As an end-user of the Internet, one of my wishes has been to tour a tier-1
NAP (Network Access Point) facility. A NAP is a major interconnect point
where the packets that make up Internet traffic are routed on and among
different carriers and providers. It is like a giant airport hub like JFK
or Oï¿½Hare where people and cargo are routed between flights and everything
must run like clockwork lest the backlog create devastating chain-reaction
effects leading to widespread shutdown.
During the last Internet
Telephony Conference and Expo in Miami (February 2004) Tom Keating
(Executive Technology Editor, in charge of TMC Labs) and I got the chance
to tour The NAP of the Americas facility, a tier-1 NAP in Miami, Florida.
After the tour, I came away with the conclusion that VoIP providers as
well other Application Service Providers would do well to investigate
co-locating their facilities with NAPs such as The NAP of the Americas.
The NAP of the Americasï¿½ building is a formidable fortress of a
building. A simple rectangular structure built using massive amounts of
concrete and steel. I wonder how long they had to wait for the concrete to
cure. Florida gets its share of natural disasters, but this structure
looked impervious to all calamities, natural, or man-made. As our tour
guides joked, itï¿½s the place you want to be when disaster strikes.
Security was no less stringent, we were checked in two spots on our way
to the nerve center of the operation and our IDï¿½s were confiscated to be
returned to us upon exiting the facilities. Entering some areas required a
biometric palm scan.
Inside the facilities we received an in-depth tour of what makes a tier-1
NAP tick without interruption. The NAP of the Americas is a marriage of
form and function. The facilityï¿½s architecture seems to have been
developed to exude a sense of progress and forward thinking. Thought has
gone into making this place look as high-tech as possible. Obviously its
design is meant to impress the potential clients and persuade them to join
the network. We were equally impressed.
We were also impressed with the fact that every aspect of the NAPï¿½s
operation was fully redundant with immediate fail-over capability. From
the network equipment, to the environmental facilities, and power
distribution systems, every precaution was taken to assure uninterrupted
operation. One of the areas we visited was the power generation
facilities. A giant room with a couple of generators each the size of
large pickup truck producing an eardrum scratching cacophony. Turns out
these were diesel power generators with giant rotors speedily rotating
inside powerful magnets. When the city grid is on, they operate as power
filters, producing clean electricity for the plant. The moment the power
is interrupted, the diesel engine kicks in and keeps the rotor spinning,
with inertia helping out during the take-over.
Our tour of the vendor equipment area revealed a large location with
cages and rooms of various dimensions to serve vendors of all sizes. We
noticed a respectable number of occupied cages and yet lots of space for
growth. Not surprising, since as the NAP was going into production, the
economy was heading down, leaving many companies with over-capacity. The
NAP of Americas was no exception, but as the economy has started to warm
up and the Internet has begun to regain its vibrancy, those early
investments in plant and equipment places the company in a comfortable
position of accelerated growth.
Our final stop was the command and support center of the company.
Staffed around the clock by technical personnel to provide support and
assistance to their customers, the room was equipped with giant monitors
displaying real-time status of the entire network.
After the tour, it became evident to me that this companyï¿½s operations
can be divided into two categories. One was as a hub for fast access to
their fiber routes such as South America and Europe. The other, which they
seem to emphasize more, was independent peering. This independence allows
companies to co-locate and inter-connect their equipment to other peers in
the NAP without being pressured to choose one provider over another.
Application Service providers (ASPs), VoIP providers, ISPs, Web hosters,
and other vendors requiring interconnect facilities would certainly
benefit from such an arrangement. Not only would their equipment be
secured and protected from a variety of hazards, but they would have a
choice of primary and backup partners to peer with in the same location.
Our thanks to Joe Velasco, Javier Rodriguez, and Andy Burnette for the
tour of the facilities. The NAP of the Americaï¿½s Web site is at:
Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality
every other month in his Reality Check column. Robert is Webmaster for
TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call
center solutions. He is also the author of the recently published
Financial Markets For The Rest Of Us.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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