • Wireless Broadband providers (including mobile telephone operators)
  • Utility operators (such as power companies and water companies)

In a country as large as the US, the long distance carriers and wholesale cable providers deliver infrastructure that connects New York to Los Angeles, and all others in between with high performance cable infrastructure. All other service providers deliver either a specific service to regional markets or end users. Some may contribute to “overlay” networks which provide a higher level of product or service to users throughout the market, such as Internet services, telephone services, television and “triple-play” (video, voice, Internet).

Sounds Easy? Just connect all this stuff together and the USA will be back on top of the broadband podium with a gold medal.

But…. The US is an open, competitive market. As all the US carriers (with the exception of some utilities) are privately (not government) owned, the objective is to make money for shareholders. This means cooperation with other companies is a mere short-term convenience, with no incentive for investing in any infrastructure that does not meet a business plan for satisfying the demands of investors. Altruism or working for the common good is reduced to marketing hype – and has very little basis in the reality of America’s communications infrastructure.

Maybe stimulus money or additional tax credits for companies to cooperate and meet national objectives? Unlikely, as most states are already suffering a great deal from the loss of telephone tax revenues (you’ve got to love VoIP), and to get into the stimulus business you will need to means to hire a legion of lawyers, lobbyists, and prepare for a long time horizon to see any support. That narrows it down to the ILECs, long distance carriers, and wholesalers. Same applies for money available through the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and the NTIA Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

Thus, my favorite little town of Baudette(Minnesota) is not likely to be a really high priority for any serious infrastructure development. Yes, companies like Time Warner have delivered cable TV and cable modems to the market, however if you do not have access to the cable (which pretty much follows the state highways, and does not venture too far off the asphalt), chances are you will not be receiving multiple streams of HD video any time soon.

There are many people in Northern Minnesota who don’t spend any more time online than they have to. They would rather be in a boat with their line in the water. If broadband could help them catch fish, they would be all for it. (from Minnesota Brown)

This also begs the question – if people really want to be wired, maybe they will migrate closer to cities which offer much more robust urban Map of Baudette Minnesotainfrastructure, and those who want to spend their life fishing can do so in peace?

Good, as long as they do not choose to reproduce, in which case the children deserve to have the same access to global information ands communications technology needed to ensure they are competitive with children in Korea and Amsterdam.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber reminds us that “We here in the USA are destined for a major change in our communications infrastructure.  An entirely new physical layer design needs to be rolled out in the USA if we are ever to reach broadband speeds and penetration like that of the other civilized and advanced countries in the world.”

Allied Fiber was created to “address America’s need to eliminate obstacles for broadband access, wireless backhaul and lower latency through new, next generation long haul dark fiber construction with sound principles and an open access philosophy.”

Newby continues “The USA is much larger than South Korea, or Japan, yet we are always stacked against those “countries” and others that are equally as small in geography. We will never reach the speeds, services, applications, or processing power of the people if we do not match their National physical layer network designs – designs that have incorporated wireless and fiber for backhaul for many years.”

Big, Fat, Dumb Pipes

In the 1990s companies such as Level 3 Communications used marketing taglines with the theme “bandwidth is like water,” and fiber infrastructure should be considered “big, fat, dumb pipes.” If the philosophy had survived investors, Wall Street analysts, and the desire to increase cash flow by adding higher level value added services (such as voice, Internet, TV, etc), the US might have a very high performance Allied Fiber's Network Philosophyphysical infrastructure in place that served as a neutral conduit for regional and local carriers and service providers to deliver broadband closer to the edge – or end users.

Companies such as Allied Fiber hope to bring that idea back to reality, providing the United States and Canada a very high performance, cost-effective trans-continental backbone allowing regional and local service providers and easy way to bring their edge resources to the North American “cloud.” Wireless companies can focus on delivering transmission to end users from the tower, and Allied Fiber will connect towers, regional networks, access networks, and value-added service networks (such as Internet providers) on a national scale.

A Happy Broadband Ending

One bright spot in the discussion is broadband wireless. The US carriers are pushing deployment of LTE and 4G, further incorporating broadband support via emerging technologies such as MIMO (Multiple In – Multiple Out) antennas which bring wireless up to the Gigabit/second level on individual end-user devices. This will reduce the need for fiber optic or high speed cable infrastructure deployment into both rural and urban areas with obsolete or decrepit building/street infrastructure.

