It may not sound sexy, but colocation is often the secret to a good data center strategy. While cloud technology dominates tech news headlines, many computing infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals aren’t ready for that adventure.
A recent Forrester Research report 1 notes, “Although I&O pros and their business counterparts have become more comfortable with moving workloads into outsourced or cloud environments, respondents reported that on average, 69% of enterprise infrastructure is still housed and managed in owned facilities, 16% in colocation facilities, 10% in hosted or outsourced environments, and 5% in public cloud.”
These findings reveal many companies’ reticence to tamper with what’s familiar and working well. However, in many cases a colocated data center can help you respond to new pressures, such as mobile technology, consumer demand for real-time information or rapid business expansion. The Forrester Research, titled Consider Colocation As A Key To Your Holistic Data Center Strategy , says, “As if data center capacity planning wasn’t hard enough already, you now have to account for accelerating resource demands from these new customer-facing services. Cloud services help, but you likely still need your own facilities too.”
With all of the options, from in-house to colocation to cloud, how can you identify the value of colocation in your enterprise? First, do your homework. Assess which applications can best exploit colocation’s strengths to deliver optimal customer experience and business value. This isn’t “one size fits all.” Different business units may favor different computing environments. That’s fine – in fact, it’s a sign that you’re addressing unique needs with different tools.
Then understand the unique advantages that colocation brings to your environment.
Agility, Flexibility, Cost
Many companies first consider colocation when they run into a limitation of the current in-house data center. It could be something as simple as running out of expansion room or overloading the building’s power. If that’s the issue, a colocation partner already has the problem solved.
Rapid business growth can prompt a company to colocate. Maybe you need to launch a data center in a new city to create a footprint for future expansion. Or you need to respond to competitive pressure by ramping up overall compute capacity – without disturbing other parts of the business.
Finally, colocation is sometimes a less expensive choice than cloud. It’s the familiar “rent vs. buy” question. Would you rather own the servers and storage outright, or pay a cloud service every month for the rest of your contract? The answer varies by application – and is worth calculating.
For the bulk of organizations who still host their infrastructure on premises, colocation is an easy next step. “In very small businesses, the infrastructure may be DIY PC-based systems in a closet somewhere,” says Chris Monroe, a solutions engineer at Peak 10. “Others aren’t completely comfortable with the unknowns of moving to the cloud: security, control, and resilience. For these enterprises, colocation is an easy transitional move.” Navigating the complexity of the cloud can be left for later.
If systems are working well, moving those identical processes and tools to a reliable colocated facility avoids disrupting what isn’t broken. Colocation is an ideal answer for relocating a legacy system; there’s no need to tamper with the well-oiled machine
Do It Your Way
In a colocated data center, you can use whatever servers, storage configurations, OS and applications you like. No cloud operator will fit you into a standard environment for their own convenience. The only standards you need to adhere to are your own – whether it’s a long-running system on quirky hardware or a niche-specific platform.
You also may have company-specific security and privacy needs that you’d prefer to keep in your own team’s hands. Only you know exactly what works best.
Optimize Core Competency
Chances are, your employees know more about your business than about power, cooling, access control or building safety. Fortunately, that’s exactly what a colocation partner is expert at. You can stop spending time on those concerns. That frees up your people to do what they do best: make your business run.
When companies colocate, they typically delegate routine tasks to a “remote hands” team at the provider’s facility. That avoids waking an expensive IT employee in the night to travel to the data center merely to flip a switch or press a key. Instead, the 24/7 onsite team handles the request within minutes.
Responsive to Your Requirements
Here’s where every department and every application may have a different answer. Your initial assessment of business requirements will steer you toward using colocation to address issues such as:
- Customer sensitivity or industry standards that steer you away from cloud toward a secure, self-managed environment.
- Specific locations with proximity to regional customer populations, such as in the hotel or medical field, or proximity to specific partners.
- Uptime and low-latency requirements that cannot be met by generic public cloud providers.
Colocation isn’t the answer to every data center need, of course – any more than cloud is. In fact, says Peak 10’s Chris Monroe, some customers use colocation as a disaster recovery solution by replicating their production data to a company-owned private cloud environment. That’s an admirable example of using all available options to optimize the business outcome. Or, as the Forrester Research report puts it, “Embrace multisourcing as the new normal.”
Now that it’s been around for a couple of decades, colocation is a well-developed methodology, with clearly understood advantages. “It’s very straightforward, once you understand the premise,” assures Monroe. “We handle all the complicated stuff.”
1Consider Colocation As A Key To Your Holistic Data Center Strategy, Forrester Research, Inc., July 25, 2014. (access for subscribers only)