The ultimate guide to choosing a colocation facility
A little critical thinking goes a lot way when choosing between colocation providers. For one, look at the quality of the customers. If tech companies use that colo provider, that’s a good sign.
Then there are the big categories you should be looking at: power, environment, uptime, network, and support. These are the factors that can make or break your infrastructure — and your business. Here’s what to know.
PowerPower is the one thing most people know to look for when choosing between colocation service providers. Unfortunately, there’s more to it than just looking for the biggest number. Power can be worked into the server colocation pricing in a number of ways. If you’re a big enough company with a lot of scale, you may be able to buy metered power — essentially the amount of power you use, plus a fee. Most companies will buy power either circuited or by the kilowatt or kilovolt amp. How you buy your power isn’t so important. It’s making sure you get enough for your business. Many colocation vendors will sell you circuited power, but only let you use a percentage of it, because the full amount would violate local building and electrical codes. Others may try to increase capacity by selling your power out to others when you’re not using it, only to have it unavailable when you see a spike. Make sure you have a very clear contract with your colocation provider outlining what they can, and cannot, do. Almost every colocated hosting contract will include cooling costs in with your power fees. Because the two are tied directly together, it makes sense, but it’s all the more reason to make sure that your colo center is using energy wisely. Not only is it better for the environment, it may end up saving you a bundle of money over time. The best way to check this is by focusing on the PUE, or power usage effectiveness, which essentially serves as a colocation facility ratings system for energy efficiency.
Those cooling charges exist because server racks need a very specific environment to stay running. They generate enormous heat, which has to be sucked out and constantly replaced with cool air to keep the machines from overheating. And then there’s the threat of power outages, flooding, fires. Even something as small as a mouse can be catastrophic if it’s unleashed on the wrong cables.
If you’re considering colocation vs. hosting your own data and applications, you’re probably all too familiar with how much work it takes just to keep your infrastructure running. Or maybe you’ve heard crazy stories of raccoons in the colocation cage or fans and ice being wheeled in on weekends.
Building a colocation facility that avoids this madness and keeps your servers running isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely necessary for your business continuity. Ask your provider how they plan to avoid all these pitfalls, and what they’re doing to make sure catastrophe — at whatever size — doesn’t touch your business.
After power, uptime is the next factor people feel most comfortable asking about. But there can be sneaky ways to present a number that looks better than it is.
For instance, some of the less reputable colo providers will have downtime planned for regular intervals. Because it’s scheduled, they don’t count it as an outage — even though it’s time when you can’t access your data and applications.
The best colocation facilities will have a 100% uptime SLA, or service level agreement, written right into all of their contracts. That’s what we do at SCTG, and we’d never ask our clients to accept less. Your business runs 24/7/365 and so do our colocation facilities.
The network is what makes it so impossible to judge hosting companies by the listed server colocation pricing. Inside many “cheap” colocation facilities, nothing is free. And once you’re in their system, you’re in it. That may mean that you end up paying $400 a month to run a cable from a provider in that same data center to your system.
That same philosophy extends past the colocation hosting provider and to its partners. You’re generally limited to the carriers that are already in a colocation facility, which means you’re stuck with their prices and network capacities. If you want to bring in a carrier that’s not in the facility, you may get hit with a recurring charge for the meet-me room, or MMR. These extra charges — some of which are really for nothing other than the privilege of doing business — add up fast. If you’re just looking at sticker prices, you may end up with a shock when the real bill comes in.
Fortunately, you can push colo facilities to give you a full list of these prices before you sign a contract, so you can get a better sense of what your total cost will be. You can also ask them about network latency. If you have customers across North America, a Chicago-based data center will provide the lowest latency.
You may want to focus just on the hard numbers, but while support is harder to qualify, it can make all the difference in your experience with colocation. This is where the big savings can be had — the right colocation hosting services will help you find efficiencies and give you things like on-site electricians and special pricing or access to services you need.
The point of moving to a colo facility is so that you’re not stuck doing it all yourself. Focusing on support will make sure you get the level of attention you need and a level of expertise you can’t get anywhere else.
The importance of visiting your colocation hosting facility in person
It can be so tempting to go for the cheapest colocation provider, but know that when you do, you’re rolling the dice. There are so many ways that vendors can cut corners to increase their cash-flow — oversubscribing capacity, not putting the proper cooling and airflow in place, or adding to the architecture ad hoc.
To avoid all of that, you have to choose your colo facility with a sixth factor in mind: Trust. It can’t be quantified, but it can be the thing that keeps your systems running while the competition’s are down.
The best way to see if you can place your trust with a colocation provider is to stand across from them and look them in the eye. That means making an in-person visit to the data center. There, you can see if everything they say passes the smell test.
You already know to look past the ping-pong tables in the break room and look for the things that matter, like how the facility is run and organized, how the team maintains their cable plant and cooling systems, how the company structures and organizes customers’ work requests. This is where you’ll get the real insight into what your partnership might look like in practice.
Today, we’re only as good as our technology. Before you entrust it to a colocation facility, take the time to check them out properly. Go under the surface and make sure they’re rock solid on the five factors that can undermine your infrastructure. Then, see if you can trust them.