How to choose the right type of colocation center

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Few can afford a highly redundant data center, so a colo makes a lot of sense. But what kind of colo, exactly?

Although two of the most quoted reasons for moving infrastructure into the cloud are scalability and elasticity, another reason organizations might consider the cloud is to avoid the painfully expensive costs of building and maintaining a highly available data center. More typically, to get higher control and more customization, organizations choose to house their infrastructures in a third-party data center or colocation center that offers better protection than the company could afford on its own.

Choosing the right colo for your needs is not as straightforward as looking one up in the Yellow Pages. There are a wide array of facilities geared toward different types of users, as well as a similarly wide array of levels of redundancy and scalability. And many of the best colocation centers tend to fly under the radar for security reasons -- chances are you've driven past them without even knowing they were there.  

Let me help you know how to find a good facility and what to look for when you visit to help you make the right decision.

The kinds of businesses that typically offer colocation space typically boil down to three categories:

  • Vendor-neutral carrier hotels
  • Internet service providers (ISPs)
  • Internet-based businesses that find themselves with excess data center space

Unlike carrier hotels, which typically feature a veritable who's who of global Tier 1 ISPs as tenants (and potential cross-connect opportunities), these smaller, independent colocation facilities might be attached to a small number of upstream ISPs through the network operated by the colo -- making it difficult or impossible to get direct bandwidth from more than one provider. This isn't necessarily a disqualifier, because many of these operators run extremely well-designed and redundant network infrastructures. However, it represents a single point of failure from an organizational standpoint -- regardless of how redundant the network itself may be.

Option 3: Colo tiers

Beyond knowing what kind of business you're looking at, its business focus, and actual ownership of the facility, you next want to dig into that facility's reliability. For organizations tired of paying to operate their own on-premises data centers, that cost is not simply an issue of providing space, power, and cooling -- it's a question of doing all those things with the utmost reliability.

Building a data center doesn't truly run up the bills until you start duplicating large, expensive components such as utility power feeds, generators, universal power supply, air conditioning, and internal power distribution to provide N+1 redundancy. If that's what you're looking for, you need to make sure your candidate colo providers have them -- it's by no means guaranteed they do.

Generally speaking, colocation providers are organized into a tiered system with four levels. Inconveniently, this tiering system is the opposite of the system used to rate ISPs.

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