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6 Considerations when Choosing Colocation Provider

Discover the top things to consider as you make your data center colocation choices.

Six Important Considerations When Choosing a Colocation Provider

Colocation services may seem like nothing more than a commodity: a data center is a data center. However, what appear as just minor differences between providers can have a major impact on the overall performance of your business. With applications supporting your key customer interactions and business functions, all aspects of your IT infrastructure, including your colocation provider, need to be scrutinized. Whether it is an improved customer experience, 100 % uptime for your critical applications or better alignment of IT with your business priorities, careful consideration of your colocation services provider will impact your ability to achieve these goals.

From physical location to network integration, there are important elements to consider when placing your hardware with a colocation company. Asking the right questions can ensure an optimal deployment. Any latencies or points of failure need to be eliminated or minimized to ensure the performance of your business applications.

From physical location to network integration, there are important elements to consider when placing your hardware with a colocation company.

Redundant systems ensure your business will continue to operate and serve your customers, no matter what unforeseen events may arise. And, having a secure environment protects your business from intrusions that can have a devastating impact on your business. Each business's needs are slightly different, and you should bear in mind the operational dynamics that make your business unique.

That said, the six considerations discussed in this paper are relevant to all colocation environments that clients deploy. These are the essential building blocks of a colocation program, and it is critical to select a provider that can deliver on all of these attributes.

Having the option to expand from colocation services to managed hosting in the same provider data center can ease migration complexities and offer fast deployment of flexible solutions.

Like most companies today, you're probably considering moving some IT environments to the cloud - or you've already made that move. That means you need to consider how your cloud strategy will impact your choice of colocation provider. Clients leaning toward hybrid cloud solutions need the ability to manage and move workloads between self-managed environments, provider-based private clouds and public clouds. Different services don't always work together seamlessly; having these environments within the same data center, or dispersed across data centers that are owned and managed by the same provider, can help your organization begin to integrate cloud services with a controlled, systematic process.

Does My Colocation Provider Have a Wide Breadth of Capabilities?

For most companies, colocation is only one part of a bigger IT picture - you shouldn't think of it in isolation. Consider your selection of a colocation provider in the context of how your entire IT infrastructure impacts your business. In addition to colocation services, many companies require capabilities like managed hosting, and are developing cloud solutions. A partner that can offer all of these services, one with expertise across the entire portfolio, can help you achieve a flexible, better-performing infrastructure.

For example, companies that begin with basic colocation services often find they can benefit from using other services from their provider like managed storage and security. Providers with expertise in these areas can help companies ensure they have the specialized skills required to manage these capabilities. Many companies that utilize colocation also decide that, for some environments, it makes sense to have their provider manage the hardware while they retain management of applications.

Cloud services will continue to grow as part of the IT solution set,
but many organizations will continue to have a need for colocation
as part of their infrastructure. The future will likely see many
side-by-side colocation and cloud environments. Your colocation
provider should understand the capabilities of a cloud-based
system and be able to work across both types of environments.
While a range of colocation providers now offer cloud services,
make sure your provider has the experience and knowledge to
work with you across all these service areas and can provide
unbiased advice and consultation for your specific requirements.

In addition to offering this broad range of capabilities, look for
a provider that can be flexible on the terms and conditions of
your contract. The market and what’s available are constantly
changing, as are your business's needs. There is great value
in working with a provider that enables you to move across
different environments, allowing you to flexibly meet your
contractual commitments if you want to move from colocation to
managed, or even to cloud. Migrating to a new, more advanced
or more efficient solution should not trigger a financial penalty.

How Close is my Colocation Provider’s Data Center?

A data center that is close to your company’s offices is a
common requirement for companies shopping for colocation services. But the advantages go well beyond providing easy access for your staff. Proximity to your location can help improve the performance of your IT infrastructure. If you are sending large volumes of data from your primary site to your colocation environment, distance matters. A site that is physically close reduces data replication issues. Minimizing latency delays has always been important for application performance. As chatty applications - meaning those applications that wait for server acknowledgment or perform a number of small transactions - continue to become widespread, any latency issues become exacerbated and can severely impact performance.

Proximity can help reduce the effect these latencies have on your applications. In addition to having a center close by, the ability to tap into a network of other centers can help make your IT more resilient. Look for a provider that has a data center near you and also has multiple options to provide locations that are as far away as required from your primary site.

When you can deploy colocation environments across geographies to back up data, run additional instances of applications and circumvent local weather or power disruptions, you have a solid foundation for business continuity planning. If you need to deploy colocation environments in other locations, a provider with a global footprint will more likely be present in the major markets you need to serve.

When it comes to the availability of physical space, make sure that the provider has additional capacity in case you need to build out your environment. Having the option to expand your space in the future can save you significant time and costs, compared with deploying with a different provider or moving to another data center. Look for providers that are well funded to invest in additional build-outs for the data center. Providers that do their builds on a modular basis keep a tighter control on costs but are ready to expand to meet client needs.

