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Why carrier neutrality matters for 'proper hosting'

Set your pipes free, within reason

When you sign up for data centre services, it's easy to focus on the core stuff like uptime, cooling and cabinet availability, while forgetting that getting wide-area (private circuit or internet) links can sometimes be tricky. If you forget to examine how carrier-neutral your provider is, though, then you risk delays in moving, increased costs and even a potential loss of resilience.

By carrier neutrality I mean the tendency of the hosting company to allow different comms providers to run connections into the data centre. Some providers actively promote their neutrality (“We have 35 different ISPs in our comms room waiting for you to hook in”) while others are more passive and simply allow a new carrier to land a connection into the building on request.

Now, I wasn't going to write you a list of stuff to be wary of, but once I got started that's exactly what this piece began turning into, so let's go with the flow and nail a list of key things to consider. But I’d like to point out that I'm talking about hosting in the sense of full-blown co-location of server kit that you own and look after yourself. If you're doing low-end stuff, like renting space on a shared Web server or a Cloud environment, then it's right that you have to go with the provider's infrastructure and neutrality's not relevant to you. If you're doing proper hosting, though, read on.

1. Hosting companies who insist you use their connections

There are some – though thankfully few – providers that insist on selling you an all-in hosting service in which their own network connectivity is the only option. If you end up with one on your shortlist, it had better be a provider that's owned by a vast telco and hence can provide you with a second-to-none service with diverse routing, proper resilience and impeccable customer testimonials. If you put all your eggs in a single basket of mandatory connectivity, you're asking for trouble when something goes wrong.

2. Cross connects

Assuming you're in a data centre that permits access to multiple carriers, there's one thing you need to know if you've never put telco connections into a data centre before – namely that the telco doesn't deliver it to your cabinet. Instead, they deliver it to a “demarc” – a demarcation point in a private utility area of the data centre. You have to remember that anything more than a basic copper phone or ISDN line is likely to have termination equipment on the end of it, and that a single presentation may well be used to split a bearer line into separate services for many customers within the DC. You need to fill the few dozen yards of air between the demarc and your cabinet.

This is generally done by the hosting provider installing a cross-connect for you, either through a pre-installed structured cabling arrangement or by running a new copper or fibre strand between the two locations. Some providers will charge you a monthly rent for the interconnect, while others will simply charge you a one-off time-and-materials cost for the initial installation and not sting you again. If the latter applies, then consider your potential expansion over the next couple of years: the T&M cost of running two or three links is only a fraction more than the cost of doing one, so do several if you think you'll need them.

3. Check the connection types you can have

Further to the concept of cross connects, check what types of connection your hosting provider can give you in cross-connect form. No matter how carrier-neutral they are, if your telco is presenting the connection at the demarc in a form factor that the hosting provider can't support on a cross connect, you're stuck. Sounds daft (you'd think a connection is a connection) but I've seen it happen on a high-speed private circuit connection and the result was a few days' delay waiting for a new media converter to be ordered and delivered.

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