Moving on up

Moving is never a truly enjoyable experience. Between the packing, the boxes and the movers, it is not an easy task. For a company to move its employees, offices, equipment and network operations centre, it is even more of a hassle. But that is exactly what UUNET Canada, a Canadian ISP in downtown Toronto, did last month.

UUNET, an MCI WorldCom Company, moved from one downtown location on Bay Street to another on Adelaide Street. The building it moved into was entirely gutted out, remodelled and restructured by Intracorp Developments Ltd., the building’s owner.

There were two main reasons for the move, according to UUNET’s vice-president and country manager, Tal Bevan.

“One is we’re growing so fast, that it made sense for us to have our own space, and secondly we wanted to create a space for our employees which was unique,” he said.

The firm will occupy eight floors of the building, as well as the penthouse which has been remodelled for use as

an employee lounge area.

The new location will be UUNET’s new Canadian headquarters. According to UUNET, Intracorp invested over $15 million in the redevelopment of the property. The lease term is for ten years, during which UUNET will have approximately 80,000 square feet of space.

“The majority of our equipment still resides at our major transit facility here in Toronto,” explained Brad Arsenault, the senior manager of Canadian network operations, UUNET. “We’re using it (the new facility) as part of an additional redundant location for all of our network traffic in addition to providing customer co-location space and other services of that nature.”

The only Canadian UUNET locations that house networking equipment are Toronto and Montreal, according to Arsenault, although there are sales offices in Calgary and Vancouver.

The new facility will have redundant OC-12c fibre optic connections, strictly for carrying IP traffic to and from the Internet. The fibre is connected to a redundant routing complex, which means that if one component in the complex fails, it will not affect network traffic.

The second floor of the building is where the point of presence (POP) is located, and where some of the network equipment and customer co-location spaces are, Arsenault said.

“Through our building, it’s all fibre connected vertically and everything’s copper — copper wiring horizontally,” he said. The new location is connected to the other location “with the use of a dark fibre that we’re using in redundant paths in case there is a fibre cut or an outage of that nature, our equipment will be able to support the redundancy that we’ve designed into it so that we reduce any chance of any outages of any kind.”

The equipment that UUNET has housed in its new home is top-of-the-line, due to the greater bandwidth demand in larger cities, said Arsenault.

“We’re providing a much higher grade of service than you would commonly see in a smaller city,” he said. “We sell mostly large bandwidth circuits, so the type of equipment you need and the style in which the networks are designed to accommodate redundancy” are greater as the demand is higher.

When asked how the network has become more reliable, Bevan said the architecture of the server configurations and the addition of more redundancy play a big part.

“Should we have problems somewhere on the network, the fail-safe systems will make that transparent to an end user at a higher level than we were able to do in the past — or we might even be able to argue at a lower level,” he said. “There are fewer points where that can actually impact a customer, so that’s a significant difference.”

Fully redundant power on a much larger scale is required for the amount of equipment that the company has, Arsenault said, which is in part why the power supply was increased in the building. According to Bevan, the supply was doubled from what was originally there “so that the whole place is, not only power-wise but communications-wise, absolutely wired.”

While problems were sparse, Bevan did admit that some unexpected snags arose during the moving process.

The phone system at the Adelaide location not only supports that specific building, but the old location and a Montreal office as well, according to Bevan. It was reconfigured, he said, and there were “some issues that were unexpected, but which have all been resolved and now it’s back to business as usual.”

Another problem, involving the network, arose during the move.

“Without going into all the details, there was a network issue in the larger network which is provided to us in the switch telephone network,” Bevan said.

Other upgrades in the new facility included an increased capacity in the cooling system for the entire building, which is now 380 tons. The backup generator, which will allow for up to five days of emergency power, can now go up to a wattage of 900 kilowatts, and there is also a 6,000 gallon reserve tank for the facilities. The entire basement of the building was also gutted out, and turned into an underground parking facility.

The company wanted to offer a work environment unlike any other “as a way to retain and attract high calibre people,” and the only way to do that was for UUNET to do it itself, Bevan said.

Equipped with a walk-out balcony, pool table and kitchen, Bevan said the penthouse employee lounge was designed to let employees know that they are high value, and “we want to build environments that reflect their character. We have a fairly young workforce, and for them to be able to have something that personal is something that we’re really proud to be able to provide to them.”

It is UUNET’s belief that if its employees enjoy what they are doing and the environment that they are in , and if they believe the company they are employed by is capable of providing them something different, then they will handle customers better. And that, said Bevan, is worth the investment.

“We’re prepared to invest in a building to enhance our competitiveness in the market even though nobody can measure the direct impact of it,” he said. “But we believe that to be true, so we’re going to act accordingly.”

What delighted Bevan the most about the experience was the fact that nothing affected the network or impacted the ability to deal with customers. In fact, all in all, the remodelling and the move were a complete success.

“So far we’re missing one box. We’re delighted about the fact that there’s only one box missing from the entire move,” Bevan said.