Data centers that specialize in colocation make the internet as we know it possible. Not many people realize the significance of what happens within their fortified walls.
Graham Williams is Chief Commercial Officer of Cologix, a company that owns 18 colocation data centers throughout the US. According to Williams, "Colocation data centers provide scalable interconnections, along with secure, reliable colocation services in densely-connected, strategically-located facilities."
There's a lot being said in that one sentence. Let's break it down, and see what a colocation data center really does. Cologix data centers are good examples, as they offer most of the services typically associated with colocation.
Cologix is not a network provider like Verizon or AT&T. The company prefers to remain "network neutral," offering space and services where network providers can set up and maintain their Points of Presence (PoP). The Cologix colocation data center in Minneapolis supports over 70 network-provider PoPs, making it "densely connected." This has several advantages for companies seeking to connect to a network provider:
- More selection;
- Competition among network providers lowers pricing; and
- Changing providers means moving interconnects instead of equipment -- a real cost savings.
The terms "carrier hotel" and "meet-me-room" are often mentioned by those working in colocation data centers, yet seldom heard elsewhere. Since both are important to the discussion, here's what they mean:
Carrier hotel: This is a building designed specifically to provide services needed by companies setting up a network PoP. A carrier hotel also affords companies a simple and quick way to interconnect with other colocation tenants. A carrier hotel offers:
- A secure, physical environment;
- Redundant power and cooling; and
Meet-me-room: This is the room in the carrier hotel where interconnections take place. Cologix's meet-me-room is shown on the right.
One example of why interconnections are important is how network providers share their connections. For instance, CenturyLink, a network provider, owns much of the "last mile" copper in Minnesota. If a business chooses Verizon as its network provider, instead of running its cable to the company, Verizon will work out a deal with CenturyLink. Since both Verizon and CenturyLink have PoPs in the meet-me-room, all that's needed is an interconnection between them.
"Scalable interconnections" allude to the fact that over time, the digital needs of a business could change; this may mean adding servers, obtaining access to a network in a different part of the region, or changing providers. Being able to accomplish physical and digital changes without moving to a different facility eliminates a great deal of angst, cost, and physical work.
With the advent of latency-sensitive digital content, providers like Netflix cannot supply its customers from one central location. The limitations of current networking technology and certain immutable laws of physics just do not allow latency-free transmission over long distances. Knowing that, "strategically located" colocation data centers can offer companies like Netflix a place to set up content servers and interconnects with local network providers.
Secure, reliable colocation services
A tour of the Cologix facility in Minneapolis afforded the best way to learn about "secure, reliable colocation services." Mike Hemphill, General Manager of the site, was kind enough to give me a tour.
Hemphill started the tour talking about power. There are three distinct power feeds from Xcel, the local power company entering the building. Having three cables enter the building at two locations increases reliability -- especially from errant backhoes. Hemphill added that fiber enters the facility through eight locations for the same reason.
The data center has four generators with two more being installed. There is enough fuel on site to run the entire building for 24 hours without refueling. Besides the generators, there are UPS battery-backup systems that keep everything running until the generators take over, which I am told is seconds. The UPS control center is shown on the left.
Next, Hemphill talked about cooling. Water-cooled heat exchangers (shown to the right) remove heat from the raised floor areas via a cold aisle/hot aisle arrangement. Besides redundant electrical sources, Cologix has two sources of water: city water and access to a private well.
When it comes to physical security, the technology is state-of-the-art. Access throughout the building requires using RFID badges, PIN pads, and biometric readers depending upon the access security required. In addition, the facility undergoes a Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagements no. 16 (SSAE 16) audit yearly.
As you can see, colocation data centers are more than a place to house servers off site. Without these data centers, the internet would be a very different place.