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How to Choose a Colocation Provider

By: Blair Felter on April 5, 2019

Selecting the right colocation provider is a complicated and difficult decision for many organizations. They must consider both their current and future data needs as well as how colocating will affect their existing IT resources and customer services. In the long run, colocating with a data center offers tremendous flexibility and savings, especially for companies that might not be in a position to build and maintain their own data facilities.

Regardless of an organization’s needs, however, there are a few questions they should take into consideration when selecting a colocation provider.

Questions To Ask Your Colocation Provider

Where is the Data Center Located?

One of the most important considerations when selecting a colocation provider is the data center’s physical location. Much of this will depend upon a company’s specific needs. If the data center is being used primarily for storage and cloud access, it should be located somewhere close to the client’s main headquarters. Choosing a colocation data center that’s within easy driving distance allows an organization’s IT staff to have ready access to the facility. If, on the other hand, a company needs its facility to provide services to customers, an edge data center located as near to the intended end users as possible to minimize latency issues would be ideal.

Is the Data Center Vulnerable to Natural Disasters?

Potential customers need to consider whether the data center’s location leaves it vulnerable to natural disasters. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes are just a few environmental hazards that could cause damage to a colocation facility, resulting in costly downtime or even loss of valuable data. While every data center should have a disaster recovery plan in effect, it’s even more important to know the details of their plans when the facility is located in a higher risk area.

Are They Committed to Sustainability?

Sustainability is a critical issue for many companies with an eye toward the future. Colocation providers who put the effort into developing sustainable practices are ideal partners for organizations committed to establishing innovative and environmentally-friendly policies. Data centers with green power programs are constantly looking for new ways to deliver services as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. Smart cooling systems and predictive artificial intelligence (AI) analytics, for example, can help reduce power usage without sacrificing performance, and many data centers purchase and support green power production locally by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits.

How Many Data Centers Do They Have?

While a company may only need a single data center for colocation purposes, many providers can offer better service and reliability when that data center is part of a larger network of facilities. This is especially valuable for companies utilizing multi-data center strategies. Connected data centers can ensure that data is protected should one facility suffer a failure as the result of a natural or man-made disaster. If a company is looking to provide edge computing services, choosing a provider with multiple data centers located in key markets across the country greatly expands its flexibility and ensures that latency concerns remain minimal.

Are They Carrier-Neutral?

A carrier-neutral data center allows customers to connect to multiple internet connectivity providers housed within the facility rather than being locked in with a single network provider. In addition to driving down costs through increased competition, having access to multiple carriers allows companies to set up network redundancies and change carriers should their business needs change over time. While single carrier data centers offer some benefits in the form of uniformity within their network, committing to a “locked” environment could make it difficult (and expensive) to adapt in the future

How Good is Their Physical Security?

Physical security is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of data center services. Good security begins with the location of the facility itself. It should be clear of obstructions so the approach can be easily monitored. The perimeter should also be secured by fencing or walls with a single entry point, and strict guidelines need to be in place to determine who can access the facility and when. Other forms of physical protection include security staff, external and internal cameras with memory back-ups, and multi-step authentication incorporating biometric scanners.

Can They Scale With Your Needs?

A colocation provider should be able to accommodate growth. One of the biggest advantages of colocating with a data center is that it saves companies the massive costs of building and maintaining their own facility and equipment. Expanding operations capacity should be as simple as purchasing more space and power in the data center. Organizations need to be realistic about their projected growth to make sure they don’t outgrow their colocation provider within a year or two.

How Good is Their Connectivity?

One of the major advantages of a colocation data center is the connectivity options they can provide for even a small business with limited resources. The ability to connect to a variety of internet service providers (ISPs) and cloud services over a low latency cross connect opens up a world of business possibilities. Direct external connections with data center services like Microsoft’s Azure ExpressRoute can also help provide the edge companies need in a competitive market.

Can They Build the Network Solutions You Need?

Many companies need more from a colocation data center than just a place to store their servers. Their businesses may demand network solutions that maximize their data security while also giving them access to scalable cloud computing services. For these companies, hybrid cloud and multi-cloud deployments can deliver the best of both worlds. A good colocation provider should be able to build whatever network solution they need to maximize business results.

Do They Meet Your Compliance Requirements?

Many companies must take regulatory considerations into account when doing business online. If they intend to process customer payments or handle sensitive customer information through their colocation provider, they need to make sure the provider’s data centers comply with federal guidelines. A good data center should be able to produce the appropriate certificates/attestations to prove they are in compliance with requirements such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, and SSAE-18 Type II.

How Good is Their Technical Support?

Organizations place a great deal of trust in a colocation provider. They need a partner who can respond to problems quickly and efficiently. It’s very important to know what level of technical support a data center provides to its customers. Some level of 24x7x365 monitoring and support should be in place, and ideally the data center will have technical staff on-site around the clock to provide services address any issues. A good colocation provider offers a high level of transparency, offering customers tools to monitor their equipment at all times and providing authorized access with minimal delay.

What is Their Service Level Agreement?

A Service Level Agreement (SLA) spells out a data center’s commitment to its clients, detailing the uptime and availability it will provide. Potential customers should study these agreements carefully and take special care to review how well the colocation provider has maintained them. If a provider claims to offer 99.9999% uptime, but has only consistently maintained that level of service for six months, they may not have the same level of service and expertise as a provider who has maintained the same level of uptime for several years.

Entering into a relationship with a colocation provider is a big step for any organization, but one that presents enormous opportunities. By asking the right questions from the beginning, they can ensure that they’re partnering with a data center that can provide services to meet both their immediate needs and afford them the ability to grow in the future.

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