Colocation Basics - Determining Colocation Needs
Once your business has decided to colocate, several decisions must be made in order to determine the exact level of service required. How much bandwidth do we need? How many rack spaces? Are we going to expand quickly? Do we need to keep spare components on site?
Probably the most misunderstood and overestimated component of colocation service is bandwidth. Bandwidth is loosely defined as the number of bits that are transmitted across a line, usually expressed in Kbps, Mbps or Gbps. Most advanced colocation providers supply bandwidth in the form of a dedicated connection requiring colocated customers to commit to a minimum monthly usage level. Some providers offer unthrottled or burstable bandwidth. Burstable service is extremely risky for the novice as lax security can easily open the door for a hacker to compromise your systems. It doesn't take very long for a compromised server to utilize an excessive amount of bandwidth. Excessive bandwidth utilization can lead to some extremely high and unexpected overage charges. Providing dedicated throttled bandwidth is better for the provider as well. Since connections are dedicated for colocated customer's use, a single compromised customer does not lead to performance degradation for all other customers. It is far safer to commit to a bandwidth utilization level. You can always increase your connection speed if necessary. Increasing bandwidth takes only a few changes to some basic router settings. A reputable provider can do this in a matter of minutes.
The biggest single misconception that colocation prospects have regarding bandwidth is that more is better. That is only true to a point. Any provider that would claim to offer unlimited bandwidth at a fixed price has something to hide and you can be sure that whatever they are hiding will rear it ugly head at the worst possible moment. We have had potential clients contact us regarding colocation and request 50, 100 or even 500 Mbps of Internet connectivity. After further questioning, we learn that they will use all this bandwidth to host a few low-volume web sites on a server while they build their hosting business. More bandwidth is better only as your servers begin to experience larger numbers of visitors or if your business is required to transfer large volumes of data on a regular basis. It is much better to start out with a 1 or 2 Mbps connection and increase the bandwidth as needed. A reputable colocation services provider will provide bandwidth to your equipment via a dedicated 100 or 1000 Mbps Ethernet connection. Those providers offering pricing that seems too good to be true often connect colocated customers to 10 Mbps connections on shared 10 Mbps Ethernet hubs making it nearly impossible to ever utilize the excessive amount of data transfer offered with the monthly service. Reputable providers will provide colocated clients with a dedicated Ethernet port that is throttled only at a single point. It is even better if a provider configures each colocated client with their own private VLAN. This effectively isolates each colocated customer within that facility.
A connection parameter that is far more important than bandwidth speed is latency. Latency is the time it takes for a data packet to travel from the source to its destination. Good latencies for mutlihop Internet connections are somewhere between 25 and 85 ms. LAN latencies should not exceed 2 ms. If a chosen provide has extremely high latencies, packets fail to reach their destination and must be resent. This results in unnecessary network traffic and extremely sluggish performance. It is far better to have a slower connection speed with a low latency than a higher connection speed with a high latency.
Many times, a business that has decided to colocate is not exactly sure how many rack spaces it will need. A rack space is also known as 1U or one rack unit. While it might seem obvious at first, there are some variables to consider. These variables include:
- Number of rack spaces used by servers
- Rack spaces used by Ethernet switches, VPN devices, KVM devices and other equipment
- Rack spaces used by power management (outlet switching) devices
- Rack spaces reserved for ongoing growth as more equipment is needed.
Underestimating the number of rack spaces your business requires could lead to some undesirable problems. Suppose your business initially contracts for 12 rack spaces. You equipment is delivered and installed at the provider's data center. After 3 months, you realize that you need an additional 12 rack spaces. Problem is, in the 3 months since you contracted your original 12 rack spaces, the provider has filled all the adjacent rack spaces leaving your business with no room to grow. In order to consolidate, the provider will need to move your equipment. For mission-critical services, this could be disastrous.
Server Configuration Assistance
Is your colocation provider willing to work with you to ensure that your equipment is properly and optimally configured? This level of service might include router configuration, network topology planning, database server connectivity, VPN or firewall configuration and other critical network services. Be sure you discuss your potential configuration needs with any colocation provider you are considering.
Do you have the complete specifications for the equipment you plan to colocate? This should include the power consumption and power connection requirements for each piece of colocated equipment. In some cases, a colocation provider will need to schedule an electrical install in order to accomodate your colocated equipment. Additional install charges or additional monthly charges might be incurred. In addition, many of the newer blade servers have very different power and cooling requirements and many colocation service providers are not equipped to handle these types of servers.
Does your colocation provider offer remote hands services? Remote hands service is critical when your equipment experiences hardware failure, requires an upgrade, needs software installed or any other service that cannot be handled remotely. One might assume that all data centers are staffed with technicians that are available 24x7 and ready at all times to assist with your service needs. This is not the case. The best colocation service providers offer remote hands services and provide these types of services on short notice.
Equipment that you might be required to purchase or lease include firewall devices, routers, switches, IPS, content filters, etc. Ask questions and work with potential colocation service providers before you make the wrong choice. Make sure that you clearly layout your expectations and ask questions. Don't assume that colocation centers provide everything. You must ask the right questions. The better colocation centers will have a technical staff that will work closely with you to plan you network and provide your business with the right colocation solution.
Will you need DNS services? IPS? A firewall? VPN services? Email hosting? Content filtering? Better providers will be able to provide these services "a la carte" as part of a complete colocation solution. Plan for these services in advance. Providing them is not difficult but a colocation services provider needs to know what you need before your equipment arrives on their dock.