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Choosing the right colocation provider

Quocirca's Clive Longbottom runs through the list of items enterprise IT managers should look for in prospective colocation providers

Enterprise IT managers used to fall into two categories: those who opted for colocation to avoid the costs of running their own datacentres, and the server huggers.

For the latter group, just the thought of moving their existing IT equipment into a third-party facility seemed a step too far, as owning the whole kit and caboodle was considered key.

Things started changing when the growth of virtualisation threw a spanner in the works. Suddenly, the continued growth of space needed for new IT equipment was no longer a given.

By moving multiple workloads into a virtualised environment, the physical amount of hardware that needed managing dropped, and yet an owned datacentre could not easily be flexed to deal with such a swing in sizing.

The emergence of converged and denser hardware also brought other issues. Moving from, say, 5kW per rack to 8kW per rack meant datacentre owners faced major upgrade costs to update their power distribution – or they could hand the kit over to a colocation provider.

Their ability to provide sufficient power along with cooling, backup and auxiliary power systems and other datacentre basics became table stakes, with the more canny colocation providers realising they had to evolve rapidly to meet enterprises’ growing needs.

Now, however, we have private and public cloud, with most organisations heading towards a hybrid environment, which introduces a whole new set of variables that are difficult to deal with effectively in a one-firm datacentre facility.

Acceleration to colocation

Looking at the growth of the global colocation providers, such as Equinix, Digital Realty and Interoute, there is a marked acceleration towards organisations using colocation facilities. However, it should not just be a case of looking for the cheapest, nearest or best-known provider.

But IT managers should not think colocation is the answer to all their problems; the fact is, using a third-party facility brings many issues of its own.

As the world moves towards becoming a “global village”, those who still like to draw lines on maps prefer to maintain a perception of control. 

Therefore, we have data privacy laws that differ from country to country, and the collapse of the US Safe Harbour data-sharing law neatly highlighted how politicians still like to pretend they hold the power when it comes to data. 

The long-running legal disagreement between Microsoft in Ireland and the US government over a simple disclosure warrant demonstrated how these same politicians want to reach out beyond their own pencil lines and wield power outside their boundaries.

This has presented many organisations with problems. Should they opt for global providers that could store their data anywhere, or look to the likes of Datum or NGD, that can provide specific guarantees as to where the data will be held?

Some global players can give assurances that data will be stored in a specific location, but if your organisation remains concerned that US-based firms still have to bow to the will of the US government around data disclosures, this may not be enough.

Hybrid challenges

The continued move to a more complex hybrid model also brings new requirements for organisations seeking a colocation partner. Integrating different systems held on various cloud platforms may not only be complicated, but poorly managed connectivity will introduce significant latency into the data paths, leading to a poor user experience.

Therefore, organisations must look to colocation providers that not only provide multiple, redundant internet connections, but also use optimised connections to other cloud systems.

In this space, Google has its Google Cloud Interconnect, AWS has Direct Connect and Microsoft offers ExpressRoute. Using a colocation partner that supports these optimised connections will ensure latency issues are minimised.

Waking up the neighbours

“Noisy neighbour” syndrome can often be a problem in colocation facilities. It occurs when one user’s use of the IT platform has a knock-on effect on others.

For example, if a customer suddenly ramps up the number of transactions it is dealing with, it can appear as if a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is occurring to other systems, and there is little that can be done to fix it.

So, choosing a colocation partner that monitors for this kind of problem and deals with it – by throttling the noisy neighbour’s traffic or helping them deal with the root cause – is a must.

The tooling that a colocation partner uses then becomes important. If the partner is monitoring and measuring what is happening across its whole datacentre fleet, can it make some of that data available to you, so that a root-cause analysis of problems can carried out? 

If you are looking for greater flexibility and portability of workloads in the future, having access to such data can be invaluable. Is it possible to move a workload to a cheaper platform, either as part of the partner’s environment or out to a public cloud, if needed?   

Read more about colocation

It is also worth investigating which other organisations are using its facilities, because large colocation providers are likely to be managing service providers and software as a service (SaaS) companies. 

Having access to these providers and their services at datacentre connectivity speeds can provide critical market differentiation for your organisation. 

So, check whether the colocation partner has a marketplace in operation that enables occupants to choose functions and services that meet their needs and are relatively straightforward to integrate.

Ensure your chosen partner also understands your business needs. If you are a financial institution, does it cater for your needs as regards the Financial Conduct Authority’s guidelines, for example?

Also, what levels of physical and technical security does the provider have in place, and are they as robust as their technical security capabilities?

The world of colocation has changed dramatically over the past decade, and it is more important than ever that customers choose the right partner.

This was last published in August 2016

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