London-based business telecoms and internet provider builds its own core network node to improve service provision to SMB customers
Based in SW9, London, Spitfire opened for business in 1988 and today provides telecommunications services and internet solutions to a wide range of small and medium sized business customers. The company says that its customer focused delivery and services combine competitive rates coupled with excellent customer services and support.
“Our customers see there is a great affinity between us – we’re an SMB that works with SMBs. We don’t tie our customers into long contracts. In fact we have very minimal contract length on some of the products and most services only require one months’ notice. Despite this, their custom tends to be long term. They stay with us because they like our service – our emphasis is very much on keeping customers informed, ensuring the lines of communication are kept open and customers have up to date information,” says Graham Lewis, Director of IP Engineering at Spitfire Networks.
Dealing with small and medium-sized businesses, Spitfire works collaboratively with its customers as a trusted advisor. This means helping customers to identify their business requirements from a communications perspective and then designing an integrated solution that delivers cost savings as well as tangible productivity and efficiency benefits. Spitfire’s high levels of ongoing customer care and support means that customers can stay focused on their core business whilst being able to derive the maximum benefits from modern communications technology.
In order to consolidate its position and continue to meet the very high standards which it has set, Spitfire has developed its own extensive telecoms network infrastructure and formed relationships with market leading carriers and equipment suppliers. At the same time it has recruited high calibre staff, provided comprehensive technical and professional training and implemented industry best practice policies, procedures and systems.
From its beginnings 23 years ago Spitfire has continued to build upon its engineering roots. As the telecoms markets evolved, the company added telephone line and service provision to its offering. Today the business is about ensuring telephone and internet connectivity for its customers as well as hosted telecommunications solutions such as IP telephony, using products which the company has developed.
Graham Lewis said, “Our customers are very sensitive to cost and adaptability – they want solutions which can scale according to their business requirements. Whether they’re a new business on a rapid growth trajectory or a company where the number of seats can go up or down according to project commitments, they only want to pay for what they use. And, of-course, they want to conserve their capital. Hosted solutions are ideal for these sorts of needs in all sizes of businesses.”
As an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and communications solution provider, Spitfire’s core network requirements have also grown and evolved. In part, this reflects changes in ICT and the way that power and density requirements have increased during the last 4 – 5 years. But it also reflects how the company’s product and service mix has been transformed to meet the needs of its market, e.g., Spitfire is now experiencing more customer interest in virtual or hosted PBX solutions and SIP Trunks than in hard wired alternatives.
Why we built our own core network node
A major recent impact upon Spitfire was an office move brought on by plans to develop the site of its existing office location for the new American Embassy. “We had two years’ notice of the development plans,” said Graham Lewis. “This gave us time to consider what the business requirements were from our new premises. Some things were a given – we wanted to stay in the same area of South London as people are an important asset of the business and many live close-by.”
“But the move also meant we could explore other ideas we had such as building and operating our own core network facility. Our infrastructure requirements are increasing as our customers’ internet and telephony service needs grow. We have equipment collocated in Docklands and had costed out a proposal for more space in West London. But it seemed to us that owning infrastructure would give us considerable autonomy over the services we provide as well as giving us the opportunity to develop new service sets.”
Since the company’s vision was to have everything under one roof, it meant finding a space which could provide ample office accommodation as well as a suitable housing for servers, storage and network communications equipment. The building would also need to have access to enough power for the company’s needs.
The realities of a core network node build
“The search for suitable property went well and we eventually settled upon a newly renovated, former print works. The new building is well appointed with offices and meeting rooms upstairs, and had a substantial space on the lower floor which we could see would be just right for our new facility after some additional construction. We secured a feed from a local substation, and after some negotiation with the local utility, we were able to secure the guarantee of sufficient power,” said Graham Lewis.
