By Sam Bowley
A colocation facility is a type of communal datacenter. Many businesses keep their own server and network infrastructure there, pooling their resources for better telecommunications with decreased costs.
How do you know if colocation is right for your business? Consider these factors:
Network Availability – One of the primary benefits of colocation is uptime. Uptime is ensured due to a series of redundant failsafes most businesses cannot afford to implement themselves. For example, quality colocation facilities will have redundant utility power, air conditioning, generators, routers, and staff. Should something catastrophic happen, these redundant systems would engage and the end consumers’ server and equipment would continue to function as if nothing happened.
Power – Most offices get their power from a local power company. If they house many servers internally they might have a “backup” generator suitable for up to four hours. A colocation datacenter will have access to multiple power sources or multiple grids. Good colocation facilities will also have Prime Source generators and facility-wide uninterruptible power systems (UPS). For an office to set up a power system comparable to a colocation facility would require the investment of several million dollars.
Cooling – Network equipment is not designed for exposure to long stretches of heat. Colocation facilities have redundant cooling systems in place capable of keeping servers and equipment cool enough to run optimally. Typical business offices are not built with air conditioning units strong enough to keep up with large server rooms. Nor do they typically have redundant systems in place in case of failure or maintenance.
On-Site Help – Many of the best colocation facilities have staff on hand 24 x 7. Much of this staff is highly qualified server and network developers. They know how to help replacing failing hardware, upgrade servers, or work that most businesses can’t or don’t want to do. Some colocation providers offer more managed services beyond just hardware replacement such as software patches and troubleshooting. Many business will have an IT staff, but not usually 24 hours a day nor trained in all the different functions a colocation provider will have.
Network Speed – When a business begins to build their own internal infrastructure, generally they will get a bandwidth capacity they believe fills their need (their pipe). For small businesses it might be a T3 (45 Megabits per second) or an OC3 for medium to large businesses (155 Mbps). Usually there wouldn’t be redundancy for these pipes either. Quality colocation facilities will have multiple pipes of substantially larger bandwidth capacity, say OC192 (10,000 Mbps). For customers in a colocation facility like this, it means their websites and applications can operate at much higher speeds. To put in an OC3 connection is tremendously expensive already, let alone have multiple larger pipes.
The Bottom Line
From a cost / benefit standpoint, colocation makes sense for many businesses. The key is to look at your current infrastructure and consider what your needs will be in 6 months, 12 months, and 24 months. Investing in colocation now provides you the flexibility to grow into those needs without huge capital requirements.