Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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The Magma Data Center

If you recall, last month we concluded a two part series on the abysmal state of customer service in Canada. This time out, it is my pleasure to report on a company which despite the trend to the contrary, has consistently delivered superior service and flourished in the face of stiff competition. As a testament to this fact, Dave Cobey of Magma Communications, provided me with a behind the scenes look at their impressive new data centre in Nepean which is slated to be operational by the time you read this article.

To the casual observer, the building is non-descript, however, this impression quickly alters upon entry. In order to gain access to the facility, one must pass a manned security station and then utilise a retinal scanner to open the door. When queried as to why the scanner was chosen over other biometric alternatives, Dave explained that while fingerprints have about 40 differentiating features, the retina has approximately 160 – thereby making any device designed to utilise them in identification inherently more secure.

From smart card access control on every door to copious use of cameras and motion sensors, the place is wired for high security throughout - and has to be... it will house some of the city's largest  corporate web properties including the likes of JDS Uniphase.  As you enter the maze of hallways (only a few months ago empty warehouse space), the first thing you notice is an enormous generator. In the event of power failure it will take over from the two (one being completely redundant) massive UPS units after the approximately 30 seconds it needs to auto-activate.

Mr. Cobey explained that as soon as the generator fires up, a call is electronically placed to the generator company which immediately sends a fuel truck to wait outside until power is restored. It then refuels the generator and leaves the scene. Further to this contingency planning strategy, a NASF3 gas fire suppression system is in place throughout the complex which is backed up by water in an interesting fashion: there is no water in the system until such time as a sprinkler head has exceeded 400 degrees Fahrenheit  - and then, water is dispensed only in that area. Even the air conditioning system has a complete redundant backup.

These security components certainly form the framework for an excellent business continuity plan – an area where others might be inclined to cut corners, demonstrating Magma's commitment to customer service over the long haul. The server room itself is huge. Divided into quadrants, there are separate facilities for rack mounted servers, shelf based servers, Magma's own equipment and an area where companies can create their own server "vaults" -  a secure room within already very secure facilities.

As I interviewed Mr. Cobey after the tour, it became clear to me why the tiny ISP I first visited just a few short years ago has experienced such impressive growth.

OC: So how long have you been planning for this expansion?

Dave Cobey: We started about a year ago and the whole point was to build a regional Internet Data Centre that's the most secure, the most reliable and has the most bandwidth. So, our target market is server co-location and dedicated server clients, as well as those preferring a facility with more security.

OC: So are you going to keep your existing facilities operational?

Dave Cobey: Next month we are going to migrate all our servers, both Magma and client to the data centre as well as modem pools and supporting infrastructure. We are also consolidating all of our office space into our new office building which is being opened shortly.

OC: So why undertake these initiatives now? Have you hit a critical mass or  -

Dave Cobey: We're responding to what more and more of our clients are asking for. number one they're migrating from a virtual web server to either a server co-location scenario or dedicated server. With the dedicated server option, we will lease them a server that we own so that they don't have the big up front cost.

OC: Can you define for our readers what server co-location is?

Dave Cobey: Server co-location is an instance whereby a client brings in their server and / or networking gear and connects it to our Internet backbone.

OC: Are they responsible for handling all the server management in this case?

Dave Cobey: There are two options. They can do it themselves or we can do it for them. For example, we handle all server operations for JDS Uniphase. The clients that perform their own management benefit from our excellent facilities, dedicated staging areas, security and the like while the clients that we're finding using our managed services are those that want to get their product to market quickly or those that don't have the in-house resources to do all of their internal IT.

OC: So how did you go about financing this big expansion?

Dave Cobey: We're a private company and we financed it privately.

OC: Did you use profits garnered from your existing revenue streams or did you seek venture capital? or...

Dave Cobey: We're a private company so I won't comment...

OC: Well that's totally fine, but it looks like you've spent a lot of money here and...

Dave Cobey: We wanted to build the best Internet Data Centre in the region – without exception.

OC: So do you have plans to roll out Data Centres in your other markets – Toronto and Montreal?

Dave Cobey: Obviously, if this venture is very successful, as the demand increases we're going to want to have more capacity to accommodate other clients but for the next 12 months our goal is to get this Data Centre up and running, fill it, and provide as many server management services as we can to our clients.

OC: So when are you going to go live with the new facility?

Dave Cobey: The new Centre will be filled with our existing clients very soon and expect it to be half full by Christmas by attracting new clients.

OC: So what's next for Magma aside from the Data Centre initiative?

Dave Cobey: We're signing up a lot of clients for high speed DSL access both on the corporate and residential sides. This Data Centre is also going to allow us to discover additional services which will be useful value adds we can provide to our customers. We're finding that the evolution we've undergone from being a residential ISP to a corporate ISP, to an overall Internet company has been a great formula for us and we've been very successful responding to our clients needs throughout the transition.

Clearly commitment to quality and customer service has been Magma's key to rapid growth. We'd like to thank Magma Communications and Dave Cobey in particular for their kind cooperation in producing this article and wish them the best of success in their new venture.

Originally published in Ottawa Computes! magazine, October, 2000, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.

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