Switch SuperNAP

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I recently had the pleasure of opening an account, and moving a bunch of equipment into, a Switch https://www.switch.com/ “SuperNAP” facility in Las Vegas; but they have them in other cities too like Reno, Grand Rapids, etc.  For the unaware, as I was, Switch is a data center company that’s been around a surprisingly long time (10+ years) and has left me truly impressed, which is hard as I’m picky and also generally have had poor to mediocre experiences over the past 20 years dealing with what I’d count as perhaps 10 to 12 different data center operators and facilities across four states.  A quick way to sum them up is they have built out truly purpose-built data center facilities in several cities now, facilities that are simply incredible in size and features, and backed them with adherence to policies, procedures and detail that I’ve never encountered before.  On top of that, their add-on and non-recurring item pricing (cross connects to carriers, power extensions, etc.) aren’t a rip off like at most facilities; win-win.

So; I was looking at Vegas for a new data center need.  I started scoping out colocation providers in the area.  I found many of the common players that I won’t call out as I still have equipment with several of them in other areas and don’t want to risk retribution.  After back and forth with several of them, I had a short list of providers whose pricing was in line with what I was looking for, so I flew out for site visits.  After viewing the contenders in person, I left thinking price would be the only criteria that would ever give someone a reason to use any other provider if they were in a geographic market where Switch participates.  I visited Switch’s SuperNAP’s 7 (where their sales staff operate from) and 9 (a few years newer) on the tour and there’s simply nothing like them unless you happen to work for Facebook/Apple/NSA.  There is no comparison between what they’ve built and the typical 25k-50k square foot data centers, or the larger ones stuffed into old dumps like what you’ll find in Chicago, Miami, etc.  Switch uses 250,000+ square foot buildings that are then compartmentalized into smaller sections for, I assume, to support customer isolation, phased internal construction / build-out, adding staff as square footage climbs, heating/cooling, etc.  These are not shipping depot / loading dock warehouse buildings that someone cemented over the bay doors and installed a sub-roof / building inside, nor are they ancient structures renovated to look like a data center.  One competitor I toured actually told me their building was a purpose-built data center, even though it looked like the other buildings in the campus of warehouses, and when we get to the outside phase to see the HVAC & power pieces, I can see where there had been bay doors for truck loading.  It’s like no, cementing over the doors to a warehouse and adding redundant power is not purpose-built.

Anyway, suffice it to say I executed a contract for my needs with Switch and have been impressed repeatedly since then.  They are VERY procedural, which is good, because that usually translates into consistent service and expectations being set and continually met.  There are rules to follow, and if you follow them, you’ll be happy and they’ll be happy.  For example, cardboard never enters the data center space; whether you have equipment delivered or hand carry, you unbox in their receiving area no ifs ands or buts.  The guards will be on you quick if you violate this policy.  No food/drink in the data center space, obviously.  There’s many rules about coming and going, badges, guests, etc. that are easy to follow and safeguard your equipment and service, which is of course why they do it.  They have cabling and cleanliness standards, so you won’t walk by one cage after another and see a mountain of crap in one, mixed up power, fiber and copper in the next, trash everywhere in the third.  They have, and require, you to have inspections related to power, cabling and air-flow to ensure you aren’t leaking cold air into the heat containment system unnecessarily.  It’s really all very comforting once you settle into the process.

Security is tight.  Gates, badges, man traps, biometric auth, cameras and guards everywhere.  I won’t lie and say I’m not currently using one entity’s data center where I ran my own cables after hours to cross connect two cages because I didn’t want to wait the 60+ days the facility would often take to complete such a task.  There’s no way to do this at Switch, no way you’d not get caught trying to do it, and you’d get your access permanently revoked.  There’s places I’ve been where customer cages look more like surplus storage areas with some computer racks mixed in; not tolerated at Switch.  There’s places I still have equipment where some days it’s 75F, some days it’s 85F and equipment is alarming; never know what kind of cooling you’re going to get.  There’s places I have had power issues where the supposed diverse feeds weren’t.  Each building at Switch has numerous evaporative cooling towers, chillers, compressor units, power generators, etc.  They are so far removed from “Hey we have a primary and backup generator” or “We have redundant cooling” that it’s not funny.

Really the only complaints I’ve got, and these are just petty, are:

  • Their data center floors are very dark.  There’s motion activated lighting in all the cages, but even with that if you’re working close up on equipment or similar, sometimes it’s simply too dark.  The security folks will bring you a rolling auxiliary light, so it’s not a problem with no solution, just a minor annoyance.  I assume this is related to keeping power usage low for maximum efficiency, as their stance on green power, and the PUE they brag about constantly, are key bullet points for them during sales presentations.  Maximum power efficiency probably helps with making friends in legislative places too.
  • There’s no coffee in the customer lounge (but there is Monster)
  • Their buildings are not labeled by number nor are there street address signs.  Since several of the SuperNAPs are in a tight cluster, you may end up at the wrong building, or the wrong entrance to the right building, if you don’t know where you’re going or have a third party vendor coming to do some work.

Anyway, I like giving shout outs to vendors I use and am happy with, like Arista, Nimble (now HPE, but still happy so far), and now Switch, so I felt compelled to write this blog post.  I can’t include any pics as customers aren’t allowed to take any on the grounds, but trust me, if you’re in the market for some new colo space and are okay with it being in one of the markets they serve, you owe it to yourself and/or employer to visit them and take a look.  Some of the tour will feel a bit gimmicky, like the uplighting on the rifles in the guard room LOL, or the cable ladder racks doubling as ambient light holders in nearly every room and hallway of their facilities, but after actually experiencing the facility and service, do what you gotta do Switch, I’m happy so far.

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