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Volume 32, Issue 4

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Wednesday, 04 November 2015 06:00

Cloud Services – Constructing the 4th Estate

Written by  Tommy Curb

Curb-2Telecom communications and cloud computing services have become critical to our national infrastructure. However, the same standards that follow the principles of roads, water, and even power distribution are not applied to data center services. If the construction of roads, water pipelines, and the energy grid are considered vital, then there is a fourth estate that needs to be added: cloud services.

By some means, cloud services can be thought of as the evolution of the 1990s carrier hotels. Recall that during the telecom deregulation of the 1980s, carriers found common interconnection points in metropolitan areas. These utilities learned that the old real estate mantra was applicable to them as well: location, location, location! Existing buildings were retrofitted into carrier hotels that were located in major metropolitan cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Seattle. Existing office buildings offered a neutral location and the ability for carriers to plug their switches and routers into long-distance and transcontinental cable lines.

The era of carrier hotels was born, and soon large numbers of international carriers flocked to establish a presence within these strategically-located facilities. In fact, carrier hotels can actually be viewed as the grandfather to today's more sophisticated data centers. In the same manner as carrier hotels, these data center grandsons and granddaughters embraced the same principles when seeking to establish their homestead (i.e., location, location, location!)

When constructing today’s data centers, careful consideration must be given to determine if retrofitting an existing data center is the right option for them or perhaps creating new space from an available piece of real estate is a better option. The net result is to have an optimally-configured location that offers some form of community acceptance without breaking the bank for power and telecommunication services.

Community acceptance is important because often times hearing that high voltage, redundant generators, high-efficiency UPS units, and multifunction cooling devices are being installed a block away from the middle school is a bit alarming to some individuals.

Location, Location, Location!

When seeking a real estate location to construct today's data center, a good power source that is close to the grid is paramount to the success of delivering cloud services. Companies never want to stray too far from home, and being close to the telco infrastructure tends to be a key decision factor when considering a new data center facility.

Some information is available to show how the telephone communications infrastructure is mapped out in each community. This provides vital information regarding where the major trunks are allocated so that they can be mapped against the power company’s gridlines. Simply put, the main criteria for any data center location primarily involves a close proximity to the telecommunications or power connectivity options. A suitable data center location is always located near these big pipes, so information can flow in and out of the facilities with fewer hops. If the proposed data center location is too far away from these main telecommunications and power thoroughfares, it becomes cost prohibitive to leverage the services.

In other words, it's more economical to find a location closest to the telecommunication and power infrastructures. A good example of these principles can be found in Shreveport, La., where there is a data center located directly across the street from AT&T -- easier connectivity and lower cost of distributing information services.

Curb-1Once a radius is drawn around the telecom infrastructures, a close look at the area communities is the next logical path when narrowing down a cloud service doorstep. Here again, the same principles as a young family looking at neighborhoods is applicable. For the data center industry, transformative communities that are beginning to be revitalized are good areas to consider. Being part of an economic development or revitalization initiative offers a great opportunity to become a welcome part of the community and create additional jobs while cleaning up what may be a depressed or abandoned building such as a shopping mall, movie theater, or other large facility.

When considering revitalization areas, it is always important to look for communities that are accepting of a new data center buildout. There are many areas that have suitable buildings for sale. However, the community may not be interested in having a data center located in town. Having community backing is an added benefit to streamlining the construction red tape.

Finding the best data center location is not as easy as plugging an address into Google Maps and zooming in and out of the various roads and highways. There are certain elements of the telecommunications infrastructure that are not generally available for public access. In other words, you can’t walk into city hall or the public works department and request a map of all the telecommunications fiber deployments, with an outline that shows where they're all laid throughout the city.

However, a dialogue can be established with the telecommunication partners to identify and overlay their routes with buildout requirements. It's important to realize that when considering an area to build a data center, the telecommunication companies may not be too eager to share their lines because any disruption introduces a significant revenue impact.

When constructing data centers, engineers need to hedge their bets and mitigate risk just like any other organization; these facilities should not be located in the middle of nowhere, next to active runways or near chemical plants. However, just as certain areas present considerable risks, other areas offer sometimes unforeseen opportunities.

Locate Building Opportunities

Locating a data center near a hospital or a key government agency is one opportunistic approach to good data center location practices. These two types of organizations are the first to be brought back online when power or communication services are interrupted. Locating a data center along the same grid lines will help ensure the facility is brought back online quickly.

Another consideration to carefully map out is road and highway access. Fuel trucks need easy access to replenish diesel for generators in times of power outages. Roads need to be easily accessed and not blocked by rivers, tolls, and other potential slowdowns. This is also true for simplifying employees’ access and even customers activating on-site, business continuity services.

Final consideration to proper data center placement may also be applicable to learning when a potential facility was actually built. Buildings that were constructed in circa 1950 were built to withstand a Cold War. Although a frightening situation to think about, these buildings are extremely sturdy and are able to withstand significant storm damage. Acquiring this type of bunker saves significant money because extra reinforcement for the facility is not required.

But there are also drawbacks to these Cold War facilities, as they are often packed with asbestos. Asbestos brings the added cost of an environmental assessment before a purchase decision is considered. Regardless of asbestos being present, environmental assessments are absolutely necessary to avoid purchasing an environmental wasteland.

In conclusion, there will always be many levels of configuration and customization to consider during any construction process. Some location options provide better support for multifaceted requirements while others have hidden complications that must be ferreted out during the courting process. Today's data centers have become significantly more evolved than their carrier hotel predecessors. They can be viewed as the culmination of massive processing and storage devices that literally propel the information and services that society has come to rely on for their IV drip of information. Ensuring the proper location for these facilities is paramount to the continued construction and success of the fourth estate we now affectionately refer to as -- cloud services.

Curb-TommyTommy Curb is the executive vice president of business development and assistant general counsel at Venyu, where he leads business development initiatives (strategic partnerships and licensing opportunities) that are consistent with the company’s overall strategy and leads the day-to-day legal affairs of the company. Curb was formerly assistant general counsel with Anthelio Healthcare Solutions. Before his time with Anthelio, Curb spent 12 years with Verizon Communications where he held several different positions within Verizon communications’ public policy and external affairs and marketing organizations. Curb holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Tarleton State University, a master’s degree in marketing from the University of Dallas, and a JD from Texas A&M University School of Law.