Does it matter to your business when your Web site is down? Does it make you mad when the janitor hits the wrong switch and your Internet database is suddenly unavailable?

Do you cringe when you hear a thunderstorm coming? For some small- and medium-size businesses, their Web site is still just a marketing tool. It looks bad when a customer can’t get to it, but it’s not the end of the world.

For many other companies, the Internet is changing the way they do business, and having it go down is a crisis. If your business gets to the point where you need your Internet servers up and running 24/7, you have two choices:

  1. Try to create a highly reliable environment yourself.
  2. Outsource the job to a co-location facility or an Internet data center.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of what you should consider if you’re trying to build your own data center environment and offer some information on the trend towards outsourcing your Internet servers.

Before you build
Before you decide to provide the environment yourself, consider these questions:

  • How reliable is your current Internet service provider?
  • What happens if this provider experiences congestion, or even worse, has a network failure that disconnects your Web server from the world?
  • What does it cost to have a separate Internet connection from a different provider for the added redundancy?
  • If the power goes out, how much does it cost to have a battery backup unit in place? How long will it supply power to your equipment?
  • What happens if there is a fire?
  • Do you have someone on staff 24/7/365?

Small- and medium-size businesses trying to create a truly “fault-tolerant” environment will quickly learn that it’s too expensive. However, to provide a rudimentary level of redundancy, here are some estimates to consider:

These estimates do not include multiple local access, dedicated Internet connections, or enhanced physical security with closed-circuit TV surveillance. And what happens if there is a fire? Since computers don’t tolerate water, most state-of-the-art Internet data centers today use a dry fire suppressant called FM-200. It’s environmentally safe and won’t damage computer equipment.

For a small- or medium-size business, installing an FM-200 Suppression System would be cost prohibitive. An alternative would be to use a portable dry chemical fire extinguisher, which can cost from $50 to $300, depending on the size of your server room.

Of course, someone must be there to put the fire out before it destroys your equipment.

Other costs can include computer racks and raised flooring, as well as any other security system you may need.

Once you start adding up the actual cost of making sure your Internet connection never goes down, investments in additional redundant power sources and backup systems, 24/7 technical staff, security enhancements, and additional networking equipment needed to ensure high availability, outsourcing starts to make sense.

Choosing a data center
If a business decides to outsource their Internet servers, they may find themselves with more and more choices. Exodus Communications , for example, is the industry leader with 10 current U.S. centers and centers in Europe and Asia.

Recent data center expansions in the U.S. include those by Qwest and IBM, Cable and Wireless, AT&T, and PSINet.

Whether your business is considering building one or if you choose to outsource, check to see if these features are included:

  • Redundant, physically diverse, high-speed Internet connections
  • Location on separate power grids within a city and parallel switching gear for seamless power transitions
  • UPS battery backup
  • Diesel generator for long-term power outages
  • Climate and humidity controlled environment
  • Physical and logical security, including biometric hand scanning
  • 24/7 network monitoring
  • User-friendly customer management and reporting tools
  • FM-200 Fire Suppression

Customers pay by the month to locate their Internet servers in the data center facility and pricing varies wildly depending on the features of the center. Products range from basic co-location, shared and dedicated Web hosting, dedicated Internet access, ASP (application service provider) services, and full-managed services such as computer repair and application monitoring.

The growth of outsourcing
If your company chooses to outsource, it won’t be alone.

In 1999, International Data Corporation reported that outsourcing Web hosting services will continue to grow at a compound annual growth rate in excess of 70 percent per year, growing from $806 million in 1998 to over $8.2 billion in 2002.

In particular, mission-critical Web sites and Internet-centric applications are best able to take full advantage of high availability features and technical personnel within Internet data centers to augment corporate IT departments across the country.

As more and more companies incorporate the Internet into their core business functionality, outsourcing their Internet data services can become an economic necessity. How many corporations today build their own power plants, water processing systems, or gas plants to serve their corporations? Why should public utility data centers be thought of in any other way?

Internet data centers represent a new economy “utility” company, serving up bandwidth, availability, and service on demand.

Scott Render is marketing director for Xodiax Internet Data Centers, an Internet data center based in Louisville, KY., which offers data center services to small- and medium-size businesses.

Do you take care of your Internet servers in-house, or does an Internet data center handle the chore? Are there other services you’ve outsourced or have considered having someone else do? Send us an e-mail or post a comment below.