Colocation is the act of placing and running your IT equipment within a facility operated and managed by a third party. Organizations can use colocation to eliminate facility maintenance, expand computing power or set up an environment for disaster recovery. The service model provides IT departments with the benefits of continuous uptime, third-party support and options for scalability. However, concerns can exist around service contracts, direct accessibility and the ability to update hardware.
Before entering into any agreement, it is worth considering the following pros and cons of colocation.
Four pros of colocation
Depending on how much space an organization needs, admins can rent out colocation space by the rack, cabinet, cage or room. This model is beneficial if managers want to test colocation services, but they can also consider the following pros of colocation.
1. The facility itself, power distribution and redundancy, cooling, security and physical connectivity are all covered. Your basic payments to the operator cover the costs of operating and maintaining the facility, along with providing sufficient clean power to operate all your equipment both from the grid and from auxiliary systems (battery and generators) if the grid power supply fails. The provision and maintenance of sufficient cooling for your equipment is included. The provider also takes responsibility for all physical security of the facility.
Most large colocation facilities have existing managed high-speed connections to the majority of connectivity providers, with some being points of presence for connectivity to public cloud providers via AWS Direct Connect and Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute, for example. However, bear in mind that usage charges for connectivity still require an extra contract and payment.
2. Third-party services may well be available at data center speeds. Large providers will have thousands of customers, many of which will be cloud service providers. Many of these will provide SaaS or functional microservices. By being in a facility that will be connected using low-latency, high-speed links to all other facilities under the facility provider's control, you can subscribe to these services and use them as if they are on your own network. For example, Equinix Marketplace offers services from more than 9,500 other customers.
3. Scalability needs can be negotiated on an as-needed basis. A fully owned facility with just one user is difficult to size to cover needs over a period of time. Will the organization's needs grow or shrink? If they grow, will changes in equipment density mean that the actual space required shrinks? Colocation offers a means of escaping such problems. You can rent sufficient space for your immediate needs, negotiate new contracts if you need extra space or use clauses agreed to in the contract to lower space requirements at defined times.
4. Colocation can offer much higher levels of platform availability. The facility, power, cooling, connectivity and so on are all managed by a company that exists purely on public figures around how well it manages availability for its customers. If you have a badly configured hardware environment with poorly written software on it, you will still have poor overall availability, but that is a different problem.
Four cons of colocation
Despite the benefit of constant uptime, there are tradeoffs to having a data center environment off site. Here are four cons of colocation that managers must be aware of.
1. Colocation facilities might not provide direct accessibility. This is both a pro and a con of colocation. The majority of colocation providers are very careful as to who they allow into their facilities. Therefore, there will be policies in place around only registered people with a valid trouble ticket gaining access. Equipment suppliers may often only be allowed in under special circumstances, and they may need to unpack and leave the equipment in a separate area for registered people to install. However, most providers will have areas outside of the main hall where people can use terminals to access equipment for management and maintenance purposes.
2. Cost mechanisms change depending on the provider. This can be a difficult one to deal with. The upfront costs of implementing colocation can seem expensive. But when you look at what you get, and that the price will be on a constant per-month or per-year basis, it becomes apparent how cost-effective colocation is.
However, costing mechanisms vary by provider. Some charge by the amount of energy used by your equipment, some by the amount of space rented, while others may have a more complex mix of variables. The most common charge mechanism is by the amount of floor space used.
3. Negotiating solid service-level agreements (SLAs) can be challenging. The keys to a successful colocation agreement are in the SLA. You need to ensure that your monitoring and reporting requirements are completed by the provider and that reports are available on a real-time basis. Ask what tools the provider uses and verify that your own systems work with their tools. The provider should also test its own systems on a regular basis, particularly those involved with power outage situations. Ensure that time to remediation targets are defined and measure them.
4. Vendor facilities might not age well. What feels like a state-of-the-art facility now may well be exceedingly inefficient and not fit-for-purpose in a few years' time. Investigate how maintenance and upgrades to older facilities have been managed to gauge how the provider will sweat its assets.
Colocation can make sense for a number of organizations. However, it is not a silver bullet solution, so you need to be aware of the pros and cons of colocation to avoid surprises.