Colocation providers solve problems the cloud can't

Colocating hardware is becoming more interesting to IT managers. They have more control, less costs, and security tends to be greater than having servers in-house or renting a VM server.

Inside the Equinix SE3 data center facility in Seattle, WA.
Image: Equinix

To many, colocating servers in data centers is needless additional work. To others, colocation fills a real need, especially to those who feel sharing physical servers as required by virtual-machine technology creates noisy-neighbor problems and security risks.

What is a colocation provider?

Using a colocation provider allows a company to rent space for one or more company-owned servers in a data center, and use the data center's cooling, network connections, and internet access. It depends on the contract, but most companies renting space retain responsibility for the physical hardware and the installed software.

The advantages of using a colocation provider

Besides noisy neighbors, there are several good reasons why a company would want to own the server and place it in a data center offering colocation services. The reasons include:

  • Bandwidth costs drop significantly by colocating servers. Data centers have the ability to cut better deals on bandwidth and internet access than individual companies.
  • Colocation providers will have redundant network connections as well as uninterruptible power. Companies may have their own backup generators, but rarely have multiple internet connections from different providers.
  • The company owns the server and the software -- there is no haggling if and when the equipment or software is to be updated or replaced.
  • Unless the company has a dedicated IT department conversant in security, the server will be more secure in a data center.

The disadvantages of using a colocation provider

The potential downsides to colocating company servers in a data center include the following:

  • Depending on the company's location (urban vs. rural, for example) colocation providers may be quite far away. If so, that would increase the time and effort to upgrade and to get a system back online.
  • Related to location is the ability to access the company servers -- colocation providers may not allow 24/7 access.
  • If the company's internet footprint is limited to providing a web service, the cost of renting space from a colocation provider may be prohibitive compared to a web-hosting service.

One additional disadvantage a colleague mentioned has to do with monthly fees; in her opinion, colocation pricing fluctuated too much. Most colocation providers use different monthly rates depending on the total amount of data passing through the company server/s.

Considerations when selecting a colocation provider

The CenturyLink report Six Important Considerations When Choosing a Colocation Provider (PDF) offers sound advice when selecting the appropriate colocation service. David Meredith, SVP and Global GM, CenturyLink Technology Solutions, provides the following suggestions (which are paraphrased for this article):

  • colocationproviderselectionconsiderations073014.png
    Image courtesy of CenturyLink
    It is a good idea to find a colocation provider that offers additional services, in case company or market conditions change.
  • Location: Location is an obvious consideration, but more so than just physical access. Having the colocation provider nearby reduces network latency and data-replication issues.
  • Connectivity options: A colocation provider having reliable and redundant connections is an obvious must. Choosing a provider that also owns a network is an added advantage when trying to optimize traffic flow and troubleshoot connectivity problems.
  • Security and compliance: Data centers are cognizant of physical and network security, but it does not hurt to check. Also important is ensuring the colocation provider meets the same regulatory requirements as the company seeking to rent server space.
  • Support services: He strongly suggests paying attention to the service-level agreement (SLA), making sure it meets the company's requirements when it comes to support and infrastructure.
  • Power and cooling: The report did not mince words that the provider must offer 100% uptime for power and backup power in the SLA.

Last thought

I interviewed several IT managers who currently have servers in colocation centers. In response to my first question, "Why use a colocation provider?" most managers said their colocated equipment was mission critical, and the colocation providers were able to meet their requirements at a lower cost than if the service was kept in-house.

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