It is what it is....

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Advanced Data Centers, Inc. 50 Megawatt Sacramento Project

For those of you that have a blog or maintain a website you probably are familiar with web analytics. I was first introduced to web analytics in my days at Equinix where I managed the Omniture relationship. When I first began working with Omniture they had a couple racks of servers. By the time I left Equinix, Omniture was close to 1000 racks of equipment spread across the globe. This happened over the course of a couple years. It didn't take a dummy to figure out they were onto something. A couple months after I left Equinix I started blogging and was introduced to web analytics from the point of a customer/user. I believe analytics is one of the most powerful elements of online behavior. Since the internet is subsidized by advertising dollars analytics plays a huge role. But this post isn't about analytics, it's about, as the title suggests a new 50MW data center project underway in Sacramento, CA. 50 Megawatts is the most power at any data center site that I have ever come across. This project has been and will continue to be the recipient of a good portion of my attention for quite some time....or until we are out of space and power.

After spending 7 years at Equinix I thought I was done with data centers. So much so that it made my head spin even thinking about them. Shortly after leaving, it dawned on me that the data center market is unique in that there are natural barriers to entry in the form of extremely high cost of admission. Some people claim that data centers are being commoditized and with all the new construction taking place this line of thought is getting more attention. For those of us building data centers this is exactly what we want....that is of course as long as it's not the attitude of an investor or banker.

It's positive for us in that by virtue of it's negative connotation, it naturally scares new entrants away, creating additional strains on supply. It's also good because it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for a new entrant to raise the necessary capital to build out a large scale data center due to construction costs of approximately $1500 per square foot. That cost is enough to scare most people away alone. There are quite a few instances of major corporations in the US forgoing the outsourcing model of colocation and becoming site operators themselves. Without huge augmentation, very few companies have the scale and resources to make this work over an extended period of time. Not impossible by any stretch but certainly challenging. Probably the most challenging element in getting total executive buy-in/support takes place when the CIO meets with the CFO, telling him that he needs $250MM to build a new data center that will support their IT requirements for the next ten years. More often than not, the CFO recalls a similar discussion 18 months ago in which this same CIO was asking for budget to outsource the same type of requirements, albeit less capacity, to a colo supplier. Once the CFO realizes this isn't a prank and that this guy is serious he collects himself and pours a stiff drink(it's a late night at the office in this example so its all good.)

When we embarked on our new venture, we had these types of discussions in mind and saw an opportunity to provide a service which would give the CIO the resources to support their IT customers and, at the same time, give the CFO a heart attack at every budget meeting.

I'm getting sidetracked so I'm going to get back to the analytics component. I find it very interesting to take a close look at how people get to this blog. Some get here by entering terms on the various search engines while some get here by clicking on links on other blogs or news sites that reference this one. And for some, I have no idea how they wound up here. It has been enlightening to see what people search for when they go to google, yahoo, or whatever search engine they use. I've found that a good portion of the folks who wind up here search for common terms that we throw around every day in the data center world...things like: watts per sq foot, kva to kw conversion, 60amp 208v circuit, Equinix rack price, Savvis data centers, 365main outage, etc. You get the point. The analytics service I use allows for me to see the address and domain of these readers network and has given me some insight to what IT people within these organizations have on their plate...or what keeps them up at night. Then again, I could be so wrong and off base I may as well be fire on an frozen pond. Either way, people who wind up here on my blog appear to be in the process of determining how to address their data center requirements.

Without overstepping the boundary of turning this blog into a sales pitch, I really believed the company behind the aforementioned data center project, Advanced Data Centers(ADC), may be a valuable partner to those folks in need of capacity for their IT gear. As such, what better way to reach them than to discuss it here.

If you're one of those folks or think you will be soon, I invite you to visit the ADC website to see what we're up to and if it looks intriguing drop me a note either on this blog or via the form on the contact page of the website.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Level3’s smoke and mirrors

Level3 didn't slash pricing for CDN service with their recent 'same price as transit' marketing ploy. If anyone slashed pricing, Amazon did with the introduction of their S3 storage. All Level3 did was imply their baseline CDN service is no better than their transit....heck, at least they admit it. A couple points to note. Baseline CDN service really is transit or no better than transit from Internap or some other route aggregator and Level3 may have lost allot of money over the years so it should come as no surprise that they are at it again. This time with some method to their madness, they baiting customers and will up sell them on value added services or give the baseline product away for free but demand a share of the customer's revenue generated as a result of distributing content. In essence subsidizing the delivery costs of that content.

Questions that come to mind about Level3's shuffling of the product pricing boxes: How much is their storage going to cost? What about those companies who need some DRM functionality for their downloads? How much with that cost? What about custom players or layered advertising? How much with they charge for that and what percentage of the advertising revenue will they require you give them for using their CDN?

