Future-proof your colo data center choice

Figure out which colo data center will meet your current and future needs. Be sure to take into account power draw, cost, security and additional services.

For any organization facing a data center review or assessment, the move to a colocation provider likely is high...

on the agenda. But deciding which colo data center fits the bill includes several checkpoints.

The allure of an organization owning its own data center is waning. For many organizations, a facilities group manages the existing facility and IT teams manage IT equipment -- and the two groups don't always work well together.

Colocation creates flexibility in the space, cooling and power needs of IT infrastructure, in addition to removing the hard work involved with managing a facility. Moving to a company that specializes in managing the facility, but also understands that it only exists to support its IT customers, can make a difference in how well everything works together.

Assess colo data center needs and available services

A company can gain much more from a colocation partner, depending on what it needs and knows going in. But there are also plenty of problems that can occur from selecting the wrong colocation provider.

Never enter into a colocation relationship due to cost. Invariably, any relationship entered into because the upfront costs were attractive leads to high lifetime costs -- often to the point where the organization has to pull the IT platform back into an owned data center facility. Make sure the colocation company provides what your organization needs to support its business. Generally, with these conditions met, the lifetime costs can be far lower than those involved with operating an on-premises data center.

Many one-facility colocation providers struggle to provide business continuity services, as they have little to no capability to mirror data and application stacks in the event of a failure.

Some colo data centers have an agreement with only one or two connectivity providers. Instead, look for carrier-agnostic providers, such as Equinix, Interxion, VIRTUS and Global Switch. These facilities allow an organization to enter into its own agreements with carriers, ensuring they get the best deals and have multiple redundant connectivity capabilities.

Certain colo providers are better equipped than others for power draw, distribution and backup. Be sure the facility's available power will serve your future IT capacity, and examine the continuity of its power supply. This may sound obvious, but many data centers are positioned close to existing power generation systems. The grid may not be able to provide enough power to keep the facility running should these stations reach end of life.

Look at the facility's power draw now and surmise what it would be at 100% occupancy at current equipment densities, as well as what it could hit if densities continue to increase. Look at other facilities in the area and ensure there is enough power to support all of them at that maximum power draw without any brownouts or full blackouts. The facility must support your company's anticipated power densities per rack and per row, when requirements may reach 20, 30 or more kilowatts per rack. Uninterruptible power supply systems and auxiliary power availability face the same calculations.

You should also consider cross connectivity. It is increasingly likely that an organization will run a hybrid IT platform that involves equipment in a colocation facility in concert with as a service public cloud offerings. Look for colocation vendors with direct connectivity to big public clouds, such as using AWS DirectConnect to Amazon Web Services and Azure ExpressRoute into Microsoft Azure.

Data security and sovereignty are also important points. A colocation facility must offer advanced overall security, and it might be difficult to determine the provider's security competency. Security is not just focused on the data itself, but also pertains to the physical aspects of the multi-tenant and often contractor-filled building.

Data sovereignty is a difficult problem. Some U.S.-owned colo data center providers can still be subject to U.S. disclosure warrants, even when the facility is located in Europe. Other colocation providers, such as Calligo or IXcellerate, provide offshore or in-country data center facilities that enable outsourcing IT teams to manage content at a more nuanced level.

Types of colocation offerings

Wholesale data center: A data center where the facility owner only wishes to rent highly secure space in large areas -- ideally to service providers or very large commercial customers. Service providers often use this model and completely white-label the solution as their own offering. Often, separate physical rooms will be allocated to each customer, and the customer can arrange her own connectivity and manage all aspects of the IT platform directly. Some of these data centers are dedicated, meaning the equipment owner is outsourcing the building and management of the facility to a third party.

Retail data center: A shared and generally more flexible data center. Smaller customers may just take space for a few racks of IT equipment, whereas service providers and large customers may take space for many rows. All building facilities are essentially shared; cages mainly provide separation for security. Space can be flexible, allowing customers to grow or shrink their needs as required. The customer will manage some areas of the IT platform; the facility owner will manage others by agreement.

Edge data center: There are two definitions. An edge data center is a smaller, shared facility close to a second-tier city or region that acts as a consolidation point for connectivity and services, with a high-speed backhaul to one or more major data centers. Alternatively, it is a dedicated, containerized data center that can be installed at the edge of a customer's own network (e.g., in an empty lot or parking area next to their existing data center) to act as a consolidation point, a provider of burst resources or as a stepping stone to move workloads over to the provider's main facility.

Inquire about additional data center services

Colocation providers often feature value-added services. Ask potential partners about the availability of a marketplace, where you can easily identify what functions and services are available from providers. Can you access them at data center speed? For example, VIRTUS offers Romonet's data center economic modeling software directly from its marketplace, along with a host of other value-add partners. Equinix provides portals in which customers can search for facility partners or other services with which the company has high levels of interconnectivity.

Does the facility owner provide any insights into what is happening not only with your own equipment, but with how the facility, as a whole, is operating? Some colocation providers share access to the facility's data center infrastructure management tool, such as nlyte Future Facilities or Emerson Network Power Trellis. For insights on the value of a platform -- with advice on best practices as well as details on when and how to move workloads on the infrastructure -- a Romonet toolset provides good overall functionality.

Check if the facility owner offers much in the way of professional services. It's one thing to take existing systems and move them to an equivalent place in a colocation facility; it is another to have the facility owner help you to optimize positioning for the best power and cooling distribution and help prevent performance issues.

Checking these all these points can help an organization carry out the due diligence for choosing a colo data center without costing the organization too much money. The next step is to sit down with representatives and ensure you can work well together and make your IT deployment a success.

Next Steps

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This was last published in February 2016

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