Colocation is a key alternative to both cloud computing and on-premises data centers, while also being a valuable addition to hybrid IT environments. As businesses are steadily moving data center equipment off-premises, colocation is still a smart choice and will remain one in the future.
Colocation services enable businesses to host or lease servers at a commercial data center maintained by the provider. Colocation relieves customers of facility and network maintenance. Businesses with legacy systems, recent investments in hardware, or a need to reduce costs find colocation appealing.
What is data center colocation? Data center colocation isn’t just about renting space, it’s much more. Colocation provides three basic services: physical floor space such as cages and racks for customer equipment, electrical power and cooling, and internet connectivity. They may also supply extra services such as IT consulting, security, disaster recovery, and migration planning, as well as access to cloud services.
What to ask when selecting a colocation provider
If you’re considering colocation, be sure to tour prospective facilities to assess staffing, security, and maintenance. Come prepared with questions based on your colocation needs. To get you started, here are 8 key questions to ask any colocation provider:
What network connectivity do you provide?
Bandwidth is a major reason for doing colocation because few companies can afford their own high-speed connections to telecom and cloud providers. Top colocation centers, however, do provide high bandwidth, 10G, and faster fiber-based connections. While some facilities have just one telecommunication carrier, most offer connections to multiple carriers. These carrier-neutral data centers give you more options and better protection against outages.
How resilient is the data center facility?
Perhaps the most critical aspect of a colocation data center facility is power. So, it should have connections to separate power plants as well as backup generators, multiple power distribution units (PDUs), and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). Ask how long the facility can survive a power outage.
Data centers in earthquake zones should meet seismic building codes. Those in regions prone to tornadoes or hurricanes should be able to withstand strong storm winds.
You should also consider terrain. Was it built in a 100-year floodplain that, thanks to climate change, is now a 10-year flood plain? Is the data center near drought-stricken and fire-prone areas?
What cloud services and cloud connectivity are available?
A good colocation data center will provide access to cloud services as well as connections to major cloud providers, such as Amazon or Microsoft Azure. Cloud services, such as software as a service (SaaS) or infrastructure as a service (IaaS), enable you to extend your IT systems without adding new equipment.
If you’re already using cloud services, ask about connectivity options to your cloud provider.
How do you manage disaster recovery and resiliency?
Redundancy is critical for disaster recovery. Look for a provider with multiple data center locations and connections to Tier 1 and 2 internet providers to protect against outages. How much disruption you can tolerate is determined by your recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO).
Recovery time objective (or RTO) is the amount of time to get back online.
Recovery point objective (or RPO) is how much data you can afford to lose.
It’s important to ask the colocation provider what they can guarantee in RPO and RTO. Learn more about RTO, RPO, and application tiering for your disaster recovery plan.
Also, consider a provider that offers Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS). DRaaS is the cloud-based replication of data to a physical or virtual server in a third-party facility. The provider can manage the replication and trigger the DR plan, ensuring a better DR outcome.
What security features are important?
A colocation provider should have physical security features that include secure cages (or private suites), checkpoints that require access by photo ID or biometric scanner, video monitoring inside the building, and 24×7 on-site staff.
Cybersecurity is also critical. Cybercrime is the fastest-growing cause of data center outages and causes more than twice as much unplanned downtime as weather-related disasters (22% vs 10%). Besides anti-malware, encryption, and firewalls, ask about network intrusion prevention and detection systems as well as continuous threat monitoring for DDoS attacks.
Can your data center support my regulatory requirements?
Potential providers should have independently audited security certifications for compliance requirements that are important in your industry, such as the HIPAA regulation covering healthcare information. Some examples of IT data security standards are:
- Service Organization Controls (SOC) 2 evaluates a provider’s ability to ensure data integrity, security, confidentiality, and availability.
- SOC 1/ SSAE-18 Type II. This report evaluates the effectiveness of an organization’s financial reporting policies and controls.
- The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a commonly used security standard to ensure the safety of debit and credit card transactions and consumers’ personal information.
What technical support is available?
Even if you own the servers, you may still want help with maintenance, management, or user tech support. Your colocation provider may offer support services such as:
- Daily management and monitoring of servers, including their operating systems or platforms and patch management.
- Application management of mission-critical enterprise applications and databases.
- Help desk support: Some providers offer help desk support, either full-time or to fill in gaps in the customer’s help desk.
- You may need expertise for specific projects, such as a cloud migration, implementation of a new IT system, or creating a digital transformation strategy.
- Remote hands support for instances when you need to delegate IT management tasks in the physical colocation data center
Can you support my future business growth?
Your IT needs will expand as your business grows. Ask the provider about its plans for technology upgrades and new services. It should have a track record of improvements in its facilities, connectivity, and services, as well as a roadmap for the future. Look to see if it has partnerships with innovative tech companies or is investing in faster connections or new technologies such as software-defined infrastructure.
A premier colocation provider will give your company access to cutting-edge technologies and the expertise to optimize your IT investments. Evaluate colocation providers with a focus on finding one that can be a trusted partner and fully support your future growth.
Learn more about Colocation
Want to learn more about ins and outs of using colocation in your hybrid environment? Read our Guide to Colocation and Data Centers. Ready to visit a data center for colocation? Schedule a tour to see one of our data centers today.
Originally published in July 2019, this post was updated on April 22, 2021, to reflect changes in stats and to add more relevant information about choosing colocation providers.