“(This) isn’t about technology, (this) is about preserving small town communities by using technology to allow them to survive in a world that is changing. It’s about allowing kids to build careers in their local community, not just find a job. (Ross Williams – Minnesota Brown)

All new communications technologies being delivered by Verizon use Internet Protocols, including wireless telephone service, and incorporating IPv6 into the basic network. A combination of their FiOS (fiber optic to the home) product and high performance LTE=>4G wireless deployments will make up a lot of ground in the US.

Add a national high performance backbone network connecting the whole North American mess via Allied Fiber, and the US has a pretty good chance at jumping into the top 5 in OECDs broadband deployment listing. And Baudette’s culture and global presence is preserved.

Defining Business Dynamics of Broadband Communications

Hunter Newby is on a mission. A mission to tear down the shroud of confusion preventing Americans from being wired into global Looking into the telecom futurecommunications at the same level as our neighbors in Asia or Europe. It is all about delivering broadband communications to every addressable device or person wired into the global communications matrix.

Hunter, CEO of Allied Fiber, is on a mission to build and deliver high capacity utility fiber optic infrastructure around the United States, connecting every possible carrier hotel, metro fiber provider, wireless tower, and international cable landing station into a nation-wide, neutral communications resource that will push the United States to achieve our economic, social, and academic goals.

“Fiber as a term is very over-used and misunderstood. Defining what “fiber” means in the context of a conversation, business opportunity, route, or all of the above is essential, or else you can totally miss the point.” (Hunter Newby)

Allied Fiber is Not Alone

Kaufman Brothers (KBRO), a New York investment banking company is sponsoring an event on January 12th in New York entitled “Technology Trends 2010.” One session within the conference is “Bandwidth: The Increasing Value of Fiber.”

Bringing together thought leaders from broadband companies, who would normally compete with the national carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, QWEST, and Level 3, the conference will address and debate the misconceptions of delivering broadband telecom access to the country, as well as establish a framework of how the emerging fiber industry may help the US meet its broadband objectives.

During this panel we will help define the differences between various forms of fiber and their consequent value, including routes (metro vs. regional vs. long-haul), locations (residential vs. enterprise vs. data center), and services (dark fiber vs. private line vs. Ethernet). We will also more broadly discuss some of the drivers for bandwidth growth including increasing low latency requirements, use of online video and storage/SaaS/cloud computing, as well as the necessary requirements to provide fiber-to-the-tower backhaul. (TMC/KBRO)

If you listen to the marketing story of large carriers, the issue with broadband and emerging applications, such as video over Internet, is that carriers cannot afford to build and deliver the infrastructure needed to support the applications without creating a new model of internet traffic shaping and pricing.

In short, this means that carriers are currently concerned with controlling and managing application development and growth – and not as concerned with the vision of how our communications infrastructure should be designed and prepared to meet the “wired” needs of our next generations of users.

Or in even shorter and simpler terms, an 8 year old school girl in Bemidji has an expectation that we (as an industry) will deliver her a physical platform that gives her the tools to diffuse 21st century technology into her life at a rate which exceeds her counterparts in Seoul.

The Role of Thought Leaders and Investment Bankers

Industry leaders such as Hunter Newby and Dan Caruso (another panel member at the KBRO conference) have been digging up the ground, laying fiber, building data centers, and supporting the telecom and Internet community for a couple decades.

Offended by hype, these guys have earned their tacit knowledge and tacit experience campaign ribbons through many years of living and designing the telecom infrastructure we are using today. They have worked alongside, and even directed, much of the laundry list of industry pundits who grace the media with dazzling visions of the future.

Once the dazzle settles, the thought leaders and investment bankers role up their sleeves and start planting development milestones on paper.

