Learn About Colocation Benefits And How To Get StartedPublisher: Psychz Networks, January 05,2015
There is a wide, and often confusing, range of options available to companies trying to decide where and how to house their computer servers and hardware. One of the most popular choices for medium-to-large sized businesses is colocation because it allows them to house all of their equipment in one facility without having to worry about most of the complicated logistics involved with a large in-house computer installation.
What Is Colocation, and How Does It Work?
The simplest way to think of colocation (although this is not a perfect analogy), is that it’s like buying a house instead of building one. When you build a house, you first have to worry about the actual construction of the building, and then have to run all of the pipes and wiring for power, water, and other utilities, before you can move your furniture into the home and live there. When you buy a house, the building, power, and other utilities are already in place; you just have to move the furniture in and take care of things after that.
A colocation facility is somewhat similar to an already-built house for your company’s computer installation. You don’t have to worry about building a data center, bringing in power and utilities, or acquiring bandwidth and connectivity. Those are all provided for you by your colocation facility, and the costs are all covered under your colocation services contract. You simply provide the servers and storage media, and in most cases, smaller items like the rails to mount the servers and any needed network switches, cables or fiber optics.
A typical colocation provider has a large building with sufficient power, cooling and security to handle the entire installation, with a series of locked cages or cabinets to house a company’s servers so only the provider and the client will have access. Connectivity is typically handled either by setting up connections to a router for access to several different carriers or by cross-connecting to carrier routers directly. All servers are monitored by colo engineers 24 hours a day, and redundancy is built into all systems in the event of failures.
Contracts for server colocation will specify exactly how much physical space and bandwidth are included, as well as any extra charges for additional power and bandwidth needs. Normally, all server maintenance and repairs required are the responsibility of the client, but most providers will offer “remote hands” service for an additional fee and some will include a limited amount of onsite assistance as part of your contract.
Benefits of Colocation, And Reasons For Choosing A Colo Solution
The entire idea of a colocation data center is based on economies of scale. Rather than spending money for construction and maintenance of a dedicated company facility, a business can avoid all of those large capital expenses by colocating in a facility where the costs of space, power, security, connectivity, monitoring, facility maintenance, and redundancy are all shared among many tenants. For these reasons, colocation for dedicated servers is more cost-effective than building a data center for most companies. It can also save the enormous amount of time which would be required to build a stand-alone facility, allowing a relatively quick startup.
Additional benefits to colocation services include the reliability, quality, and cost of connectivity and network speed. Colos are buying their bandwidth in bulk, so the prices they pay are lower than retail rates, and those savings are passed along to clients. And their centers are often built close to hubs for the best connections to tier 1 internet backbones, with redundant networks always available.
One of the first reasons many firms used colos was for security of their crucial and sensitive data. It is a benefit that companies often overlook today when choosing locations for their servers, but most USA colocation data centers provide the most secure environments possible including uninterruptible power, temperature and humidity control, air filtration, passive and active fire protection, video monitoring, entry restricted by proximity card, voice or fingerprint recognition, and onsite security personnel.
One last advantage is the ability to scale your installation and growth easily, without the need for additional construction or long delays in increasing available bandwidth. At a colo, you can simply add another rack or extra bandwidth almost immediately.
Colocation vs. Managed (Dedicated) Hosting
A decision facing many companies is whether to choose colocation or managed (also known as dedicated) hosting. The decision is best made by first deciding what you need from a hosting solution, and then looking at the pros and cons of each alternative.
Cost: In the short term, managed hosting will cost less than colocation, because you must purchase the computers and other hardware needed for a colocation installation. Dedicated servers are owned by the hosting company, so there is no large initial equipment cost (although some managed hosting companies charge a set-up fee) and you’re primarily just paying for server rent and maintenance, the cost of bandwidth, and support.
In the long run, server colocation is less expensive because you’re not paying every month to rent the servers; meanwhile, you’re paying a lower price for bandwidth and nothing at all for maintenance and support.
Maintenance: A smaller company which doesn’t have the budget or desire to hire technicians or engineers to maintain their system may feel more comfortable having a hosting company take responsibility for maintaining, upgrading and troubleshooting their servers. That makes a dedicated solution an easy choice for them. However, there’s also no guarantee that the managed host is actually performing required maintenance and upgrades on schedule. A larger firm often prefers that the hands-on responsibility for their installation not be left to a third-party, and wants the maintenance and upgrade decisions left in their own hands rather than in the hands of their hosting company.
Control: When you own the servers in a colocation data center, you have complete access to them and are able to physically access them at any time. That provides a level of control over the installation which is simply not possible with a managed host, which will not allow you physical access and usually will not even grant you root access to your server.
Scalability: It is possible to scale up an operation with either dedicated or colocation hosting, but it’s simpler and less expensive to ramp up operations with your own equipment and engineers (and the cheaper bandwidth from a colocation provider) at a colo facility then by adding new dedicated servers.
