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Kia Jahangiri is an affable tech genius who greets me at the Multacom office / data center / NOC complex in the heart of downtown L.A.'s Internet core. As we get to know one another while I'm sipping my coffee in his office he asks me to excuse the stacks of 1 U servers and switches ringing his desk. It becomes apparent that this isn't your typical colocation and data center complex where you may encounter a front office manager, some sales offices with people in smart suits, and conference rooms in a neat array shielding you from the tech side of the house. In fact, there are no office managers, or sales staff at Multacom. It's pretty much 100 percent engineers - and it shows.
The buzz in the office is around laptops and larger desktop screens running everything from data center analytics to network connectivity stats to custom, purpose-built DDoS mitigation software. Written specifically for the ultra-custom configured data center operations of Multacom by partner Ken Joostens, I'm encouraged by Kia to have a look at the sophisticated nature of the program. "Take a look at this!" - there's more tech gliding by the screen than the opening sequence of The Matrix - and due to my less than herculean programming skilz - I'm a bit lost. "Don't tell anybody about this stuff, it's a huge competitive advantage." Well I'm thinking that it ain't gonna be a problem as I couldn't possibly digest enough of the code to even begin to explain it to anyone else. But I fake it pretty good, "Oh yeah - that's the shit!".
I'm feeling a bit more comfortable as we go through the first of Multacom's 4 downtown data centers. Having been through hundreds of data centers across the US and Europe I'm thinking I've seen it all - or at least most of it. Raised flooring? - check. UPS's? - check. Leibert units? - check. Halon fire suppression? - check. Racks and racks of cool sleek black cabinets with blinking lights? No. That's because each of the individual server setups at Multacom are a marriage of technology, hardware, engineering and artistry. Every customer's setup looking oddly different in dimensions, form factors, and connectivity sitting naked out in the open to uniquely match the precise engineering specifications required for that particular job. It's more like walking through a high tech art exhibit than a data center.
So who on earth needs this kind of crazy custom data center engineering? A ton of cool companies it turns out. Case in point - a fantastic company named Shoutbomb, which operates a software service that allows libraries to send SMS messages to all text message enabled phones. Their founder, George Quaye explains why uptime is critical to the company's success: "We are a small growing company providing a text notification solution and uninterrupted connectivity is crucial. We are intimately integrated with our customers to allow access to their information 24x7. We have developed our solution to be very fault tolerant, however, our experience with Multacom has shown their network to be continuously available, therefore minimizing the work involved in cleaning up after a network outage. As a growing company, each new customer is allocated a fixed set of resources on our server and because of the server infrastructure we can count on adding a lot of new customers before the need to scale up.''
So Kia Jahangiri is the real deal. We're going through all the data centers and he's beaming showing me the tech goodies that make each data center unique and 2( N+1) or more reliable. But his big heart comes out when we talk about the customers first, and then his plans with his son that weekend (something to do with off-roading in the desert). Mr. Quaye relates the following regarding the customer relationship, ''To be honest, we do not have to think about Multacom, because we trust them as a partner. The services they provide are inline with our needs.''
So what exactly does Multacom do so well? Engineering and hands on service - those are their keys to success. Sure they offer what you would expect in a great colocation and data center provider, like the ability to connect to multiple backbone providers in order to to scale Internet connectivity. Plus, Multacom's network topology design also includes massive peering with over 200 other network providers worldwide. However, this company is all about "never go down" redundancy. And when they say "never go down" they back it up with engineering expertise, hardware and software.
One unfortunate threat that all providers face is the inevitability of a dDos attack. If you have been around hosting for very long, then you that denial of service attacks are a constant source of irritation. Multacom has taken an engineered approach to this important matter as well - they wrote their own custom software to both detect and prevent ddos attacks. While the details are proprietary, the effect is enormous. Engineers are alerted and action taken the moment any unusual activity is detected. This is often within mere seconds of any malicious attack occurring. In addition, their network optimization software is custom written in-house. It is an approach that errs on the side of 'N+1' for everything. That includes items that most data centers would settle on - like the cooling system.
