This article offers information to help create and manage a connection point between service providers and clients in the data center environment. There is some confusion regarding the terms associated with these spaces, and this discussion seeks to avoid adding to the confusion. Although it may be unnecessary to use exact terms, it is helpful to understand that there are several phrases that generically mean the same thing but technically are different. Getting everyone on the same page contextually at the beginning of a project could save time and money later on.
Here are some of the phrases used to identify these spaces:
- MMR—meet-me room
- MPOE—main point of entry
- POE—point of entry
- POP—point of presence
- NAP—network access point
- DMARC—demarcation point
All of these phrases have specific meanings, yet each can simply define a space where services are connected.
A colocation facility and a carrier hotel are similar, hosting services from multiple carriers or organizations. In contrast, a true definition of a meet-me room (MMR) is a physical space (two for redundancy) located in the building envelope of a colocation data center, carrier-neutral data center or carrier hotel. In practice, carriers and data center clients use this space to interconnect or cross-connect to a single or multiple carriers who have a presence here and to connect carriers to each other in order to avoid certain local-loop charges. The term MMR is not synonymous with carrier-neutral data center, telco point of presence (POP), main point of entry (MPOE) or network access point (NAP). Each of these terms is specific to certain types of space and an overall function that could exist in an MMR.
Although these terms are often used to represent a POP or MMR they are actually very different. I will not delve into the service offerings, QOS markers, carrier access strategies (DSL, Tx), network types (MPLS and so on) or performance monitoring of these spaces or what sets the terms apart. For the sake of clarification and legitimacy, the focus here will be on the operators’ general definition of an MMR as a point of multiple-carrier presence in a colocation data center of 100,000 square feet (as a model). And (how’s this for acronym confusion?) where square footage equals revenue, many operators simply “POP” the “POE” into the “MPOE” and use it as an “MMR” for their carrier-neutral data center.
Although the concept and practice of using an MMR are not new, the initial creation and management of these spaces over time has become a serious challenge for operators. Owing to some poor practices and lack of building standards, there have been occasions where new clients were turned away from retail space because their preferred carrier could not be accommodated as a result of physical challenges. The following discussion outlines alternative solutions to ameliorate these kinds of challenges and present some best practices.
Although this observation will not help me win friends with carriers and Internet providers, the unstated goal of outside sales staff working for service providers is to grab as much space as they can in a new facility, thereby limiting the available space for competitors. I am not suggesting this is a sanctioned practice; it is, however, the reality in the competitive colo market. The goal of the data center operator here should be to involve service providers early in the process and to provide space in the MMR for each of them, within reason. If you are too tough on the carrier, remember this—they need not choose your facility, and should you alienate any carriers, the pool of potential tenants will likewise decrease. Conversely, carriers should also be accommodating with space requirements because you are offering them new customers—no one wants it to become a “take it or leave it” option. An occasional, gentle reminder of this fact normally paves the way to an agreement on space requirements.
A carrier will generally ask for at least two four-post, 84-inch-high cabinets in each MMR (using our model of a 100,000-square-foot colocation facility with redundant connections). If the operator is providing only AC power, the carrier may request additional rack space for rectifiers and batteries, should they be using DC equipment.
The best practice is to meet with the intended carriers all at once to create a rack and space solution that they can all agree on. Although this may be a difficult task to schedule, it will be worthwhile to reach an agreement on one typical rack type and one layout look and feel. Clients who inspect your facility before signing a contract will appreciate a consistent look to this space. Permitting odd-size cabinets combined with open-frame racks of all colors and widths will detract from a professional look and limit the usefulness of space for new or different functions.
The location of the MMRs would be outside the computer rooms, in the secure data center space. When determining location for one or redundant rooms, consider the industry standards for distance, which will vary according to service type and media (fiber/copper/coax). Placing the MMR on an outside wall is ideal if the space will double as the point of entry so that equipment and workers can go in and out using external doors without disrupting data center operations; just remember to secure the external area with bollards or some other type of protection from vehicle incidents. Depending on the expected tenant population, though, locating the MMR on an exterior wall and even near a loading dock could be a deal breaker for security reasons. If your expected tenant population requires significantly more security than normal commercial businesses, the MMR should not act a main point of entry but should instead be placed within the data center, away from external walls.