Connectivity Options Between my Site and the Colocation Data Center?

Colocation is more than just racking and stacking your equipment in a data center and adding a network connection. Without highly reliable and redundant network connectivity, your IT performance will suffer. A provider with a full range of connectivity options can ensure all your locations get the access they need to your colocation environment and can provide networking between all of your company's locations.


A provider that owns and operates its network end-to-end can provide full visibility across the network, allowing you greater control to optimize infrastructure performance. Such a provider can deliver integrated network and colocation solutions, which enable a superior IT environment for your applications.

While some providers may route your traffic over the open Internet, which may be fine for some uses, make sure the provider you select gives you the option of using a highly secure, private network for your critical business data.

Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities are important as well, as they allow you to fine-tune your traffic prioritization and ensure the high quality transmission required for voice, video and other performance sensitive applications. For example, a provider that has its data centers "on-net," or fully integrated into their network, can provide a direct connection from your locations to the data center. This reduces latencies, increases application performance and provides a better user experience for your customers, suppliers, partners and internal users.

Such Tier 1 connectivity can directly connect you to the global Internet without making multiple hops through different providers. The
result is superior peering, speed and interconnectivity, so your users are served content more quickly.

Look for a provider with an advanced global IP-based MPLS network, so you have the highest levels of reliability across the core network. MPLS allows you to integrate across all of your sites, even if you are using legacy protocols at some locations. Fast re-route capabilities make MPLS networking perfect for high transaction processing environments. To ensure security, make sure your provider can support Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Having an integrated network and colocation services provider can also speed incident resolution. With a single operational support team, you do not have to work multiple escalation paths at different suppliers and can have a single service manager as point of contact for all your requests.

It is also critical that your provider has carrier diversity at their data centers if you are running applications that have this requirement to ensure reliable and redundant network connectivity. Make sure your colocation provider can offer you advanced networking capabilities so you can meet your application performance and uptime requirements. Dynamic routing allows you to rapidly adapt the flow of your traffic across carriers and routes to efficiently manage multiple network providers. Burstable bandwidth enables you to immediately scale the connectivity to your colocation environment to help you efficiently handle surges in usage, and can provide a huge boost to customer experience and internal user satisfaction. Dual paths increase redundancy and prevent outages due to circuit failures.

How Does my Colocation Provider Ensure Security and Compliance?

As you design your environment to be secure, don't forget the importance of physical security measures in the data center. Your provider should use current technologies like biometric scanners, card readers and video monitors, as well as mantraps, to prevent unauthorized access. Installing your own cameras with the ability to remotely monitor the activity in your colocation cage not only enhances security but is also an efficient way to better control your environment - and that should be something your provider can enable. People add a layer of security, too; providers that staff their centers 24/7 with trained security personnel, instead of relying solely on automated systems, offer an important extra level of protection.

Beyond the physical security of the center, look for providers than can augment your security with services like DDoS protection, network security and threat detection. Professional services that can test, evaluate and remediate security vulnerabilities can help you increase your ability to withstand intrusions.

Your provider should also be compliant with any regulatory requirements for your industry and know the ins and outs in a continually shifting regulatory environment. The data centers should be compliant with SSAE 16 service controls. Publically traded companies should seek providers that meet SOX. Any company providing ecommerce needs to meet PCI security standards. If you are in an industry that requires specific compliance credentials, such as FISMA in financial services, or HIPAA for healthcare providers, make sure your provider can meet these stringent requirements.

If you need colocation services in a geographic location that has high risk factors, make sure your provider has addressed them. For example, if you are locating resources in an area prone to earthquake activity, the data center you select should use seismic-compliant construction techniques.

What Kind of Support Resources are Available?

Providers that simply give you space and an electrical hook-up may seem, at first glance, to provide a lower cost structure, but they will require you to staff up or pay for services that full colocation service providers include with their offering. Make sure you examine the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of each of your alternatives. In a true colocation services environment, the provider should address security, provide power and cooling, perform facility management and be able to deliver these services with a Service Level Agreement (SLA). An SLA imposes financial penalties on the provider if they fail to meet agreed-upon service metrics.

On-site support that is available 24/7 provides quick response for emergency re-boots or other issues when your staff is not in the center, and can help prevent minor incidents from escalating into larger issues. These types of remote hands are sometimes offered on a premium basis that guarantees specific service levels; the availability of such services can help you meet your response time requirements.

Many, if not most, companies find it takes time to stand up their environment and migrate applications.

