What becomes a location most?
Web Informant #190, 28 February 2000
The old saw about real estate is what matters is location, location, and location. But when it comes to locating your Web server and other Internet resources, you need to be part network topologist (if such a thing exists), part sleuth, and part just plain doggone persistent. Evaluating what is "best" when it comes to locations isn't easy.
The trouble is figuring out how packets travel from your servers to your browsing public. Given that your public can be located anywhere in the world and on any network is just one small part of the challenge. Other parts include hazy definitions for such terms as backbone, peering point, primary providers, and network access points. It would help if these were commonly understood and used by the majority of people you talk to, but they aren't. Another complication is that providers don't really understand their own network topologies, let alone the network topologies they connect to upstream. And finally it would help if you could more easily evaluate a potential provider based on the kind of network connections they offered, say by perusing their Web pages. (I had a hard enough time finding prices for many providers - I can't say that many would gladly divulge this kind of information on their Web sites.)
Indeed, when you think about it, why does your cyber-presence have to be located in the same city or country as your physical offices? This is some of the thinking behind vendors such as Akamai and Digital Island, who are in the process of establishing data centers around the world in the best cyber-locations.
I recently visited three choice cyber-locations: One is in New York, where my ISP's offices used to be located in the Chelsea area. My ISP, Sohonet.com, still keeps their servers located in this particular building but moved to less expensive offices downtown.
The others were in the Bay Area and in Seattle. The Bay Area location was in a nondescript warehouse in Redwood City, off a side street that was anything but glamorous. The Seattle location was in an aging high-rise building in the middle of downtown. In traditional physical real estate terms, none of these buildings would make it to the "A" list. All three buildings had seen better days, with nary a fresh coat of paint or fancy lobby fixtures anywhere to be seen. And no one was talking about how many shops or restaurants are nearby or other traditional real estate terms. That's because these were cyber-buildings.
What distinguishes a cyber-building is several things. First, they have lots of fiber to the outside world. The Redwood City site had one of the OC-48 connections that move Internet traffic around the Bay Area. (For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it refers to the blazing speed of 2.488 gigabits per second over optical carriers.) The NYC location had multiple fiber connections to different backbone providers, and had an elevator that could handle a small semi to bring gear up to the various floors. The Seattle building had so much fiber running between floors that one elevator shaft was eliminated to make room. I believe this is the first time that I know of where people space in an office building has been replaced with electron (or photon) space.
Second, these cyber-buildings have made it easier for multiple ISPs to connect to each other inside, and many ISPs are now locating their server rooms in these buildings, because they can cut down on the number of network hops and reduce overall network latencies. The Seattle building had fiber lines from about 80 different ISPs that could be easily cross-connected to anyone's servers located in that building, including connections to several providers in Alaska, Idaho and Oregon.
Third, the buildings have plenty of firepower invested in their networks. The Redwood City building had several hundred thousand dollars' worth of Packet Engines gear to make for fast switching of its packets around the various networks in the machine room. The others were equally impressive. (Amusingly, the Seattle offices had a simple $100 hub that connected three of the Alaska providers to each other. But that was probably all that was needed.)
Finding these prime locations isn't easy. You can't go to a map of the Internet (or indeed any kind of physical map) and plot them out. There isn't any easy or complete list of real estate agents that will tell you where these buildings are located. Usually it is just word of mouth that brings you to their doorstep. You would think this is a prime opportunity for some new companies to get involved in doing this, and I am aware of one called ColoCenters who has begun offering such services, starting with their Seattle location.
Location will become increasingly important as more and more dot-coms are created. But understanding what constitutes a good location in cyberspace and finding the appropriate arrangements are still far from simple.
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Web Informant copyright 2000 by David Strom, Inc., reprinted by permission
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