And for a country the size of the United States, those milestones depend on both building, and understanding the dynamics of fiber optic infrastructure. Lots of fiber optic infrastructure. And questions…

For example, is the fiber “dark, or lit”? If it is dark, is it available for lease? What is the age of the fiber? What type of fiber is it (NZDSF, or SMF)? Where can it be accessed along the route – only in the regen colos (regeneration sites with adjacent collocation)? Are they carrier-neutral colo’s? What are the terms and costs associated with the lease, or IRU? What route does the fiber take? Is it diverse from other routes? Is the route shorter than other routes thus producing a lower latency between the endpoints than other longer routes? Are there wireless towers that can be easily accessed by the fiber? And so on… (Hunter Newby)

Americans Can Sleep Well Tonight

Knowing there is a growing movement within our senior telecommunications industry through leadership should give us some “peace of mind.” While day-to-day we may worry about job loss, inflation, mortgages, and clawing our way ahead, it is easy to lose track of what infrastructure is needed to keep our country competitive.

While the average person may read about Hunter Newby, Dan Caruso, and other soldiers in the infrastructure army thinking “well, that is nice – not sure how it applies to me…,” the reality is your 8 year old daughter depends on them to get it right.

Your 8 year old daughter in Bemidji, Minnesota, is growing up in a global community and economy. She is no longer competing with a girl in Thief River Falls or Baudette, she is competing with an 8 year old girl in Seoul, Ramallah, or Singapore.

To compete she will need access to all the broadband access and available network-enabled applications that will be available to other 8 year old girls throughout the world.

Hunter knows this, the investment banking community is waking up to both the opportunity and responsibility, the fiber companies are energized, and now we need to be thankful the telecom thought leadership community has prioritized our personal and national interests.

The new generations will have Gigabit access to wireless networks, home access to fiber networks, business access to broadband networks – as a country the United States will get wired. We will be competitive in the global wired world, and the 8 year old girl in Bemidji will have access to every possible utility and intellectual tool she needs.

Take no prisoners guys…

Questions Data Center Operators Don’t Want You to Ask

We live in a world of clouds, SaaS, outsourcing, and Everything over IP (EoIP). The challenges IT professionals face when trying to sort through the maze of technology, globalization, SOX, HIPPA, PUE, and on,… result in daunting confusion. Mix in a few Your Future Data centeroverzealous sales people, an inquiring CFO, incorrigible users within the organization, and you have all the pre-requisites for a world class, globalized, migraine headache.

Now let’s go out and consider throwing all this confusion into an outsourced data center. You know your company wants to save money, have better quality facilities, be close to network and Internet exchange points, be close to carriers who can support your national distributed office. So you do what anybody might consider doing – you call on a data center sales person.

Each company has a pitch. That pitch is refined based on what resources the company has to sell, and the thought leadership provided by the data center operator will most certainly promote their “unique” product or service. As the overzealous sales person goes into their pitch, several topics will no doubt emerge:

  • Their power stability
  • Mechanical and Electrical Systems (including maintenance)
  • Their remote hands, smart hands, on-site tech support, and “nutty” devotion to service
  • Completion of SAS70 audits
  • Facility structure
  • Security
  • And so on…

This article will walk through a few topics that are normally not well explained by data center operators, avoided, or simply misrepresented.

The Data Center Compromise, Mixed-Use Buildings

Any data center presents the potential tenant with a series of compromises. Very few commercial data centers are custom-built from the ground up, and most data centers are either built into mixed-use properties (those properties originally built as office space), and conversions (those properties built for another reason, such as a retail outlet <we built a large data center in a former WalMart property in Seoul a few years ago>, a warehouse <such as the original Equinix/Pihana site in Tokyo>, or factory <such as the original Level 3 gateway in Brussels>).

Data center operators choose mixed-use building primarily when they are in an attractive location, such as near a carrier hotel, major fiber optic terminal, or in a strategic central business district location. Mixed-use buildings are normally built for limited floor loading (how much weight you can actually place on a slab of concrete, where you can place the weight (such as over a structure beam), and with lower floor to ceiling separation (in the US, this is normally around 12.5 ft).

