Colocation, Colocation: But is it right for your business?

Whether you love or loathe them, TV property programmes such as Location, Location are popular because they tap into peoples’ aspirations for a better environment, and their desire to get more value from their investment.  
The same aspirations apply in business.  You may want to make more effective use of your premises, or to reduce capital expenditure.  Colocating – moving your servers to a data centre – promises to do this by freeing up valuable office space, and cutting capital expenditure on IT, which in turn streamlines your budget.
But just like buying a new house, it’s a step that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  So how do you establish if colocating is right for your business?  And if it is, how should you go about choosing the right colocation partner?  Here’s a practical guide to help you navigate the decisions, and ask the right questions.
Going colo:  doing the maths
The main driver behind most decisions to colocate is usually cost.  As your IT and server estate grows, so do the costs of power, cooling, and housing the equipment.  If you have multiple racks of equipment in your main office building, colo can become an attractive option, freeing up usable space and reducing energy bills.  
You should consider the rent paid, or money that could be made by reusing or leasing the space used by the racks.  Even the business rates you pay on that floor space can be factored in.
If an application is business-critical, colocation reduces risk.  Local server rooms can be exposed to theft, fire, water damage and more.  Furthermore, they rely on the Internet connection and power feeds to your office building, which are rarely as resilient as those to data centres.
Also consider any impending business changes that may necessitate relocation, or a replacement or upgrade in technology.  Any combination of these factors can make colocation a viable option.  
Flexibility counts
Calculations can be relatively straightforward – comparing the cost of extending your current in-house server room versus a smaller outlay to begin colocating, or using a colo facility to implement a disaster recovery option to support IT at your main office.  
In these situations, going colo can typically be accomplished in a shorter time than constructing new facilities – an advantage when a company needs to respond quickly to keep focus on its business objectives.
Choose your partner
However, while cost is a key factor in the initial decision to collocate, there’s more to choosing the right colocation partner than the price alone.  
For instance, if the colocation host can’t offer availability or connectivity that exceeds what you have currently, then any savings could easily disappear because of unscheduled downtime.  Remember that colocation isn’t just another room to put your servers in:  it’s part of your company’s IT backbone
So choosing the right partner is critical.  Here’s a checklist of the questions you should ask, and answers that a reputable colo partner should give you.
Facilities matter
First, ask about the facilities themselves.  Are they manned around the clock, or can you only get access during business hours?  This has a big impact on security and your ability to make changes or fix problems.  Are technical support staff are always available on-site, and available to you as part of your agreement?
For security, ask about CCTV throughout the facility.  Are there locks at every entrance and exit?  Are secure, individual locking cabinets provided, not shared cages?  This helps prevent shared technical issues and theft.
Power is key, so can the provider offer fully redundant, generator-backed power?  Ask also about power available per server rack.  Conventional wisdom is for 2kW per rack – advice which is now outdated.  Look for a minimum 5kW per rack, enabling more servers to be supported in the same footprint.  Power needs will inevitably grow, so plan for it.
Heat is the enemy of servers, so the ability to keep stable, low temperatures at all times across a growing number of servers is critical.  Can the facility offer redundant, efficient cooling in each of its sections to handle cooling demands in any circumstance?   
Making connections
Just as important as the facility itself are its connections and available bandwidth.  Can the provider offer 100Mbps and Gigabit Ethernet uplink ports, so that data isn’t throttled at the server connections?  Or dedicated fibre links for fully scalable data capacity and redundant high-speed links to other major international hubs and networks, avoiding single points of failure?
You need both capacity and resilience.  With bandwidth demands growing constantly, ask about the provider’s migration path to the new 40/100GigE standard in its wide-area topology.
Relationships matter
Finally, it’s vital to choose a partner that you can happily interact with in the coming years.  Standard business practices and due diligence apply:  ask for reference accounts and contacts who can describe their experiences. 
Colocation contracts often run for two or three-year periods, so ensure the facilities will support the business throughout the duration of the contract.  You don’t want to be back to square one if the colo facility can’t meet your needs in 18 months’ time.
In conclusion, colocation means more than just a place to put your servers.  With the right approach, you can ensure that the move to colo will help you achieve your business goals, not restrict them.
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