Another excellent example of Multacom's commitment to quality is found in their hiring of new engineers and technicians. The company adheres to a strict training regimen (lasting up to a full years) prior to that employee being fully vetted to work solo on a customer's account. That's up to 365 days of training prior to touching customer's data, connectivity or hardware. Mind you, these are not individuals fresh off the street - these are skilled technologists with degrees and experience gained elsewhere who are painstakingly apprenticed to ensure they are conducting business as Multacom sees fit.
Founder Kia Jahangiri explained why this process is so important, ''It is not enough to have knowledge of the technology in use, you have to get very familiar with the setup we have and it is even more important to us that the technical staff understand our way of doing things. Most are surprised at how different the process can be between providers and we cant risk any negative impact to our clients.''.
Here's something else I found interesting: the way that obsolete data is treated. When a customer has completed a project, or when computing is rearranged for any reason there may be data left on a drive that is related to that customer. While the data may simply be wiped in other facilities and the drive reused, Multacom goes a few steps further. The drive is wiped electronically, then the drive is fully magnetized, then the dead drive is sent to a 3rd party to be physically destroyed. Is all of this necessary for every bit of customer data? Maybe not, but all data is treated as critical by Multacom. It's just a hallmark of the thoroughness with which they do business.
The typical customer for this colo firm is tech savvy. They understand the difference in the hardened engineering which Multacom employs versus other data centers and colocation providers. Customers describe themselves as 'no frills' and they are clearly looking for real value in a colocation provider. Not simply the lowest cost vendor - but one that provides a true tech team and engineering approach to protect each and every client's information. Multacom's customers are looking for an audited vendor as well. It is a credit to the engineering skill of the Multacom team that the company has recently been vetted by a SOC Type 2 Independent Service Auditor's Report on Controls Relevant to Security and Availability.
SOC 2 is a comprehensive audit which tests and reports on the design (Type I) and operating (Type II) effectiveness of a service organization’s controls. The core principles of the audit follow 'Trust Principles' which are:
Security - The system is protected against unauthorized access (both physical and logical).
Availability - The system is available for operation and use as committed or agreed.
Processing Integrity - System processing is complete, accurate, timely, and authorized.
Confidentiality - Information designated as confidential is protected as committed or agreed.
Privacy - Personal information is collected, used, retained, disclosed and destroyed in conformity with the commitments in the entity’s privacy notice and with criteria set forth in Generally Accepted Privacy Principles issued by the AICPA and CICA.
That Multacom passed with flying colors goes without saying. But how does that translate into value for customers? Vision Online provides federal, state and local agencies a wide array of services, among them: database architecting, software development, server security hardening, intrusion countermeasures and Department of Defense Orange Book C5 level secure hosting. Needless to say, bulletproof colocation and connectivity is critical to their operations. Darrell Benvenuto with Vision mentioned that ''uninterrupted connectivity is absolutely essential'' and noted that, "the platform is only one part of the puzzle, but if it is unreliable, it would greatly harm the venture."
Some final mentions from the SOC 2 report - the data center facilities are constantly monitored by digital surveillance video camera systems and access to and movement within the data center facilities is controlled and restricted via a badge access control and biometric identification system. Additionally, building management provides 24 hours per day on-site presence of security officers and field engineers who are responsible for providing physical security services for the multi- tenant office facility and data center infrastructure maintenance and support services, respectively.
Data center cooling and power infrastructure provides redundant services in either a 2(N+1) or N+1 configuration. Agreements are in place with third party specialists to provide regular preventative maintenance inspections of data center infrastructure including the fire detection and suppression, cooling, and power supply equipment to help ensure proper functioning.
The real DNA of Multacom is evidenced by the people on-site and behind the scenes who are constantly thinking about only how to serve their customers better and how to serve data to the Internet in a "never go down" manner.