8. Super-neutral data centres
Most concepts can be taken to extremes, and carrier neutrality is one of them. The thing is, though, if the hosting provider is saying “Bring whomever you like in, we'll accommodate them” to you, then you should smell a rat.
Telco demarc areas aren't large places, and neither do they have infinite amounts of wall space, rack space for switches and power. The more carriers one has in a demarc room, the more risk of an inadvertent outage when an engineer stands on something or blows a trip with a faulty fibre termination box. I once spent some time in the demarc of an office block in a US city – which had only two telcos presenting services therein – and it was a room of two halves. One half had plywood screwed to the wall with a small patch frame and a bunch of cables tacked and trunked before running into the riser. The other had fibres strung across the place in a fashion that made one think the engineer had been running a washing line, not a high-speed data circuit. Happily the former belonged to the telco I was using.
Be wary of data centres that allow the world and its dog into the demarc, then.
9. Ask to have a look
By all means ask for a peek in the demarc area, particularly if you know the hosting company promotes carrier neutrality. It should be devoid of cardboard for the obvious fire risk reasons, but I also believe it should be sensibly clean with no offcuts of cable sheathing and the like scattered on the floor – if an installing engineer is thorough enough to clean up after him/herself, then he or she is probably thorough enough to have done a good installation job and to have tested it properly.
And as I explained in the previous point, everything should be firmly and tidily mounted and labelled, while cables should be in trunking and/or tacked down so they can't be inadvertently wrenched out.
An unruly demarc is a disaster in a carrier-neutral data centre, as the risk of someone doing something nasty grows geometrically as the number of telcos grows.
10. Provider neutrality – the next step
Decent hosting providers know that companies want diversity and resilience. While some have multiple datacentres and will happily sell you space in two or more for the sake of stability, this isn't always the case – or where they do have multiple DCs the geography doesn't work for the customer.
There is such a thing, though, as a hosting provider that not only acknowledges the existence of the competition but also works with that competition for mutual benefit. Telcos generally have their competitors' equipment in their exchanges (the wholesale market in telecoms is huge, a fact that's exacerbated by regulatory factors such as local-loop unbundling) and at a technological level the co-operation between providers is generally excellent, even if the sales and marketing teams seem to be out to destroy each other.
Providers acknowledge, then, that you might wish to have your primary data centre with them and the secondary with someone else. And the primary interconnect with one telco and the secondary with another. I'd always lean toward a provider with this attitude, as it's healthy and will help you in the event that there's a fault that needs them to work together to do end-to-end testing.
There's more to life than neutrality
Clearly, carrier neutrality is a good idea, but you need to be a bit careful if providers are being over-neutral (which, basically, means if they're doing it in an uncontrolled way).
But, as with any service, don't treat neutrality as the be-all and end-all of choosing your provider. It's just one factor in a multitude of different decision points you have to consider on the path toward picking a data centre. ®