In addition, mixed-use buildings may have one or more of the following shortfalls:

  • Limited access to utility power
  • Limited “riser” space within the building (for telecom, power, and cooling infrastructure needing to transit the building from basement/ground level or from the rooftop)
  • Antiquated power distribution within the building (such as old buss ducts, switch gear, panels, etc)
  • Limited cooling capacity
  • Limited ability to either power or cool tenants with higher “watts/sqft” requirements (server farms)

Mixed-use buildings are best used by tenants with the following profile:

  • Telecom, routing, and switching carriers/networks
  • Members/participants in a carrier hotel meet-me-room
  • Tenants with limited requirement to support large server installations

While the mixed-use building may have the most technical limitations, they also tend to be the most expensive space. This is primarily due to the lower cost of telecom carrier and network interconnections, limited need for interconnection backhaul (if the property has an open meet-me-room or distribution frame), and in most cases simply legacy network effect. The Newby-ism “if you are a network, and not present in a carrier hotel, then you are paying somebody to be present in a carrier hotel” is still valid (Hunter Newby, CEO, Allied Fiber).

For those who are considering outsourcing into a mixed-use building, make sure you understand your requirement for long term growth, the power, cooling, structural, and telecom restrictions, and safety record of the building. MOST major electrical failures and events which have occurred in the data center industry over the past ten years have been in mixed-use buildings. Find out if your building has had failures, and if so, a very detailed accounting of how the data center owner has corrected the infrastructure problems which caused the problem.

Do not accept explanations that it (the failure) was human error. While probable many electrical failures in mixed-use buildings are caused by sloppy maintenance, the age of infrastructure should be considered more of a concern. To understand the infrastructure in a building, ask the data center operator to produce a recent, stamped (by certified electrical engineer), single line diagram showing not only the infrastructure, but also age of infrastructure. Only those with something to hide will refuse the request. Stay away from them…

Bring a qualified consultant with you to the sales meeting, and understand the burden is on the data center operator to answer your questions.

Conversion Buildings

In many cases the conversion building will meet all requirements for building out a high quality data center. If the conversion building is considered a shell, meeting all structural requirements such as near unlimited floor loading, high floor to ceiling clearance, very large floor plates (greater than 40,000sqft per plate), adequate for high capacity cooling systems (prefer chilled water), generator backup, fuel storage, and good proximity to multiple facility-based telecom carriers, then you can do a lot of good things with a conversation.

Things to keep in mind with conversions:

  • They are often built outside of the city center, limiting high concentrations of facility-based fiber and carrier diversity
  • They are often located in areas sensitive to natural disasters such as flooding
  • They are often located in industrial areas, presenting both physical security challenges to the property (vandalism), as well as physical danger to people who need 24×7 access to their equipment (assault)

With the conversion, just as with the mixed-use building, you will need to ensure you fully understand the electrical and mechanical source and distribution. You need to know the age of equipment, that existing single line diagrams are accurate and certified, as well as ensure the facility has infrastructure laid out for future growth – and the local utilities can support growth (will the power utility provide more power? Will the city allow additional generators and fuel storage?).

The conversion is often a very good choice for server farms, and large deployments. The cost of space is normally cheaper, power may be cheaper, and floor loading is normally not an issue. Many satellite data center cluster are popping up in locations such as El Segundo near Los Angeles, offering very high quality data center space developed from conversions.

Site Commissioning, SAS 70, and CMMS

We covered this pretty well in a previous article, and will not go into complete detail here. However the main theme cannot be avoided:

No company should consider collocation within a facility that cannot produce complete documentation that integration testing and commissioning was completed prior to facility operations – and that testing should be at NETA Level 5. In some cases, documentation of “retro” testing is acceptable, however potential tenants in a facility should be aware that is still a compromise, as it is almost impossible to complete a retro-commissioning test in a live facility.

Disaster ResponseThis is most critical in a mixed-use use building, where there have been numerous electrical failures due to lack of any commissioning, limited commissioning, or major infrastructure upgrades without any significant level of integration testing. The candidate data center should provide all historical information on the electric al system, as well as commissioning documentation – on demand, for the prospective tenant. Reticence or reluctance to provide the documentation probably indicates a major problem.

Understanding SAS70 Audits

One thing to keep in mind about SAS70 audits… The audit only reviews items the data center operator chooses to audit. Thus, a company may have a very nice and polished SAS70 audit documentation, however the contents may not include every item you need to ensure the data center operator has a comprehensive operations plan. You may consider finding an experienced consultant to review the SAS70 document, and provide any additional guidance on whether or not the audit actually includes all facility maintenance and management items needed to ensure continuing protection from mechanical, monitoring/management, electrical, security, or human staffing failures.

