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Colocation Server Hosting Overview
Advantages and Disadvantages of Colocation
Unmanaged vs. Managed Colocation?
Popular Managed Service Options
What To Look For In A Data Center
Questions To Ask Colocation Data Centers
Colocation Server Hosting Overview
For many IT departments, there comes a time to decide whether to host their IT infrastructure in-house or in a colocation data center. Do you have the expertise and resources such as IT staff, space and capital to build, expand and manage an “in-house” datacenter? Does it make sense from a capital or ROI perspective? Furthermore, what are the advantages and disadvantages associated with a colocation data center? Throughout this colocation hosting buyer’s guide we will examine some helpful tips for determining whether or not colocation makes sense for your business and how to find the best colocation hosting solutions and data centers.
What is colocation? Colocation, or “colo,” is the hosting of IT infrastructure including server hardware and equipment within a leased space provided by an external data center. The colocation customer or “tenant” has complete control over and performs all maintenance of the equipment being housed. In turn, the data center is responsible for providing the infrastructure needed to keep servers up and running including the colocation space, ping, power, pipe, security, heating and cooling (HVAC), redundant systems and technical support. Server colocation space is typically offered in the following configurations: per u, rack space, cabinet, cage and suites. You provide the hardware, we provide the space.
Colocation is a hosting option similar to dedicated server hosting, cloud server hosting, virtual private server and fully managed server hosting.
Advantages of Colocation Hosting
High-Speed, Redundant Bandwidth
With colocation data centers, you gain access to a greater selection of high-speed, redundant bandwidth at a fraction of the cost. Most data centers have direct access to redundant, high-speed links from several backbone ISPs. The number of ISPs can range from a few to more than a dozen. The tenants in the data center share these connections through pipes of varying sizes. The monthly cost is billed to the tenant based on guaranteed bandwidth, usage charges or both.
Purpose Built Data Center Facilities and Infrastructure
The majority of colocation data center facilities are “purpose built facilities” meaning that they are specifically designed and constructed to protect against natural and manmade disasters. In addition, facilities not built from the ground up are retrofitted to meet the incredibly high standards set forth by the data center industry.
Security plays a very important role in the infrastructure of the data center. Colo data centers typically feature onsite security guards and state-of-the-art video surveillance, biometric scanners, security alarms and locking racks, cabinets and cages. In fact, most data centers rival secure government building in terms of accessibility and security. Furthermore, only certain data center personnel and tenants are permitted on the floor of the server housing areas.
One of the most important aspects of the infrastructure is the heating and cooling (HVAC) systems. Colocation data centers feature unrivaled HVAC systems utilizing the latest in energy efficient technologies. This includes attributes such as chilled water cooling systems, raised flooring, solar panels and hot spot monitoring and sophisticated alarms. These systems are critical to the longevity of server hardware and equipment as well as maintaining performance and uptime.
When it comes to power, the majority of data centers offer redundant power systems including multiple power supply and backup systems. A few of the backup systems include battery banks and diesel generators. This ensures that your server stays up and running even in the case of power outages.
Control Over Hardware and Equipment
With colocation hosting, the customer has complete control over their hardware and software. You can select when you want to upgrade your servers and other equipment at anytime rather than waiting for an upgrade cycle as with the case of colocation server hosting. You can also actively manage and administer operating systems (OS), patches and updates.
Access to Additional IT Resources and Support
Another benefit of colocation is that the management and maintenance of IT infrastructure can be outsourced to the technical staff at the data center, saving the business the cost of maintaining its own IT staff. This includes managed colocation or a la carte managed services. Furthermore, many data centers offer remote hands and technical support to aid with any server reboots or maintenance issues that arise unexpectedly.
Decoupling From Your Primary Location
Another aspect to consider is the decoupling of your critical IT infrastructure from your business’s primary location. This provides you with greater flexibility when moving from one location to another while leaving IT infrastructure within the data center facility.
Disadvantages of Colocation Hosting
Finding The Right Colocation Provider and Data Center
Finding a colocation data center near your location can be challenging. If you are interested in unmanaged, the colo facility should be reasonably close to your business’s main location to reduce travel time and expenditures. Occasional travel will be necessary to upgrade hardware and software. Many colocation data centers offer remote hands and technical support for free if unplanned issues arise. Search colocation data centers nearest to your location with Data Center Mapping.com.
Sharing Space with Other Tenants
This can be a drawback for companies that are highly concerned with security. Data centers typically mitigate this risk by providing locking racks, cabinets, cages and suites. The type of tenants may also be a concern; however, many data centers have strict criteria as to the applications and types of sites hosted within their data center.
Unmanaged vs. Managed Colocation
One of the most important aspects in selecting the right colocation solution is determining whether managed or unmanaged is a better fit for your requirements. With managed colocation, the data center provides some or all of the software and technical support needed to keep your server up and running 24x7x365. With unmanaged, the data center is only obligated to keep the power on and the network connected which leaves you with a lot more responsibility in terms of software updates, virus scanning, load balancing, and other administrative tasks.
For most end users, the decision is fairly easy. The unmanaged server option is typically appealing to businesses with in-house technical expertise in server management with the resources to handle the workload. These users value the ability to maintain control over their colocation servers and are not interested in the extra costs associated with hardware or an onsite technical support staff.
On the other hand, managed colocation allows small and midsized businesses to enjoy all of the benefits of colocation without the need to hire additional employees to manage their servers and equipment. Unless you have a full time IT department to manage your server, you are probably going to want to go with a managed colocation option so you can focus your time and resources on running your business.
