At some point, you’ve probably asked yourself how much energy you want to devote to housing a data center. Unless you’re in the business of IT, you can sink a lot of organizational resources into something that’s outside of your core mission. Maybe hiring an off-premise facility to house your data center just makes more sense. That’s colocation in a nutshell.
So how do you begin to assess the colocation options? We have three essential tools, plus seven more, to help you out.
Essential #1. Know Why You’re Colocating
The sharpest tool in your planning toolbox is to know exactly what you hope to get out of colocation. You may discover more reasons along the way, but you probably have a limited number of items that make up your business case.
- Cost savings from eliminating your onsite facility
- Reliability and availability improvements
- Improved disaster recovery
- Streamlined process to reach regulatory compliance
- Added flexibility for future expansion
- Improved security.
Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, collect all the pertinent data: specifications on the current workload, costs, staffing level, problems and strengths. Create a formal checklist of what you’re looking for now and in the foreseeable future. Then you can focus on identifying colocation companies who may satisfy your greatest needs.
Keep your eye on these reasons. It’s easy to get confused by the variety of services at your disposal. Success in colocation hinges on meeting your essential needs first.
Essential #2. Location, Location, Colocation
Unlike cloud services, for which location is largely irrelevant, colocation is a physical extension of your office. You are using space provided by your provider, but you’re typically responsible for setting up and maintaining the hardware and software. That means that your own IT team will want to visit on some sort of regular schedule – and you’ll need a plan to deal with unanticipated emergencies.
Sometimes this means that you’re looking at a colocation facility convenient to your current IT headquarters, particularly if you have a single office. It could be across the street or across the county.
However, the best location can contribute more than mere proximity. There are strategic considerations. You might want to move all or part of your data center to mitigate risks of your current location: geological instability, power interruptions or inadequate network access. Far-seeing companies even plan ahead for expansion by locating data centers near future office sites.
Whatever the reasons, it’s all about location. The best-in-class providers offer a network of locations to serve you today and as your business develops.
Essential #3. Let’s Get Physical
Now it’s time to pay a visit. Just as you wouldn’t buy a home without seeing it in person, your team will assess your data center’s new living space.
Fundamentally, a colocation facility supplies just a few basics: the physical space for your servers and storage; the power, cooling and utilities required; the network access and physical security. Since that can come in all shapes and sizes, there’s no substitute for an onsite inspection.
There’s a lot to look for. Here are just a few highlights to put on your checklist:
- How does the building look? New, clean, solid and smooth-running are good. A converted self-storage facility … not so much.
- Does the physical security inspire confidence? Your servers will sit by themselves most of the time. You surely don’t want someone else tampering with them or “borrowing” parts. Ideally, the colocation company’s internal staff is granted access only when and where necessary. And all visitors are carefully tracked.
- On the flip side, can your team easily get to your equipment 24/7? You never know when you’re going to need access to the facility – and to your colocation provider’s team if there are facility-related issues.
- Verify the power infrastructure, including long and short-term backup power, power conditioning and the adequacy of power density for the facility’s potential capacity. When was the backup power last tested?
- Similarly, assess the HVAC condition and redundancy, fire prevention and suppression, water damage isolation, lightning protection, as well as earthquake and flood resiliency if appropriate – all of which should be well maintained and documented.
- How accessible is the facility for delivering and removing equipment? Although you’ll do it infrequently, installation and upgrades are painful processes at the best of times. A streamlined shipping bay, secure storage and capacious elevators will maximize your team’s productivity when the time comes.
Often overlooked are the onsite amenities for humans. Even if the colocation facility is just across town from your company, you’ll need space for your team to plan, stage and manage any upgrades to your configuration. Well-fitted conference rooms, guest offices plus snacks – an IT essential – are going to make a long onsite workday pass more efficiently.
Since you hope to run your colocated facility “hands off” the majority of the time, there’s no substitute for a good hands-on inspection up front.
Plus Seven More
With those three essentials firmly in focus, you’ve already increased your likelihood of colocation success. Here are seven more considerations to keep in mind:
4. Provider Stability
In the IT provider space, companies have been known to disappear suddenly – not exactly the kind of partnership you’re probably searching for. Do your due diligence to vet the firms you’re considering. Look for a long history of colocation with stable strategic expansion, a solid reputation, financial stability and a large, long-term customer base.
5. Compliance and Security
There’s nothing more valuable that your company’s private data. So your provider should have all the certifications and security practices in place to keep your data where you want it. And if your business is subject to regulatory requirements, as many are, look for compliance expertise and audit documentation from your colocation provider.
6. Plan for the Worst
Disaster prevention and recovery are great reasons to colocate. If your in-house data center can’t be located and supported for optimal disaster planning, make sure your colocation facility is. Consider full remote mirroring to dramatically streamline disaster recovery – in some cases turning downtime into seconds. And make sure all onsite teams will be safe and productive if a local disaster should occur.
7. Customized Services
There is a huge menu of individual services that can make or break your colocation implementation. For instance, you can eliminate many trips to the facility by having your colocation provider perform routine server backups, upgrades or restarts. Resist services offerings with a “cookie-cutter” approach. Contract for exactly what you need (keeping an eye out for services you may require in the future). That keeps your costs in line with your goals.
8. Network Carrier Agnostic
If you’ve ever had your high-speed line interrupted by a carrier outage, you know the frustration of being tied to a single network. Don’t let your colocation facility put all your eggs in one basket. The best connect to multiple carrier networks at every facility with optimized connection points and best-in-class network management.
9. A Foot in the Cloud
Colocation isn’t cloud – but it can be a great on-ramp if you plan correctly. Some of the strongest colocation providers are also leaders in cloud services. Which means that if you want to move some of your data operations to the cloud, you’ll be positioned for an efficient migration.
10. Room for Growth
Hoping to expand? Your vendor needs to have sufficient headroom to help your business grow. Whether you see big data on your horizon, expanded web services or a burgeoning customer base, all of the provider’s facilities need to be poised to support you.
Making it Work
Colocating your data center isn’t a task to be taken lightly. But the advantages usually make it well worth the effort. With the right checklist of factors to consider, you can find a provider who will relieve you of many tasks you’d rather not worry about, and save you both money and resources in the process.