Comprehensive SAS70 audits will go into a fair level of detail. If your candidate data center offers a SAS70 audit of 5~10 pages, then you might find it lacking the level of detail needed to give you confidence your mission-critical equipment and applications are being facility-managed in data center that really “walks the talk.”

The SAS70 audit should include all the following sections:

Security

  • Security Company profile
  • Key inventories
  • Access management
  • Badges
  • Biometrics
  • Staff selection criteria
  • Materials control
  • Confirmation each security guard has completed a background check
  • Security equipment is routinely inspected/tested
  • Security “rounds” are recorded and confirmed
  • Security camera images and access logs are kept for a minimum 60 days, longer is preferred

Maintenance/CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System)

  • Comprehensive preventive maintenance/testing schedule for ALL mechanical and electrical equipment
  • UPS
  • Emergency generators
  • Rectifiers/DC Plant
  • ATS
  • Switchgear
  • Complete semi-annual (or more frequent) infrared scan
  • Breaker audit for NEC compliance (or automated view via current transformers)
  • Service level agreements
  • Emergency call out for all critical M&E equipment
  • Diesel refueling during emergencies or extended operation

Human Resources

  • Staffing process
  • Background checks
  • Certifications
  • Termination management

NOTE: While all of us have examples and stories of people who became super routing engineers, electrical staff, and field ops professionals, having a high number of network, cabling (BICSI), or electrical certifications does give you a level of confidence that the data center company knowledge and experience level is capable of performing at the desired or marketed service level.

Operations

  • Recurring training
  • Recurring staff meetings
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery plans
  • Daily site verifications
  • Escalation process

Again, the more detailed an audit, the greater your confidence the data center is being managed and operated to the level you can confidently bring your business into their environment for outsourcing.

The SAS70 Type 1 audit is a paper audit, and the Type 2 audit actually includes measurement and compliance of each control or observation.

Final Recommendation

The bottom line is each that your business, whether it is in a cabinet, a 1000ft cage, or a private suite, depends on the data center operator for supporting mission-critical applications and function essential to your business. If you do not believe you have the knowledge, or ability to drive a hard factual line of due-diligence in your data center search, find a consultant who can provide that guidance and ensure you are getting exactly what you are paying to receive.

If the data center operator is reluctant to support your requests for audit or compliance, then the chances are that data center operator is either treating your company with a high level of contempt, they have problems which may make a potential tenant reluctant to use that facility, or even worse, they simply do not have the needed documentation.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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

Shrouding the Net Neutrality Debate in a Cloud of Politics

The FCC finally moved the network neutrality debate forward Thursday, voting to begin developing open Internet regulations. The topic has become quite interesting over the past week, as strong-willed proponents and opponents of Internet Network Neutralitynet neutrality turn up campaigns to influence law makers prior to voting on any net neutrality principles that may become law.

The debate is actually quite simple – should the government regulate, or not regulate the Internet? That discussion revolves around the six principles of network neutrality proposed by the FCC:

Under the draft proposed rules, subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service:

  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from sending or receiving the lawful content of the user’s choice over the Internet;
  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from running the lawful applications or using the lawful services of the user’s choice;
  • would not be allowed to prevent any of its users from connecting to and using on its network the user’s choice of lawful devices that do not harm the network;
  • would not be allowed to deprive any of its users of the user’s entitlement to competition among network providers, application providers, service providers, and content providers;
  • would be required to treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner; and
  • would be required to disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application, and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this rulemaking.

The Pro Argument of Network Neutrality

Oddly, former adversaries Google and Verizon issued a joint statement regarding their position on net neutrality. Both companies have significantly changed their positions since the debate originally hit the headlines in 2005, with a highlight of the joint statement:

“For starters we both think it’s essential that the Internet remains an unrestricted and open platform — where people can access any content (so long as it’s legal), as well as the services and applications of their choice.
Transformative is an over-used word, especially in the tech sector. But the Internet has genuinely changed the world. Consumers of all stripes can decide which services they want to use and the companies they trust to provide them…

…This kind of “innovation without permission” has changed the way we do business forever, fueling unprecedented collaboration, creativity and opportunity. And because America has been at the forefront of most of these changes, we have disproportionately benefited in terms of economic growth and job creation.”

This oddly puts Verizon in opposition to the other main anti-net neutrality supporters such as AT&T, Cox Communications, and Comcast.