With that in mind, the question may not be "managed or unmanaged," but rather "how managed?" Most good colocation server providers now offer an a la carte approach to server management – meaning you can purchase the specific management services you need.
Popular Managed Colocation Services
Server Monitoring – the colocation provider will track your server’s performance and depending on the managed service, will either notify you or resolve the issue for you.
Disk Cleanup and Backup – the colocation provider will backup your data and remove old or unnecessary files from your server on a regular basis.
Virus Scanning – the colocation provider will run routine virus scans on your server’s hard drives.
Security Audits – the colocation provider will assess your system and report any potential security issues they identify.
Operating System Updates – the colocation provider will apply all patches and updates to ensure that your server is running as quickly and securely as possible.
Email Management – many colocation providers offer to set up, manage, and filter email accounts associated with your hosted domains.
What To Look For In A Colocation Provider
Is location an important factor in the decision making process? It depends on who you ask. Some would argue that it is very important while others would say that it is far less important than other factors. Will you and your staff be hands on in managing and administering your colocation servers? If so, location may be an important factor. This goes back to the question of managed colocation versus an unmanaged. Furthermore, finding a colocation data center meeting all of your requirements within close proximity to your location may be difficult. Many colocation data centers offer remote hands and 24x7x365 technical support, office space and a la carte managed services.
For many IT managers and businesses, security plays a vital role in selecting a colocation provider. Not all data centers are created equal when it comes to security. The question then arises as to what security features matter most to you. Many colocation server hosting data centers have strict check-in policies, employ security guards and utilize biometric scanners, video surveillance and server rack locks to ensure that only authorized personnel are near the server area. Depending on the provider and your needs, a datacenter tour before you sign-up makes a lot of sense.
In addition to facility security, data center network-security plays an important role in the colocation decision making process. What sort of firewalls, intrusion-detection systems, monitoring services and other security measures does the colo data facility offer? These network security measures are vital to guarding against threats such as hacking.
Service Level Agreement (SLA)
A review of the colocation data center’s SLA (Service Level Agreement) is important in evaluating potential providers. This contract defines each party’s responsibilities for maintaining equipment, software and connectivity. It should spell out clearly what the data center’s responsibilities are and what the penalties for nonperformance will be. The SLA should also provide a termination clause that gives the customer a way out if service is chronically unsatisfactory.
The colocation data center’s uptime record is very important. Ask to see historical data on the frequency and duration of outages. A guarantee of 99.9 percent uptime is the absolute least you should expect. In addition, you need to know how long outages in the past have lasted.
Another very important consideration is the infrastructure, hosting environment, controls and redundancy. The optimal hosting environment is cool and dry with temperatures in the 60-70 degree range with humidity levels around 40-50%. This is the optimal climate for server hardware and equipment which increases longevity and limits downtime. However, if the air is too moist, condensation can form on the equipment, and if it’s too dry, static electricity can build up.
Datacenters build redundancy into many of their systems, and power supply is no exception. Many dedicated hosting providers connect their datacenters to two separate power supplies, so that if one city’s power goes out, the center can continue to operate on the other grid.
If the power does go out, a good datacenter will have at least one, and preferably two, backup systems to keep the lights and servers on until the municipal power supply comes back online. Typically, a datacenter will have a battery-based backup system intended to take over instantly when the normal power goes out, along with a generator-based system which starts up in a minute or two and takes over for the batteries until the power is restored.
Racks, Cabinets and Cages
Inside a colocation datacenter, the dominant features are the rows of racks which hold the servers and other computing equipment. Each rack contains a power distribution unit (or two), servers, and the network switches which connect the servers to the datacenter’s internet connection. Depending on individual customer needs, server racks may also contain supporting equipment like load balancers and hardware firewalls.
With the need for redundant connections to ensure connectivity, datacenters use miles and miles of networking cable. Hosting providers need to employ rigorous cabling protocols to keep all those wires under control and allow engineers to trace cables from connection point to connection point as easily as possible.
In addition to rack space, many colocation data centers offer locking cabinets, cages and private suites. Many of which can be configured and custom built to meet the needs of your IT infrastructure.
Evaluating a Colocation Provider’s Datacenter
Hopefully you’ve found our little datacenter tour interesting, but the real point here was to tell you what a high-quality colocation provider’s datacenter should look like. You may not be able to visit one in person, but most reputable providers’ websites contain pictures, video tours and information about their datacenter connections and system.
When you’re selecting a colocation provider, don’t be afraid to ask for details regarding power backups, network connectivity, or security measures—after all, security and reliability are two of the main reasons you're choosing a colocation server in the first place.
Questions To Ask Colocation Data Centers
This checklist of questions to ask colocation data centers will help you get exactly what you need and avoid unnecessary expenditures. Remember, data center services are somewhat negotiable. If you don’t hear everything you want, ask what it would cost to add it.
What physical access to the server will we have?
Does the data center offer access during limited hours or 24x7x365?
If you need additional emergency services, how readily will their support team be available and what will they cost?
What managed service add-ons or plans are offered by the provider? What are their associated costs?
Is the data center carrier neutral? What bandwidth options and providers are available at this facility?
What remote monitoring tools are available and who monitors them?
What sorts of sites or applications will the provider not allow on its servers?
Are there discounts available for long-term leases?
What uptime guarantee does the hosting service provider offer, and what compensation will you receive if the guarantee is not met?
What business continuity and disaster recovery services does the hosting service offer?
What kinds of tenants does the hosting service have currently?
What do present and past tenants say about the hosting service?
Visit our data center forum for reviews and additional information on colocation hosting options or speak directly to one of our Data Center Mapping.com colocation server experts for questions, help or advice by calling toll free (877) 406-2248.