Everything you need to know about cloud computing
In early August, one small link in Bell’s vast national network of cables suffered a 30-minute outage that sporadically stopped customers from accessing some websites, proving again that, in order to function, the Internet—that diffuse network of networks—still relies on a huge collection of physical things.
One of these is a drab, brown building at 151 Front St. West in downtown Toronto, which a senior wireless carrier executive once joked would be the ideal site for a terrorist attack, since a strike would shut down much of the country’s communications, both wired and wireless.
“When you walk by the building, you can’t tell what we are,” says Doug Riches, a British electrical engineer who manages the ultra-secure co-location facility. “We like it that way.” Canadians should be glad for the tight security; if you access the Internet from within this country’s borders, it’s certain your data has flowed through one of the 100,000 strands of fibre-optic cable strewn throughout this building’s telecommunications suites, which house millions of dollars worth of equipment. Companies like Cogeco and Rogers co-locate and join their networks together in this neutral location, instead of going through the wider Internet. If you’re using Google—and who isn’t?—your data is sure to have passed through a corner of one suite in particular: the Toronto Internet Exchange, or Torix—a non-profit association that runs a caged-off area on the sixth and seventh floors at 151 Front. Here, about 160 companies plug into each other directly.
So why do companies want to co-locate? Getting a spot in one of these facilities helps speed up the connection between two websites and reduces wait times, as well as minimizing breaks in continuity on extremely sensitive services like voice over IP. Jon Nistor, a systems engineer and president of Torix, says that having a presence in Torix also increases the resiliency of a company’s connection, should something go awry in the physical world.
Companies that are co-located at Torix were totally fine during Bell’s outage. “Torix is basically an interconnection point,” Nistor says, as he walks around the cage, gesturing at servers covered in labels on pieces of tape. Torix pays 151 Front for space, and charges companies for access as well as supplier and contractor costs, though its goal isn’t profit; it’s simply to improve the Internet.
Globe & Mail