Certainly companies like Google have come a very long way from 2005 when the debate was clearly one of who pays whom, for what kind of service, and who has the right to determine the quality of services over basic Internet infrastructure. In the early days content providers wanted a level of government regulation to ensure the Internet transmission and network providers did not have control over the end user experience, and objected to statements by AT&T’s then CEO Ed Whitacre who stated in an interview with Business Week:

“How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

This set off both a furor among Internet users, as well as a new movement to ensure the “telcos” did not ever again have an opportunity to restrict or limit free access to their networks. Arguments ranged from identifying the US taxpayer and AT&T customers paying for basic infrastructure our of Universal Services Fund/USF (meaning the US taxpayer is actually the owner of much of AT&T’s USF-funded infrastructure), to AT&T subscribers being forced to use AT&T preferred content providers based on their control of the network.

There are many organizations representing both users and Internet industry companies supporting the idea of network neutrality. The current law in the house is sponsored by Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) who introduced the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2009 (H.R. 3458) in July 2009.

The Con Argument

Not surprisingly, the Con argument is dominated by conservatives in both the government and corporate communities.

John McCain (who is also accused by the Huffington Post as having received more than $800,000 in campaign funding by AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast) rejected the FCC’s vote, and offered a new proposal called the “Internet Freedom Act.”

“Today I’m pleased to introduce the Internet Freedom Act of 2009 that will keep the Internet free from government control and regulation,” McCain said in a statement. “It will allow for continued innovation that will in turn create more high-paying jobs for the millions of Americans who are out of work or seeking new employment. Keeping businesses free from oppressive regulations is the best stimulus for the current economy.” (CNN)

The only thing missing in the above cliché-filled statement is a series of pictures of crying babies, unemployment lines, and California wildfires. The bottom line here is that politicians, bending to pressure or contributions from opposition parties, will use any words available to tug at either emotions or heart strings, regardless of the presence of factual data to support the position.

AT&T allegedly sent notice to all their employees, including union members and families, to write their representatives in favor of knocking down network neutrality. Perhaps that is a natural activity in the political process, however bandwagon appeals without supporting fact will not give the American people the broadband environment needed to compete in the global market placed.

Let’s look at both arguments in detail. Do a Google, Bing, Yahoo, or other web search on the topic of Net/Network Neutrality. You will find a lot of web references, news stories, blogs, and opinions on the topic. Much of it anarchistic noise, much of it very valuable information.

Hunter Newby, CEO of Allied Fiber, asks the question “What if the United States falls further behind Europe in deployment of broadband networks? What if we lose track of the need to wire each and every community? What if the United States falls so far behind Europe and the rest of the world due to politics preventing innovation that we can never economically recover?”

There are those who still believe the carriers, such as Verizon, AT&T, broadband wireless providers (such as Clearwire), and the cable companies should concentrate their efforts on delivering connectivity to each and every addressable community in the United States. Facility-based carriers (those who own the physical cable) should concentrate on providing bundles of “big, fat, dumb, communications pipes.”

Comments on Net Neutrality are Now Open with the FCC

The great thing about the US system is that no national law is ever a unilateral decision. We have a wonderful system of due-diligence through the congress and senate, with support from the executive and judicial branches of government.

The Federal Communications Commission under the leadership of Chairman Genachowski has opened discussion and the period of comment on the FCC guidelines. The period for comments is open until 14 Jan 2010. Some links for those interested in the topic include:

FCC Seeks Public Input on Draft Rules to Preserve the Free and Open Internet
NPRM: Word | Acrobat
News Release: Word | Acrobat
Genachowski Statement: Word | Acrobat
Copps Statement: Word | Acrobat
McDowell Statement: Word | Acrobat
Clyburn Statement: Word | Acrobat
Baker Statement: Word | Acrobat
Staff Presentation: Acrobat

The question arises, “what if we, as Americans interested in the future of the Internet, American innovation, the American economy, and our future generations actually took the time to read through the issue of Network Neutrality? What if we used our research as a basis for making our own decision on which side of the debate we fall, or if there is yet another strong argument to consider?”

It is a difficult topic, with a lot of noise and clouds shrouding the core issues. Weigh-in, let us know your opinion.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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