Connecting the MMR to the Tenant Population
There are multiple means and methods to connect tenants to providers. Although some standards exist, the business uses of the operators and tenants will dictate the type of cross-connect being employed. Each method has challenges in a colo facility, and each challenge can be met so long as they are identified early and planned for. While not a complete list, the most common connection methods are as follows:
Direct connect—Here each carrier connects directly with the client from the carrier-equipment rack in the MMR to the client-side demarcation point or equipment rack, which is also located in a secure half of the MMR (see figure, illustration 1). The tenant then extends to the floor space. In this scenario the MMR is split for security reasons between tenants and carriers. Tenants are permitted in their side of the MMR, and carriers in theirs. As with other options, this approach could increase the amount of conduit in the ceiling space and quickly limit future installs. Additionally, it could pose a security concern to all building tenants. Using a third-party cross-connect provider as the only staff permitted in the customer side of the MMR should limit these concerns.
Direct connect–extended demarcation—This means each carrier connects directly with the client from the carrier-equipment rack in the MMR to the client-side demarcation point in the tenant space (see figure, illustration 2). In this scenario the multiple conduits demanded by tenants can quickly fill any available space above the ceiling. Consider using flexible armor cable as an alternative to rigid conduit. Also consider that an “extended demarcation” is a legal term that must be clearly defined among all parties—it is the point where operational control changes hands. Although some tenants want this service, some do not.
Cross-connect in the MMR—In this scenario, each tenant space has pre-installed patch panels located in a secure side of the MMR whereby multiple carriers cross-connect (see figure, illustration 3). The pre-installed media is then patched to the tenant equipment in that tenant’s floor space. Some tenants may express security concerns with this topology, and carriers may not like the potential that a competitor could accidently unplug their patch. If the MMR is professionally managed (which is highly recommended), however, the carrier would not have access to this side of the MMR, ameliorating this concern.
Cross-connect in the tenant floor space—In this topology, matching patch panels are placed in each carrier’s secure equipment rack and pre-connected to each tenant space (see figure, illustration 4). Drawbacks include higher upfront costs to carriers and operators, who may never connect to every tenant, and loss of operator cross-connect fees, again assuming that charging for cross-connections is part of the business model.
Managing the Data Center MMR
Perhaps the most important component to consider when creating an MMR is the future use of the space. The MMR cannot be viewed as a free space for carriers and tenants to cross-connect at will. Not only will cable trays and ceiling space fill up quickly without oversight, but the operator will not have a record of the cables in the building, and mining out “abandoned” cables in a live tenant-filled data center rife with service-level agreements is a very bad idea.
The best method of managing the MMRs is to create in-building standards and include them in every lease agreement. Additionally, carrier agreements should include adherence to your standards. These standards need to outline access-control, cross-connect, interconnect, and direct-connection means and methods, as well as installation and pathway standards, cable count and color standards, and labeling criteria.
Examples of a few of these in-building standards include the following:
Access control—Control access to carrier sides and, if designed, tenant sides of the MMRs. Only permit third-party MMR management companies to have access to both rooms. Make sure this access is authorized, authenticated and audited. Ensure the design disables any opportunity for a carrier or tenant to literally “throw a cable over the wall” to make a connection. This may not sound like something that occurs, but it certainly does.
Connection methods—As indicated earlier, hiring a professional management company to run the MMRs and other public/private spaces is a common practice for operators that do not want to manage the facility to this level of detail. Most cities have companies offering this service, and if not, a good cable installer can be assigned to the task of managing the MMR as long as the standards are well documented and SLAs between that company and the operator exist.
Pathway standards—The space above the ceiling is not limitless; as such, controls must be put in place to ensure large (and typically unused) conduits are not positioned between data connection points. Traditional cable tray is a sure means of transporting media; most tenants will claim that cable trays are an inherent security risk, however. The use of flexible armored cable is something all operators should consider. It is lightweight, able to bend and ultra-thin compared with conduit.
Color codes—Color coding the media is a best practice for many reasons. Colors can designate fiber-types, counts, installation dates and specific client connections. Mining out the infrastructure of past tenants is easy once the cables are identified, and identification by color is a quick means of disposal.
Bottom line—When creating an MMR/MPOE/POE, consider the future and create standards that will keep your data center attractive for the life of the building. There have been many painful lessons and very public displays illustrating the ramifications of poor management of data center spaces. Don’t allow your data center infrastructure to become the next nightmare to be posted across the web.
Leading article photo courtesy of NeoSpire
About the Author
Alan Dash is Director of Technology Services for Rosendin Electric, the nation’s largest private electrical contractor, and has an extensive practice in data center design/build. Alan has more than 30 years of IT operations, consulting and design experience and is a veteran of the United States Air Force. He is based in Nashville.