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Reality Check
May 2004


Robert Vahid Hashemian Touring A Tier-One NAP

BY ROBERT VAHID HASHEMIAN


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 O�Hare 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 Americas� 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, it�s 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 ID�s 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 facility�s 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 NAP�s 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 company�s 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 America�s Web site is at: www.napoftheamericas.net.

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 rhashemian@tmcnet.com.

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