Look for a contract that gives you the option to fill space over a period of time. This can reduce costs and allow you to adapt to changing business conditions - so you can increase or decrease the speed at which you deploy into the center

Providers that offer services to help you move in, and can assist with hardware racking and stacking or cabling, can help make your deployment go smoothly and reduce migration time. Structured cabling programs provide installations that meet standards for design and testing, ensure better performance of your infrastructure and enable future changes to be made quickly. If you are a mid-sized or large company, you know that "one size fits all" does not apply to your IT needs.

Find a provider that understands the complex relationships of your specific business processes, IT governance model, application stack and security needs. Your provider should operate in a way that is consistent with your internal controls, the processes you utilize for change management and how you respond to incidents.

How closely these processes are aligned can make a big difference in how well a provider will meet your colocation needs on a day-to-day basis.

The experience of the on-site data center staff will have a
significant impact on the level of support you receive when you
need it. Data center management is a complex task that requires specialized skills across a wide number of domains, such as security, power distribution, networking and hardware and software management. Make sure your provider has the skilled staff for all of the key data center capabilities, and they do not simply manage vendors that come in to service the data center systems. Engineers and technicians who are highly trained and certified, with extensive experience in data center management will provide you with dependable service that improves your uptime. Providers that offer managed hosting and cloud services are often better suited to help with your colocation needs, as their data center staff is trained and experienced to support complex environments.

Make sure your provider has standard, documented processes and practices in place for all their activities, like maintenance and change management. Such standardization drives better performance and uptime. A provider with a portal that supports trouble ticketing and reporting can help you better manage your environment. Remote management increases your IT staff's efficiency and also enables you to be proactive and resolve incidents before they affect the performance and availability of your applications.

Setting up a new environment is a complex undertaking, and missteps can reverberate for years. Providers that have the expertise to assist you in the design of your new environment, and can customize an installation based on your needs, ease the installation process and simplify future maintenance.

Details matter: having a cooling expert involved in the initial design can greatly improve cooling efficiency by using optimal rack design and other techniques. A provider can help you reduce power consumption by suggesting ways to move to configurations driven by green IT principles, such as improving server density during the design phase of your environment. Given that your staff may be spending significant time at the data center, look for a provider that offers workspace, lounges and conference rooms where your staff can connect laptops or take a conference call. These amenities provide a comfortable work environment and keep your staff productive.

What are the Power and Cooling Capabilities of the Center that will House my Equipment?

Power is a critical data center element, so look for a provider that has a 100 % uptime SLA for power and redundant power systems. Providers that can offer this assurance have engineered their N+1 systems with concurrently maintainable power resources, so they provide uninterrupted power during both routine maintenance, and when any power source is brought off-line. The provider should be able to not only deliver the power you need today, but the power to meet your future needs.

Providers that cannot adequately power their space will limit your options as you seek to grow your colocation installation or migrate to new servers with higher power requirements. Your provider should offer transparency and detail in its billing. Providers that offer options for billing your power based upon distribution of power circuits, or metered power, can help reduce your costs, depending on your configuration and power requirements.

Server power demands are increasing, and so is the power consumption in today's high-density server environments. It is important that the center has efficient cooling systems, and the provider continues to invest in new cooling technologies to protect your hardware. Look for cooling techniques like hot and cold aisles that provide a front to back cooling profile with blanking plates. Also, proper air containment designs and cooling walls promote cooling and can help avoid hot-spots in your cage. Improved cooling can also extend the life of your equipment and improve performance by reducing hardware failures. Make sure the center meets your required standard ranges for temperature and humidity. A provider that can participate with you to integrate cooling techniques into the design, operation or upgrading of your environment, can help you promote the green initiatives of your company.

Summary

As described in each of the six considerations, there are significant differences in colocation service providers - from staffing to connectivity to geography. With the availability and performance of your business applications riding on the selection of a provider, make sure you select one that can help you meet your goal of 100 % uptime. Colocation is a long-term commitment, and the cost and business disruption that comes from moving installations makes the right selection critical.

CenturyLink has been providing colocation services to large clients for more than 15 years, and has deep expertise and a strong track record of delivering high performance IT environments.

As a full service provider, CenturyLink brings the flexibility required to deliver the solutions you need today and the vision to help get you where you need to be in the future.

Our assets include over 50 global data centers, a global network that delivers high levels of security and availability, and a seasoned team of professionals who deliver IT solutions that improve business performance. Our areas of specialization include colocation, managed services, cloud, security and networking.

About CenturyLink Business

CenturyLink, Inc. is the third largest telecommunications
company in the United States. Headquartered in Monroe, LA,
CenturyLink is an S&P 500 company and is included among the
Fortune 500 list of America's largest corporations. CenturyLink
Business delivers innovative private and public networking and
managed services for global businesses on virtual, dedicated
and colocation platforms. It is a global leader in data and voice
networks, cloud infrastructure and hosted IT solutions for
enterprise business customers.

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