Kia Jahangiri is an affable tech genius who greets me at the Multacom office, data center and 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 and network optimization software. Written specifically for the ultra-custom configured data center operations of Multacom by partner Ken Joostens, I’m encouraged by Jahangiri, Multacom CEO, to have a look at the sophisticated nature of the program. “Take a look at this,” he says; there’s more tech gliding by the screen than the opening sequence of The Matrix and due to my less than herculean programming skills – 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 well, “Oh yeah – that’s the shit.”
I’m feeling a bit more comfortable as we go through the first of Multacom’s four 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. UPSs? Check. Liebert units? Check. FM-200 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.
Kia Jahangiri, CEO of Multacom
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 company named Shoutbomb, which operates a software service that allows libraries to send SMS messages to all text message enabled phones. Shoubomb 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 24×7. 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 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 redundancy in power and cooling for each facility. 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). 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 in-line with our needs.”
So what exactly does Multacom do so well? Engineering and hands-on service – those are their keys to success. 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 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.
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 know 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 deal with 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’ or higher redundancy model for everything. That includes items that most data centers would settle on – like the cooling system from the chillers to the HVAC unit’s having redundancy.
The company adheres to a strict training regimen (lasting up to a full year) 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.
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 can’t risk any negative impact to our clients.”
Here’s something else I found interesting: the way that obsolete data is treated with dedicated server service they offer. When a server is retired or drive removed from use for any reason there may be data left on a drive that is related to customers. The drive is wiped, then the drive is physically destroyed. Is all of this necessary for every bit of customer data? Maybe not, but all data seems to be treated as critical by Multacom.
The typical customer for this colo firm is tech savvy. 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 deliver each and every client’s solution. Multacom’s customers are looking for an audited vendor as well; Multacom maintains SOC Type 2 reports from Independent Service Auditor’s 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.
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.