I read their new delivery pricing works out to about $11 per Mbps equivalent. Not a bad rate, but certainly not as low as some of the pricing from other players in the space. And definitely not free, yet. It will be free sooner than later because it will be subsidized by advertising dollars.

First it may be helpful to explain the difference between transit of data and distribution of data. Everyone on the internet has transit. It is the ability to send packets from one place to another. Inherently there is some form of intelligence built into transit because it is built into the core backbone routers of the major carriers and isps.

Example: you're sitting at your computer on Sunday morning checking your fantasy football scoring on the Sportsline website. You live in CA and have Comcast as your ISP. Sportsline is hosted in FL at the Terramark datacenter(not sure if this is actually the case and am using as an example only) and connected to the Internet in Terramark via Sprint. When you type in the url and hit return a request gets sent from you computer out your cable modem and onto Comcast's network. Comcast's routers see the IP address of where that packet is supposed to go, looks up in it's routing table what would be the quickest way to get that data off of it's network and onto the Sprint network. Since quickest doesn't always translate into best and in this case only translates into Comcast not wanting to carry the cost of that packet on it's network your experience is subject to all sorts of hiccups along the way. That first packets eventually gets to FL and Sportsline and when it does, the same process, only in the inverse order, happens again. The updated score makes it's way back to you in CA and all is well. In this instance the experience wasn't all that bad but the information you requested was quite small in volume of data required to get you that score. Imagine if, instead of the updated score, you were requesting the infamous Paris Hilton and Rick Soloman video. The file size of that video is exponentially larger than that of the score of the fantasy game and the cost to Comcast and Sprint is also exponentially higher to deliver than the score. Fortunately for you, Rick Soloman was out to make some dough and wanted the user experience to be similar to his own experience so he hired a CDN to help ensure the quality of the experience remained tip top :) Important detail to note, CDN's all buy transit and most buy it from multiple upstream providers. In this made up example, Rick was u ACME CDN who was a new CDN. Unlike Akamai, ACME was built from the ground up to deliver large video files and wasn't too concerned with the last mile. As such, they had a smaller # of nodes placed in carrier neutral data centers on the two coasts and a couple in the South and Midwest. Since ACME isn't a web hosting company, Rick needed to contract with a second vendor to host the rest of his homepage. Rick is a sharp cat and a penny pincher so he used Amazon's S3 file storage service which would itself have been sufficient had the video been of Rick and anyone but Paris. He understood S3's limits and since he was out to make add to the stack of paper he was blowing on Paris, he only relied on Amazon for the non revenue generating files. When you click on the 'watch' button on his site the url where it sends you is not on Amazon's infrastructure but on that of ACME's. Similar to the fantasy scoring example, Comcast's routers determine that the destination address is part of address space supplied to ACME and easily accessible via SBC who happens to be one of Comcasts upstream providers. Comcast dumps this packet onto SBC. Unlike Akamai, ACME's technology doesn't rely upon multiple DNS queries to determine where the originating or destination IP address is physically located. ACME uses anycast protocol/technology which allows it to have the same ASN at all of it's nodes. Another difference with ACME is that they aren't using a cacheing setup but instead are acting as the origin for their customers files. This allows them to guarantee that 100% of their customers files to be distributed will always be on 100% of their nodes. When using a cache, this can't be the case as only the most requested files remain on the node for a matter of time and then they're purged. Its great if you're popular but not so great if you're not popular of are very private data but depend on high performance. When SBC gets that packet it see's the AS it's destined for and dumps it as soon as possible. In this case that hap pend to take place in the same building, Equinix in San Jose. Both ACME and SBC are colocated at Equinix so there was minimal cost to SBC to deliver that packet which makes them happy to deal with ACME. Can't say the same for their dealings with Akamai because Akamai's nodes are out at the edges of SBC's network, in the CO's which would mean SBC has to keep those packets on it's network far longer than their ideal. Amazon's S3 cloud is located in VA and had Rick not used ACME for the origin location of the video, a similar process for delivering the fantasy football score would have occurred with the deliver of the video. Fortunately for you, Rick's decision to use ACME results in your viewing the video almost instantly and not waiting around for the packets to go back and forth from the West coast to the East coast.

So what does this have to do with Level3 pricing or the pricing of the CDN market in general? It highlights how much of a difference adding an origin storage component to a CDN can make in terms of route miles. If Level3 can charge customers more money for using less route miles then all the better, it may even make sense to give transit away if they can make up that $11/Mbps by making customers believe they're being so cutting edge with pricing and product positioning when in reality they're stroking themselves by driving more efficiency on their network.

Ohhhhh, if that were only the case. I guess theory sounds good on paper but reality is what it is.

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