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Cloud unearths hidden benefits of data center colocation services

There's more to data center colocation services than trimming facility costs. A colo with cloud services adds security and speed to your enterprise.

If your business is on the fence about data center colocation services, there are some hidden benefits you can point to that might sway the final decision.

Building a data center is not only expensive, it's complicated. And the emerging use of cloud has only added to that complexity. So, would you be willing to bet a few million or tens of millions of dollars on whether, in five years, your data center should be larger or smaller than it is now? That is pretty much what people designing data centers have to figure out when faced with this decision.

Maybe a different approach -- one based around colocation -- needs to be explored.

Colocation (colo) means housing IT equipment in a third-party data center facility. The facility is owned and managed by someone else; the IT equipment and the responsibility for the stack above it -- operating systems, applications, databases, etc. -- remain with you.

This leads to some obvious benefits and a few not-so-obvious ones.

Immediate benefits of colocation

The obvious benefits are around what constitutes the colo facility: Shared uninterruptable power supplies (UPSes), auxiliary generators, cooling systems, environmental monitoring, physical security and connectivity are just a few. Energy supplies to the data center and its distribution to your equipment should also be covered by the facility owner. The facility owner should be responsible for these, and you should be paying for them through your standard billing system, whether your agreement is based on per energy unit or floor space being used or whatever other measure the facility owner uses to charge you.

All of these systems are shared, so the contract also should provide you with the flexibility to grow or shrink your footprint within the facility. The facility owner will have designed the building based on a plan for starting at, say, 10% occupancy. The owner will look at building additional facility space when reaching 60% to 70% occupancy, when there are needs for other geographies to be covered or when newer data center technologies come through that make it viable within their own business model to build a new facility.

The real value of data center colocation services that an organization should look into is sharing the other services that could be available. A colocation provider depends on there being multiple customers in the same facility; if not, then all of its eggs are in one basket, and it is really only a facilities management company looking after a data center for one customer -- a business model that is not particularly promising. Each of the facility owner's customers will be doing something with the platform that it has within its part of the facility -- and in most cases, only some of these will be private organizations.

Many cloud-based commercial organizations sit within colo facilities, and identifying which ones have functions that may be useful to you and your business could be very advantageous.

To start, you know exactly where the cloud provider's equipment is -- it's in the same facility as yours. Second, you also know how good its physical security is -- it's exactly the same as yours.

Colo advantages you may not have considered

Additional benefits start to stack up when you look at the technical aspects of integrating the provider's function into your systems. The biggest benefit here is that everything is happening at data center speeds -- no having to go out across the WAN to access an external service and waiting for it to respond. No being at the whim of whether the Internet is having a bad day and is running slow as some large organization gets hit with a distributed denial of service attack.

At worst, the connectivity between you and the service provider will be at standard speed Ethernet -- 1 or 10 Gbps. If you are lucky, you'll be able to plug into a 40 Gbps or even 100 Gbps backbone or into a virtualized fabric network where port aggregation can give even better bandwidth.

Because the data is not going outside of the data center, there's better security: The data is in a known place at all times, and through the use of virtual networks, it can be secured from others in the shared facility in a relatively easy manner.

Then there's root cause analysis, which is between you and the provider -- and the facility owner if it's different than the provider. No one can point to the public Internet and say, "It must be a fault there," which makes it easier, and therefore faster, to identify and rectify any problems in the system.

Some facility owners are looking at how to make this a standard offer for their customers. You would think that it would make sense for all involved -- more use of a cloud service provider's equipment means faster growth, meaning the provider needs more space. Faster performance for an end-user organization makes them a happier and more "sticky" customer to the service provider and the facility owner.

There does seem to be a degree of inertia from the service provider and end-user sides, however, even though it seems to be a no-brainer. If you are using or looking toward colos and using cloud services at the same time, talk with the facility owner to find out which cloud services may be soon available from within the facility.

Clive Longbottom is the co-founder and service director at Quocirca and has been an ITC industry analyst for more than 15 years. Trained as a chemical engineer, he worked on anti-cancer drugs, car catalysts and fuel cells before moving into IT. He has worked on many office automation projects, as well as control of substances hazardous to health, document management and knowledge management projects.

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