server-colocation-selection

An overwhelming number of businesses, large and small, are opting to have their servers hosted in a colocation data center, instead of building and operating their own data centers. In this article, we focus on important considerations for IT managers contemplating going the server colocation route.

What is server colocation?

Server colocation is the outsourcing of space in a data center to host a company’s or organization’s servers. Unlike hosting in which your data is hosted on a provider’s servers, in server colocation you have the flexibility to install and maintain your own servers. In some cases, IT managers may opt for a fully managed service in which the provider maintains the servers for the tenant.

Why server colocation?

The shear amount of data that must be stored or transferred to and from today’s servers require a tremendous amount of electric energy to power the servers. To compound the energy requirements, the high server processing capacity results in the generation of lots of heat that also needs power to cool down.

Power, stringent environmental requirements, security, easy access to redundant connectivity options and other modern data processing and storage requirements has added complexity to today’s data centers. For small and medium sized businesses without the in-house skills and the deep pockets to build and operate a data center, server colocation is the ideal option. These companies take advantage of the colocation data center economies of scale and pay significantly less in both CAPEX and OPEX than they would pay for designing, building, and operating a data center.

Even some large enterprises with data center budgets of up $10 Million have resorted to using server colocation. By outsourcing data center services, they can leave the data center operations to providers who can run the data center at a lower opportunity cost and focus on their core businesses.

Important server colocation considerations

There are several key considerations that a potential data center tenant should consider before deciding on a data center for server colocation.

Data center location

The location of the data center is an important consideration. If your staff must configure and maintain your servers, then the data center will have to be within easy access of your offices.

Your specific application may also have an impact on determining where the data center for your server colocation should be located. For those in high frequency trading, for example, latency is far more important than other considerations. The average high frequency trading algorithm has to process trades 1,000 times faster than the blink of the eye. This requires their servers to be collocated with the stock exchange to minimize the distance between their server and the stock exchange servers.

Most important location factors such as disasters, power availability and connectivity options would have already been taken in consideration by your server colocation provider. You just must make sure you select a reputable provider.

Data center reliability

Reliability is a very important metric to consider when looking for a server colocation provider. Reliability is typically measured in uptime, the amount or percentage of time the service is running without interruption. It is also common to define reliability in terms of downtime, the percentage of time the service is not available.

“Nines” are commonly used to define uptime and downtime as follows:

  • 2 nines = 99% uptime = 7 hours and 12 minutes downtime in 30 days
  • 3 nines = 99.9% uptime = 43 minutes and 12 seconds downtime in 30 days
  • 4 nines = 99.99% uptime = 4 minutes 19 seconds downtime in 30 days
  • 5 nines = 99.999% uptime = 26 seconds downtime in 30 days
  • 6 nines = 99.9999% uptime = 3 seconds downtime in 30 years

Your service provider should be able to offer you a service level agreement (SLA) with at least a 99.999% or 5 nines uptime. Several providers can now offer 99.9999% uptime and some are even claiming 100%.

>Data center scalability

Information and communication technologies are changing rapidly. Your requirements today may change drastically in a short space of time. Your server colocation provider should enable you to quickly make any upgrades you may need, whether its space expansion, more power and higher capacity connectivity. Ensure that there will be enough expansion capacity beyond your current requirements.

Redundant power supply

Power is a critical component of a server colocation and has a direct impact on its reliability. Redundant power supply refers to the availability of one or more standby power sources to take over when the main supply fails. A typical data center should include the main power supply from the utility company, a backup generator, typically a diesel generator, and an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

There are two levels of redundancy, namely N+1 and 2N redundancy. N denotes the power capacity to run the data center, N+1 is the required capacity plus an additional standby module. In a 2N design, the entire capacity is duplicated to ensure that there are no points of failure. Top tier server colocation providers offer 2N power redundancy.

Data center physical security

In addition to cyber-security that most businesses focus a lot of attention on, physical security is an important attribute of data centers. You must ensure that no unauthorized personnel have access to the facility and to your servers while a server colocation provider hosts them. The security of leading server colocation providers is built on a strategy that offers a wide variety of security measures. This include biometric or key card access and around the clock video surveillance.

Data center standards compliance

All reputable data centers comply with minimum design, infrastructure, and operational standards. The major three design and infrastructure standards are:

  • Uptime Institute – focused on design and construction of data centers
  • ANSI/BICSI – addresses design, construction, fire protection and IT infrastructure
  • ANSI/TIA – focuses on data center telecommunication infrastructure, including connectivity redundancy and reliability.

For operational compliance, expect good colocation data centers to comply with ISO standards.

Power vs space billing

Traditionally, tenants specify the space or amount of square footage they need for their server equipment. With higher density data centers and server virtualization, tenants are more likely to run out of power before they run out of space. It is becoming more common to specify the amount of power required other than the space.

Active-Active vs Active-Passive data center architecture

Active-Active and Active-passive data center architectures are used for disaster recovery or for business continuity. In active-active architecture, two servers are configured as companion servers each running independently with it’s on workload. If one fails, the other takes over the workload of both servers until the failed server is back online.

In active-passive configuration, the one server is active and handles all the workload while another is passive and on standby. In case of the active server failing, the backup server takes over until the designated active server is back online.

Data center  connectivity

One key advantage of colocation is the availability of network connectivity redundancy. In the case of carrier neutral data centers there are multiple telecommunication carriers connected to the data centers. This gives you many options to connect your servers to the Internet. In many cases, the provider has negotiated rates with the carriers making it more cost effective for you to get your bandwidth from the server colocation provider.

In the case of data center providers that are also network providers, such as Verizon or Level (3), these companies have expansive and redundant global networks that will meet all your networking requirements.

For hybrid cloud architectures, where a company uses a combination of their servers and cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), there should be easily accessible and reliable connectivity to the cloud. Amazon offers AWS direct, a VLAN that connects your server to AWS. Some colocation providers have easy access to Amazon direct and other cloud connectivity options.

Burstable vs dedicated bandwidth

When specifying bandwidth from a server colocation provider, you may be given the option of burstable vs dedicated bandwidth.

The burstable bandwidth option is one in which you pay for what you use, there are no preset limits on the bandwidth.  Unexpected usage spikes could lead to surprises in the bill.

For dedicated bandwidth, you commit to a specified bandwidth usage. The provider may throttle your access speed when bandwidth usage go over the specified value. Your provider should be able to increase your bandwidth limit at short notice when usage requirements increase. Find out ahead of time the cost of higher bandwidth and minimum increments.

Provider stability

While many startup server colocation providers have proved to be reliable, it is always safer to consider using a provider that has financial stability and has been around in the market for a while. Going with new, small providers may be a risky bet as their probability of disappearing in this ever-changing market is high.

Data center reviews

While you can be assured that most reputable server colocation providers can deliver on what they claim, you must check with others who have used the same data centers for their feedback. Reviews are an important source of information for feedback on providers.

How to identify a data center that meets your criteria

There are thousands of server colocation providers in the world and trying to locate one that meets all your criteria can be a daunting task. At FiberGuide, we can help you identify the best facility that meets all your requirements at no charge.

Using a powerful data center selection tool, Fiberguide can quickly search through thousands of data centers for one that best meet your requirements. For a data center suggestion or for a free quotation, please point your browser to our data center colocation quotation page.

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