What is co-location?
Co-location (colo) is the provision of a physical location in which companies can place their web servers and equipment. Colo providers offer a secure environment, connectivity and basic services (such as firewall provision, reporting, network services or web design). Additional managed services may also be available.
Co-location offers instant access to a secure, expandable physical site, expanded 'virtual' staff, and high levels of performance, availability, uptime and security guaranteed by a service-level agreement (SLA). It has the strong additional appeal of allowing you to retain close control of website architecture, function, design and access.
Web hosts everywhere are pushing for customers to go for the fully outsourced option of dedicated hosting. Why? Profit margins from dedicated hosting are higher for web hosts, and dedicated hosting allows them to gain business experience in the service sector. Profit margins are lower with co-location, and web hosts have to make their facilities available to visitors at all hours, meaning extra physical security measures for them. You as the customer can go to the data centre any time you want, use your IT team for maintenance at any time, or pick and choose what type of managed service you want. As a result, from the web host's point of view it's an unattractive option, but for you it may be the best one - it essentially allows you to have your cake and eat it.
You retain a certain amount of control and save precious resources Co-location gives you the choice of partially outsourcing the fundamental tasks needed in order to maintain your website. You don't have to worry about basic services that can be extremely time-consuming (such as connectivity arrangements and maintenance), as the web host will do that for you. As your web usage expands, your staff don't have to waste time finding bigger premises that are convenient, affordable and suitable to house additional servers.
This enables you to carry on using your internal IT resources for more important issues, such as site improvements. The control that you retain means you are not totally in the hands of a third party, enabling you to have peace of mind, which is particularly important for those companies with mission-critical websites (such as e-commerce sites or ASPs). If something goes wrong, the capability to make a short-term fix is still in your hands and you need not rely on an outside organisation.
Higher levels of performance, availability, uptime and security
Co-location providers offer high-speed Internet connectivity and bandwidth, making your site faster and easy to access. All offer scalable connectivity (such as 'burstable bandwidth'), which means that your website won't go down if there is a sudden surge of hits resulting from, for example, a marketing campaign designed specifically to drive traffic to your site.
If you have, or are planning to have, a site with e-commerce capability that is critical to your business, then any downtime or lack of availability would be disastrous, with potential consequences of significant loss of revenues, customer loyalty or goodwill. Web-hosting providers have a degree of redundancy built into their facilities that will guarantee uptime - the current norm is a rate of 99.5% - which they are legally bound to uphold through their service-level agreements with you. Unless you are a very large company able to compete with this level of redundancy, a web-hosting provider may be the only way for you to achieve this kind of uptime and availability.
Security is, and always will be, a key issue for any company with a richly functional website. Many web-hosting providers understand and deploy the latest, state-of-the-art security software, guaranteeing privacy and confidentiality through PKI, use of SSLs and so on. Furthermore, the facilities where co-location providers host their customers' websites have the highest physical security and are continuously monitored for any attempts at unauthorised access. While it is impossible to guarantee both 100% uptime and security, co-location providers can give you a higher level of guarantee than if you provisioned your site in-house, for all but the largest companies.
Visit the hosting facility
One of the reasons why web-hosting providers are not so keen on offering co-location services is because those customers can come into the data centre where the web host is managing their site and carry out whatever actions they want on their servers. While this is 'inconvenient' for the host, it is good for the customer, as you can carry on using your IT resource for any maintenance or improvements you may want to make.
And if you want managed services
Unlike dedicated hosting, where you would give full control and management of the site to a web host, co-location lets you choose when and what type of managed services you may require. Be it reporting, firewall or application integration services, you decide when and what you require, making co-location a more flexible and possibly cheaper option for you, as well as allowing you to retain control over what happens to your site and when.
Who would benefit the most from co-location?
Any company with a robust IT team managing their web presence will benefit from co-location hosting, especially if their Internet usage continues to evolve, and their websites are routinely becoming more sophisticated.
Christina Kasica, is a senior analyst, and Nadia Khair an analyst at Ovum
Ovum, the analyst and consulting company, is a global leader in the rapidly changing world of converging technologies and markets. Resolutely independent, Ovum offers clients objective advice and challenging insights.