So, you’re the person tasked with overseeing the company’s colocation project?
Having made the decision to leverage the advantages offered by colocation when compared to an on-premises data centre to house and run some, or all, of your IT assets, what do you need to consider when it comes to choosing the right colocation provider?
Here’s a comprehensive, if not exhaustive, list to help you make the final decision:
Where is the colocation provider in relation to your office(s)? Therefore, how easy (or not) is it to get to the data centre, should you need to? Or you may be happy that you’ll never need to visit after the initial IT kit installation, as you’ll pay someone else to manage and maintain this equipment.
Additionally, there are a whole host of rules governing data centre location in terms of how safe it is from disasters such as flooding and other extreme weather conditions, airplane crashes (is the data centre in or near a busy flight path?), and vulnerability to a physical security breach (is the site well-protected, with enough layers of security to prevent any damage or loss?).
Even in the 21st century, it’s surprising how often the folks digging up the road manage to hit the power cables, so it’s important to ensure that your chosen colocation provider has at least two separate power supply sources that use different paths of the power supply grid, so it’s unlikely that they can both be damaged at the same time, except in the case of a power cut, when you’ll need to rely on…
What type of UPS does the data centre use? There are different technologies available, each of which has their supporters and detractors. Perhaps more important than the type of UPS used, is finding out how often the data centre provider tests that the UPS is up to the task in the event of a mains power failure.
NOC / SMC
Does the colocation provider operate its own Network Operations Centre (NOC), Service Management Centre (SMC) or similar? Or does it subcontract this task to a specialist third party? It’s just good to know so that if things do go wrong, you’ll know who you’re talking to.
Probably more important than who is running the NOC, are the actual service levels offered by the data centre provider. In other words, make sure you know the tasks for which you are responsible and those that fall under the remit of the colocation provider/NOC.
There’s nothing worse than something going wrong and you thinking the your data centre provider was going to deal with it, whilst they’re thinking it’s your responsibility!
OVERALL LOOK AND FEEL
It’s a good idea to visit a few providers before making your final choice to understand what makes a good data centre provider stand out from the norm in terms of the design of the facility, the friendliness of the staff, the cleanliness of the space where the IT kit will be housed, and what other areas are available for you to use. Your gut instinct will almost certainly be right.
MONITORING + MANAGEMENT
Whilst not unrelated to the service levels above, it’s good to know what information you have access to and/or upon which you can act/ask the colocation provider/NOC to take actions on your behalf, in terms of the efficient operation of your IT equipment. It’s also worth knowing how this information will be made available – whether on a website that you have to go and visit, emailed, or even texted to your smartphone.
There are several different ways in which data centre providers charge for the power you consume, so it’s worth understanding how flexible/granular such charging is. An increasing number of providers are charging only for the power you actually consume, which has to make sense.
In simple terms, there’ll always be a trade-off between the price you pay for your data centre facilities and the flexibility you want. If you’re prepared to sign up to a long-term deal, you’ll likely pay rather less per month than if you only want a three-month contract.
The contract should also cover the likelihood of you, hopefully, needing more space over time. You might also want to consider the possibility of needing less space.
SINGLE OR MULTIPLE SITES
Does the colocation provider have just the one site or more than one? Whatever the answer, this might affect how you/they address the issue of disaster recovery/business continuity. Theoretically, if you can have a primary and backup facility with the same provider, life should be easier as and when you need to failover to a secondary site and/or recover data.
Is the data centre provider a small, single site provider, or part of a huge, multi-national business? As with all your suppliers, you’ll no doubt have a view as to the relative pluses and minuses when it comes to dealing with small, medium and large scale organisations.
The Service Level Agreement is often a major cause of stress when it comes to signing up with a colocation provider. While it is important to write down your and the colocation provider’s expectations and obligations, there’s little doubt that if the SLA is used by either party to ‘beat-up’ the other, you are unlikely to form a good, long-term working relationship.
Much better, have an SLA, but understand that working together as partners will give you the best possible chance of receiving a high level of service, especially when problems occur.
Ask your provider to introduce you to a couple of their customers so you can chat to them and receive honest feedback. Again, gut instinct will tell you if these customers are painting a picture of the data centre that is too good to be true, or a warts-and-all one that gives you a valuable insight into any particular colocation facility/provider.
Who else uses the data centre you are considering? There could be a major advantage in signing up with a provider if they are also looking after plenty of other companies with which you do business. After all, if much of your work (data) only has to travel within the facility, that’s a major advantage when it comes to speed and reliability. (There are some data centres who actively aim to create vertical industry hubs within their facilities).
Just how many connectivity options can the colocation provider offer to you? And there’s a fair chance that the data centre will have within it, one or more managed service providers as a customer, so you could access the managed services you might require very easily and efficiently.
High density, free cooling, feeds and speeds… What is the data centre provider able to offer around the very latest data centre infrastructure technologies and ideas? And test the claims, especially when it comes to things such as network bandwidth and transmission speeds.
If you are confident that you know your way around a data centre, then get out there and start talking to your potential colocation partners. Tell them what it is you hope to achieve by moving various IT assets into their facilities, and then listen to what they have to say.
You’ll soon begin to work out the data centre providers that share your vision and values, and the ones that don’t.