In considering its choices regarding its core network node Graham Lewis looked at various methods for provisioning cooling and power back-up, including the use of containerized solutions. But after due deliberation of the options for deploying physical infrastructure, the company quickly settled upon APC InfraStruxure with Hot Aisle Containment Solution (HACS) from Schneider Electric.
Graham Lewis said, “By specifying a system from a single vendor we knew we could avoid the potential pitfalls of integrating a ‘best of breed’ solution from different vendors. We liked the fact that the complete solution – racks, power protection and distribution, cooling, security and management software had all been designed from the ground up to work together. Because the system is standardised and modular, it would also be scalable to our requirements as they changed over time.”
The company also knew from its research and from visiting other data centre installations that hot aisle containment would be an effective answer to questions they had over variable power density in the equipment load. In addition to eliminating the need for a raised floor environment together with the associate costs, it would also reduce ongoing operating expenses through the efficiency of the cooling system.
“We knew that cooling is the biggest energy expense in operating a core network node,” said Graham Lewis. “We wanted to ensure that we minimised this cost without compromising the ability to eliminate the risk of hot spots, or provide cooling levels appropriate to the IT load. Like everything we installed in the core network node, we also knew that the InRow cooling system could be scaled up should the equipment load grow.”
The only major consideration and that was Spitfire had no in-house expertise to build its own core network node environment. “We wanted a core network node environment but had never built one before,” said Graham Lewis. “We needed to find a company that was familiar with the APC InfraStruxure architecture and had experience of building core network nodes based upon it.”
Installing the Core Network Node with APT
To fulfill the project, Spitfire chose to work with Advanced Power Technology (APT), an Elite Partner and Software Partner to Schneider Electric with over a decade’s association with the APC brand . Graham Lewis said, ”APT were very helpful to us throughout the two year process from our initial conversation to the eventual installation. They were patient in working with Spitfire as our original objectives for the core network node evolved through that period. The things we liked were that APT had lots of experience building communication centres a similar size to ours – and they’re an SMB too. There was a natural affinity with our business.”
John Thompson of APT said, “As this was a new venture for them, the Spitfire team were eager to understand details of the solution we designed for their core network node. Communication is a vital part of project management so APT puts the same emphasis and value on good customer contact as Spitfire. This resulted in a very satisfying collaboration.”
Having settled upon the design, the installation went ahead during a single weekend. The core network node was installed in a room which was created especially for it on the lower ground floor of the building. “Since the room didn’t exist prior to the installation of the APC InfraStruxure, we had a lot of trades on site at the same time. The walls literally went up in the days leading up to the installation of the equipment racks, which literally followed immediately after the laying of the floor. It was a triumph of just-in-time manufacturing and the logistics worked immaculately from all sides,” said Graham Lewis.
“After a long lead in, there were some tight deadlines and testing logistics but as a specialist in reclaiming and rejuvenating live core network space this was well within our capabilities,” said John Thompson of APT.
The Spitfire core network node incorporates APC InfraStruxure with Hot Aisle Containment Solution (HACS) including 9 IT equipment racks. The APC Symmetra UPS is currently rated at 48kW in N+1 configuration and also provides back-up power to the comms room located on the fourth floor of the building. The UPS frame is configured to allow expansion to day 2 capacity by adding power and battery modules only.
The HACS accommodates 4 x InRow DX units which provide sufficient capacity for N+1 cooling on the comms room IT load and UPS heat output. Pipe work has been pre-installed for the future addition of further cooling units, and there is sufficient space in the room and power to double the capacity of the core network facility to provision growth requirements.
Graham Lewis said, “We are very satisfied with the Schneider Electric solution as well as with the work undertaken by APT. Our core network facility came together just as APT said it would and there were no hitches despite a very tight window for installation. In addition to the savings we made by opting for hot aisle containment, APT also showed us how we could use Schneider Electric’s StruxureWare Data Center Expert (formerly InfraStruxure Central) for monitoring the physical infrastructure. The software provides much of the functionality for which we originally thought we’d need a BMS – so there were further savings there too.”