Security: Some managed hosting companies also offer colocation for dedicated servers; in those cases security is the same for each. Other dedicated hosts, however, run much less extensive operations – or may even be reselling servers hosted by a third party - so those servers are much less secure than those hosted at a colo.
Colocation Datacenter Configurations
Most colocation datacenters offer a large selection of configurations which can be tailored to a company’s specific needs, primarily based on how many servers they are operating. Some of the most common configurations include:
- 1u colocation: This “entry-level” colocation solution lets you place one server into the same cabinet as other customers, in order to obtain colo services at the lowest price. You normally have access to less power and bandwidth than with a higher-level package, networking may be shared, and you must make an appointment to have access to your equipment since the space is shared with other clients. (“1u” refers to one rack unit of space, equivalent to approximately 1 ¾ inches, which is the size of most servers built to fit into a rack.)
- Quarter cabinet colocation: This is usually the smallest-sized locked private cabinet available at a colo. It provides 10u of space, which can be used for ten standard-sized rack servers or however else you choose. It normally also includes a step up in available power and bandwidth.
- Half cabinet colocation: Similar to a quarter cabinet, a half cabinet is private, locked, and can accommodate 20u of equipment. This package should come with even more available power which will be needed by the extra servers.
- Full cabinet colocation: As you’ve probably guessed, you receive a complete cabinet for your installation with this option, with 42u of rack space. It will come with another increased power availability, and additional power circuits should ideally be accessible if needed. This option is often (incorrectly) referred to as full rack colocation, since you receive a full rack of space which is enclosed in your own secure cabinet.
How To Select A Colocation Service Provider
Once you’ve decided on colocation, a number of factors need to be considered before choosing a provider. Two considerations should be at the top of your list: proximity and reputation.
You’ll be responsible for server maintenance and repair, which is why proximity is important. It probably doesn’t make sense to choose Dallas colocation or Los Angeles colocation if your company is based in Michigan, unless you want the frequent flier miles, don’t mind paying extra for the services of colo technicians, or want to hire a contract engineer in one of those cities to handle the duties for you. There are actually a number of freelancers available for those duties if you choose to go that route, since Texas and California colocation, for example, is extremely common.
Reputation is also a crucial consideration since you’ll be entrusting some of the most important assets (data) and functions (processing and information services) of your company to a colocation provider. It’s easy to rent a building and get it ready to house servers, but it’s exceedingly difficult to successfully provide uninterrupted, top-notch colo service for a number of years. Make plenty of inquiries into the companies you’re considering before choosing one, to ensure they’re reliable and reputable – signing a contract with a bad colocation facility can be an expensive mistake.
Other factors to look at:
- Carrier neutrality: the data center ideally should allow you to switch between or among multiple internet carriers, and all major providers should be available.
- Internal connections: some colos allow free cross-connects between clients and carriers or between clients and other clients, while others charge extra fees. One desirable feature is a Meet-me-room where carriers can exchange data easily.
- External connections: multiple fiber optic cable connections to the data center are important, with satellite backup an extra bonus.
- Network stability and expandability: these are obviously crucial, but should be checked thoroughly before committing to a provider.
- Security: features such as biometric or security card access and 24/7 armed guards, as well as state-of-the-art ability to fight transport layer and DDoS attacks, are important to protect your data from both the outside and the inside.
- Power and cooling: any reliable colocation facility should supply enough power to easily meet your needs (for example, a 20A/120V circuit for a full cabinet) and have full UPS backup power. It should also have a robust HVAC system, with redundancy, for complete climate control.
- Pricing and setup fees: once you’ve found the colo providers you want to seriously consider, it’s time to look at pricing. There is no “standard” price for colocation, but when comparing rates, be sure to consider “hidden” costs like set-up and off-site backup fees (some providers charge them, others don’t) and don’t forget to compare the amount of power, bandwidth, and other necessities which come with the packages you’re looking at.
- Contracts and SLA: Most colocation services operate on a fixed-term contract, which gives both sides security but also locks in prices for the term. Part of the contract will be an SLA (service-level agreement) which will guarantee certain parameters you should expect from the provider, such as uptime, throughput, mean time between failures and mean time to recovery. It’s important to compare the SLAs between the companies you’re considering.
What Hardware Is Needed To Get Started With Colocation?
It’s relatively easy to get a colocation installation up and running. All you will need to have is a server (with power cables), rails in order to mount the server to a rack (most servers designed for rack mounting will come with the rails included), a network switch, and the CAT5 or CAT6 cable or fiber optics needed for networking.
How Can I Calculate The Power Requirements For My Servers?
The easiest way is to use the online power consumption calculators available on the websites of all major server manufacturers. Your colocation provider should be happy to assist with this calculation.