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Density At Scale: Balancing Cost and Quality

By: Kaylie Gyarmathy on August 26, 2015

Companies are betting on colocation. According to Forbes, the global colocation data center market will be worth $36 billion by 2017, which represents a 58 percent increase over 2015. Part of the reason for this shift comes down to cost: Many businesses can no longer justify the expense of maintaining their own data centers or paying for space in a traditional off-site center.

There's a competing instinct, however, in the drive for higher quality; companies want colo services that offer value-added features to improve overall IT performance. When it comes to balancing cost and quality, where's the middle ground?

Playing Tetris

As noted by a recent Data Center Knowledge article, colocation providers must become very good at “playing Tetris”. Why? Because the model only works when customer hardware is positioned in such a way as to provide consistent performance while taking up minimal space. It's the idea of density at scale—ramping up the total number of client spaces available in a single site while still keeping power costs manageable and excess heat under control.

The problem? Not all colocation centers play by the same rules. Some entice companies with low prices but don't deliver the kind of service necessary to handle enterprise workloads. Others offer a host of managed and self-service options but at the upper end of cost, making this a hard sell for IT professionals trying to gain executive support.

Caveat Emptor

So how do companies make sure they're getting the right mix of cost and quality? First is knowledge of the basic rule, which applies to colo centers just like any other purchase: If you buy cheap, you get cheap. Reliable, high-performance technology infrastructure comes with a minimum cost; if a provider offers to beat this cost you need to know why. In some cases, it's a long-game scenario or a way to get businesses in the door but in almost all cases cheap equals poor quality.

It's also important to understand exactly what you're buying. If the primary purpose of your investment is to move server stack off company property to free up more space or reduce energy costs then you're buying colocation and may not need anything else. If you're looking for enhanced physical security, multiple carrier connectivity, and the ability to increase density on demand then you're buying colocation plus services and need a provider ready to meet this challenge.

As noted by Data Center Journal, you need to ask any prospective vendor a few critical questions.

First, find out if colocation is the provider's area of expertise or if they're simply running the service as a sidelight to other IT projects. In addition, always ask about the facility's lifecycle management and maintenance plans along with the maximum usage capacity of both mechanical and electrical systems. Using this information coupled with data about the cost of colo space it's possible to determine the real price of getting your services back up and running in the event of a data center disaster—essential knowledge if you're considering a move.

Density at scale is driving real growth in the colo market, but for companies to tap ROI advantage it's important to balance business-side needs for low cost against IT demands for superior quality.

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