Carrier hotels are generally large buildings, often in population centers, that are built to serve as a secure site for data communications interconnections. That means they also often function as large-scale colocation sites. By combining infrastructure resources, many providers can converge in a single facility, lowering overhead and allowing tenants access to many services and connections.
The Westin is named after the Westin hotel that first filled the building when it opened in 1981. It is home to the Seattle Internet Exchange (SIX) and Pacific Northwest Gigapop’s Pacific Wave Exchange. It has 34 floors, full to the brim of colocation providers, internet service providers, and web service giants.
The SIX is started as a private interconnection between two ISPs, growing to offer GigE, 10GbE, 40GbE, and 100GbE ports with one-time port fees. There are no peering requirements but peering is highly encouraged—after all, interconnection is kind of the point! It has nearly 200 members as of 2015.
In addition to internet exchanges, the Westin houses two meet-me-rooms, which are used by carriers and ISPs to cross-connect and route traffic through their networks. These are important because ISPs must share some of their traffic. If a customer signs up with Provider X, but the “last mile” fiber (the fiber actually running to the business location) is owned by Provider Y, Provider Y and Provider X set up an interconnection to pass off the traffic.
Carrier hotels started as a way to directly connect competing telecom providers without having to work only with a local monopoly. It may come as no surprise, then, that they starting to spring up in the ‘80s and ‘90s as the industry was deregulated.
By sharing resources, carrier hotels make it simple and speedy to connect to major internet crossroads. In the Westin, that means hopping across the Pacific to Asia, or north to Canada, not to mention fiber trunks across the United States. It lowers connectivity costs for everyone, from major players down to the customers of colocation providers.
The carrier hotel often has physical security, building and network wiring, environmental controls, and power backups set to go for colocation installations. These systems are often very robust as they must support dozens of floors, not just a small facility.
However, by far the biggest appeal of colocating in a carrier hotel is the sheer variety and redundancy of network connections available. It is easy to find various IP services and often lower pricing for bandwidth. Finally, if you decide to change telecom providers, you just need to adjust your interconnections, with no need to migrate equipment.