Co-location: Great idea; so easy to get wrong.

Convergence.  Rationalisation.  Virtualisation.  Consolidation.  Cloud computing. Just a few of the changes to computing in the past few years that will have impacted your use of a data centre.

Many are now realising that trying to design and manage a data centre for a single company is becoming a great way to throw money away, and are looking at what other options are available.  For some, public cloud computing is an option; for the majority, there is still a need to be able to run some systems on their own equipment – somewhere.

This is where co-location comes in.  Co-location providers have the task of building, maintaining and running data centre facilities; their customers have the job of installing, maintaining and running their own IT equipment within it.  The economies of scale that the co-location provider has means that they should be able to keep up to date through sharing costs across a large customer base in areas such as high-density cooling, power distribution and auxiliary power needs – which are all high capital cost systems for an organisation looking at doing this just for themselves.  The provider will also be able to put in place better levels of connectivity redundancy, leading to higher overall systems availability and often a better speed of response to end users.

Co-location is a booming business, and rightly so.  There is decreasing sense in attempting to build a facility where the horizon on what capabilities it is being built for can only be measured in the low number of years, rather than the 10-20 years that used to be the case.

However, choosing a co-location provider is no small matter.  Even though the idea is that the data centre is just a shell in which the important IT equipment is held, the cost to a business of changing co-location provider can be horrendous; not just in physical cost, but also in impact on business continuity.

It has to be accepted that not all providers are the same.  Many are competing on price, and this generally means that they are having to cut corners somewhere.  Others are white labelling space within a third-party’s facility.  Many larger providers cannot get enough direct large end user customers themselves to make their facilities financially viable.  Therefore, they rent out parts to another provider, who can then rent out smaller parcels still to its customers.  This way, a large provider with a focus on large companies can still have a large number of SMEs in their facility – it is just that these accounts are being managed by an intermediary.

Such multi-tier agreements have their own problems.  When something goes wrong, your account manager may have no idea what the underlying problem is.  They are themselves a customer of the actual facility owner, and they are just as much at the end of the phone wanting details on when things are going to put right as you are.

Then there is the issue that Quocirca still finds is top of mind when it comes to using outsourcing of any nature – security.  Quocirca firmly believes that the majority of service providers out there (whether they are co-location or cloud providers) will have better overall security than the majority of organisations can achieve in-house.  However, this is not saying that the outsourcing company’s security is enough – if you have distinct worries about the security of your systems and the data held on them, you need to look for the right co-location partner that meets your needs.

Consider a facility that is built within a standard industrial park.  It may have all the security features that you would want within the facility itself – but what about around the facility?  The presence of vans driving around or parked up around an industrial park cannot raise much in the way of interest, as this will be happening all the time.  That within these vans could be the bad guys watching how security is managed within the facility should raise issues for you as the customer.

Now consider a facility that is purpose built within a secure park.  This secure park has solid perimeter security – no vehicles or people that are not expected are allowed onto the park at all.  All movement is monitored and visitors logged – before they even get anywhere near the data centre.  Such facilities are few and far between, but offer much better levels of security that can meet the needs of organisations with higher levels of needs for legal reporting or intellectual property management.

Finally, look to how account management is carried out.  If you will be provided with a general number to contact the provider with to discuss anything, you are just a customer.  If you have a named service manager who has total responsibility for all your dealings between your organisation and the provider, you stand far more chance of being viewed as a partner – and having organisation’s needs and problems dealt with more effectively.

Getting the choice of co-location partner wrong can be catastrophic.  Quocirca has created a guide with Datum to the areas that anyone considering co-location should ensure are covered in discussions with any potential provider. The guide is available free of charge here.

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