If you've decided that colocation is the right direction for your business, the next step is choosing the right...
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provider. Evaluating potential colo partners is easier when you have a checklist.
Making the decision to move to a colocation facility is becoming easier. Choosing the right one is where the difficulty lies. This checklist helps data center pros make a selection that meets their needs and that won't cause problems later on.
Given the scope of the investment and the complexity of moving all that equipment, it makes sense to have a thorough vetting process in place before making a decision. Colocation companies vary widely in the level of support they provide, building redundancy and reliability, and monitoring capabilities.
The colocation data center building
You've been to the facility, walked around and seen it in all its pristine glory. Vetting a colocation provider should include forethought, however, as it is often easy to be distracted by the capabilities of the current facilities. Will that building be big enough to accommodate not only your growth, but that of the other clients the provider expects to have? If not, what does that mean to you? Will future growth require you to spread your platform across two facilities?
Your equipment is your equipment. You don't want anyone around it other than those to whom you've given authorization. It's imperative that the colocation company thoroughly checks anyone entering the facility. Ask a potential provider if its staff logs all movements around the facility. Does the provider enforce policies to stop entry by means of tailgating (one person following another through a door)? Are cages that contain the IT equipment floor-to-ceiling?
Don't forget the outside of the building. Is it protected from ram raiding? Are there windows in the data center itself or just the corridors?
You need to see whether the colocation provider has accreditations, such as ISO 27001. Look at how the company manages its own data. Be thorough and ask to see its processes with regard to customer information and the vetting process for the employees who will deal directly with your assets.
Equipment densities are increasing rapidly at data centers. Your IT team may need to double the amount of kilowatts it uses per rack or per deployment in the next five years. Will the colocation provider have the capacity to do this? If not, what plans does it have to accommodate the potential increase in demand?
Backup power is another consideration, and you'll need the specs from any potential providers. Does it have a modular approach so that new auxiliary generators can be added or replaced as needed? Power failure is a looming possibility for any data center provider, so you should check how often it runs full tests of failover plans.
Where possible, you want a colocation facility that uses low-energy cooling. Even in parts of the world where energy prices are relatively stable, costs ebb and flow -- sometimes without warning. Thus, free air, adiabatic or other low-energy approaches will be better long-term bets than the sole use of computer room air conditioning systems.
The majority of colocation service providers offer fire monitoring, which will trigger a gas-based suppression system. However, a better option would be those that offer a full early-warning system. These rely on infrared sensors that identify emerging hot spots in equipment as well as smoke-detection (VESDA) systems, moisture monitoring and tremble monitoring. This type of setup allows the provider to actively take steps to identify a problem before it affects the performance of the facility, or, even worse, forces a complete shutdown.
Data center infrastructure monitoring and management (DCIM) has grown in popularity in recent years. Within a colocation facility, you may install your own systems management tools that monitor and manage what your IT equipment does. However, you have little to no visibility as to what is happening around you. Aptly named "noisy neighbors" may degrade network performance, and high-density systems could cause power problems in your sector of the facility. Colocation providers using good DCIM capabilities can act as overseers of the total environment, keeping an eye on the overall performance of the facility and advising where necessary as to how to better implement and run IT equipment.
Ensure that the facility uses multiple network providers, and that those networks terminate at different parts of the facility. Having 10 different providers won't matter if they all come through the same underground pipe that's just been struck by a backhoe.
As well as all the requirements around power backup, look at what a colocation provider offers in platform resiliency. Can it operate your IT equipment, or hosted servers, across more than one facility? This is beneficial, as it allows you to mirror your systems and subsequently fail over without the need for the high impact of initiating a disaster recovery plan.
You may have been able to tick all the other requirements on this checklist, but if you don't get along with the people you have to interact with at the facility, then you will never be happy. Check that account management is always available, so that you go directly to them rather than having to continually wade through first- and second-line support when you know what you need. Talk to staff -- see how happy they are and how long they have been with the provider.
About the author
Clive Longbottom is the co-founder and service director of IT research and analysis firm Quocirca, based in the U.K. Longbottom has more than 15 years of experience in the field. With a background in chemical engineering, he's worked on automation, control of hazardous substances, document management and knowledge management projects.
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