As the need for flexibility increases, colocation has become a common option for enterprises looking to avoid the demanding process of building and maintaining their own data center. By 2020, the worldwide colocation market is expected to reach $54 billion, up from $26 billion in 2015, according to analyst firm Markets and Markets.
There's a reason why many companies take advantage of a colocation provider's services. In addition to offering rented space for equipment, many colo providers are broadening their services to include sophisticated matchmaking tools and marketplaces, as well as direct connections to cloud providers.
But before committing to a colocation provider, it's important to understand the basics of colocation, from finding a facility and reading SLAs to moving servers and stopping noisy neighbors.
Colocation vs. disaster recovery as a service
Hosted colocation and disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) both support data recovery and handle failover, but there are distinct differences. While most hosted colo companies offer some form of disaster recovery (DR), enterprise IT teams still need to create the requirements and implement the appropriate services. Some colo providers will assist in developing a DR plan; find out whether it's a specialty service that they offer.
In comparison, hosted DRaaS can be a long-term commitment that is difficult or expensive to change down the road. This static approach can be problematic for growing enterprises with changing DR needs. But, DRaaS providers are typically experts about DR requirements, while colocation providers are not.
A traditional hosted colocation provider replicates the production data center, but it's often difficult to test a DR plan. Organizations might incur additional costs to perform DR testing that doesn't interrupt the production site. Alternatively, because DRaaS is generally cloud-based, organizations can perform DR testing with less disruption.
Finding a facility
While a good colocation provider takes the hassle out of maintaining and managing a data center facility, the wrong one can add unnecessary stress and hidden costs. Don't choose a colocation company based solely on price; instead, look for features that your organization will need to support the business.
Ensure the facility's available power draw will be sufficient for not only your current IT capacity, but future use. Try to predict what the facility's power draw would be at 100% occupancy with current equipment densities, and what that draw would be if densities were to increase.
An adequate colocation provider should provide advanced security when it comes to data, but also on a physical level. Be sure to check the company's data sovereignty policy: is the provider subject to U.S. disclosure warrants if the facility is located in Europe?
Detect a sketchy SLA
Becoming familiar with your service-level agreement (SLA) is the key to maintain a good relationship with your colocation provider -- and to prevent your company from getting ripped off. Read your SLA carefully to understand the service levels offered, how to get support and implement changes.
There are warning signs that a colocation provider may not meet its SLA. For example, unexpected or frequent changes to the SLA can suggest that the provider is struggling to meet responsibilities. Internal company instabilities, such as acquisitions and mergers, can also indicate that an SLA will change or service a larger customer base.
Use SLA monitoring tools, such as IDERA Uptime Infrastructure Monitor or Mindarray Systems' Minder. But first, talk to your colocation provider to make sure these tools can integrate with your provider's APIs or monitoring hooks. You can also test colocation services by occasionally triggering their support function to determine response time and quality.
Move your servers
Moving servers from an on-premises to a colocation facility is a major overhaul and requires a lot of careful preparation. To begin the process, calculate how much power, space and cooling you'll need for the servers, and how much downtime is allowed. For systems with high uptime requirements, virtualization enables a partial shutdown by running jobs on a subset of the system, giving your team the opportunity to set up the network and perform test.
With colocation facilities, in particular, you'll need to create a firewalled zone in the new host's network and add security tools. This can sometimes require new switches and routers; set these up prior to the server move. To make the transition easier, assign a move manager to each site to communicate and resolve issues that arise.
On moving day, shut down or move applications to other virtual machines before decommissioning servers. Package servers for the move; keep internal and fiber optic cables connected in place by tying and taping them down. Once a mover -- preferably one from a reputable computer-moving company -- delivers and installs the units, connect the power, cooling systems, switches and routers.
Nix noisy neighbors
While colocation offers major benefits, one of its downfalls is that you have to share portions of the LAN and WAN with other tenants. This can lead to the frustrating issue of a noisy neighbor -- a fellow colo customer that hogs network and compute resources -- which can behave as a denial-of-service attack on your system.
On the hunt for a colocation provider, look for those that have their own systems management capabilities and are willing to share that data. Finding colocation hosts that are network-agnostic is a good sign, because you'll be able to switch your workload to an alternative network if a noisy neighbor disturbs your traffic.
Once you've chosen a colocation environment, there are still steps to ensure noisy neighbors don't become an issue. Use tools to monitor activity -- especially on the data center LAN and WAN -- in real time. Effective monitoring will simultaneously help you to spot noisy neighbors and prevent yourself from becoming the culprit.
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