What problems can be solved by moving into a shared environment?
A few years ago it was fashionable to say that the days of colocation providers were numbered, that services dealing with physical racks and servers would be wiped out by the arrival of cheap, ubiquitous cloud computing. And it's true - as true as the fact that the Sun will grow to eventually consume the Earth, some 7.6 billion years into the future.
At the moment, colocation isn't going anywhere: according to property consultancy CBRE, 2016 was another record year for leased data centre capacity both in Europe and the US. London was responsible for a total of 384MW or 44 percent of capacity available across major European markets.
Colocation solves some of the most frustrating problems faced by IT departments, but without introducing new problems into the mix: it requires the same skills needed to run your servers in-house but takes full responsibility for the physical environment, so the state of the network cables, power availability and even the level of cleanliness are somebody else's problem.
So, when do you need colocation?
There are essentially two scenarios: in the first, you are looking to simply expand your IT estate, but colocation becomes an increasingly attractive proposition when you are implementing a large IT overhaul. You could close the server room altogether, and quite likely save money in the process.
Space for hire
Let's say you want to keep your mission-critical workloads under close watch and your in-house engineers are second to none. You might still consider colocation if you've outgrown the space and need cost-effective hosting for secondary workloads.
The opposite is also true - you might place a rack in a shared environment if you want to keep your costs to an absolute minimum. Even a single rack would require some level of thermal management, and that means a separate room. Property prices in large cities, especially in London, are not getting any more reasonable, so colocation can enable some of the smallest businesses to make the best use of their square footage.
Colocation facilities are also essential for backup strategies: you would typically want to keep copies of your data at a distance between 10 and 50 miles from the primary facility, but this can vary depending on geography. The UK is easy: we're not threatened by some of the more unpredictable disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis, so our main considerations are flood plains.
Some colocation providers are offering spaces outfitted specifically for dense racks with high power and cooling requirements. They can take over the running of machines used for analytics, simulations and 3D rendering, which can be hard and expensive to maintain in-house.
Finally, accepting colocation could be the first step towards embracing the cloud - where you surrender some control over your infrastructure in exchange for more convenience in day-to-day operations. Many colocation providers now offer private network access via cross-connects to major cloud providers like AWS and Azure, making them perfect for hybrid IT architectures.
Moving an entire data centre into a colocation facility is a serious decision to make, but it can bring many benefits in the long run. The best time to jump into this is when existing IT equipment is too old to serve the needs of the business and requires a major investment, giving management the impetus to rethink the entire IT strategy.
After moving into a shared environment, IT becomes much easier to expand and grow - you can always lease more racks in the same data centre, and this liberates customers from thinking about what their requirements will be two or three years down the line. And if business is growing, IT resources can be easily scaled down, saving money for various turnaround efforts.
By choosing colocation, you are renting a small slice of the best uninterruptable power and grid supply, with back-up generators, super-efficient cooling, 24/7 security and dual path multi-fibre connectivity that money can buy - all for a fraction of the cost of buying and implementing them yourself.
The perception of the cost of your colocated infrastructure will depend on the state of your previous data center: most customers will save money simply due to economies of scale, but it's fair to say that the worst facilities will benefit the most.
If you're tired of looking at a dirty, hot and inefficient server room - the stuff of nightmares known to any IT person - perhaps it's time to consider colocation. As for the more environmentally-minded, colocation offers better use of power, and sometimes even a choice of renewable power.
Adopting colocation is likely to considerably improve reliability of your services - some colocation providers boast 100 percent availability of their power supply thanks to redundant power connections, spare generators and PSUs. Even those that can't reach this standard have invested more thought and money into their power and cooling than a typical enterprise customer.
Another point to consider is diverse networking - why be limited to a handful of connectivity providers when you could have your pick of dozens, sometimes hundreds?
And finally, there's the benefit of added physical security. When opting for colocation, your servers will be protected by fences, cages, biometric authentication and guards - a marked improvement on the unmarked door that protects a typical server room.