Tuesday 3 April 2012

Everything you want to know about colocation - Part 3

So, you have a great business idea for selling Cloud based services and have invested money in purchasing your new server hardware and software. So what happens next?

Well, there are a few things to think about before a server can be collocated such as;

How will the server physically fit into the rack? – All hardware equipment in a Data Centre is kept in rack space. These racks have mounting brackets so that servers with rack mounting kits can be screwed into position. Some servers are not rack mountable and would therefore require a shelf within the rack to sit on. Rack shelves usually cost extra as they are non-standard but that said, most modern servers do have rack mount kits available as an option along with side rails so that they easily fit into the racks themselves.

Who will install the server? – Some Data Centres will insist that you deliver and install your own equipment whilst others are more flexible and may offer to arrange for a courier to pick up your server and then install it on your behalf, at a cost of course, whereas others may include free installation so long as you sign up for a minimum 12 month contract term.

What about IP addresses? – When you have a device on the internet, it will need an address so that it can be contacted. The internet uses ‘IP Addresses’ for this purpose and your Data Centre can supply these as part of your co-location package. Sometimes more than one IP address is required and in some cases addition IP requirement cost extra or require written justification as to the need for many IP addresses. Some Data Centres however include a reasonable amount of addresses at no extra cost.

How much will I have to pay? – How long is a piece of string? It all depends really and there are many different factors which can affect the price for collocation. Some Data Centres charge for physical space i.e. the more rack space the equipment takes up, the more it costs to co-locate. Others charge on power consumption so it is worth bearing this in mind when purchasing hardware, especially if it is second hand or older kit as they are usually are a lot less energy efficient and can cost a small fortune to co-locate. Some Data Centres will also charge for high bandwidth or data transfer usage whilst some will use a mixture of all of the above to calculate their prices. As a rough guide most Data Centres start their collocation packages at around £50 per month and this would be for a 1U* server with low to average power consumption of around 0.5amps.

What is a service level agreement (SLA)? – Typically a SLA is a guarantee from the Data Centre that they will provide a service that will be consistent, reliable and have a realistic uptime. Failure to meet the service level agreement often results in a financial penalty in the form of a refund or credit for the Data Centre, which means that it really is in their best interests to ensure that the core services such as internet connection, power and cooling do not suffer or go down. Most Data Centres have efficient alerting systems in place so that they can catch any problems as soon as they occur and either fix or use an alternative method to deliver the faulty service.

How will my server be protected from hackers? – The most obvious answer to this is to use some kind of firewall device, one that can protect against such attacks. You can supply your own or, if you have limited firewall experience, most Data Centres can offer a managed firewall service at an additional cost. There are also many software firewalls available, especially with some of the open source operating systems such as Linux.

How do I choose the right Data Centre for me? – The best way to get started is to search on Google for collocation, colocation or co-location in your chosen locality and you will get a good range of options. Some will have an online price calculator or perhaps a list of standard package prices so you can get an idea of how much it is going to cost you. However, I would recommend asking yourselves these questions before contacting them;

  • Do I need easy access at short notice?
  • How long would it take me to travel to the Data Centre in the event of an emergency?
  • How long a contract term am I prepared to commit to?
  • What are the Data Centres chances of going out of business?
  • Do the staff seem knowledgeable from a technical point of view?
  • How will and how soon will I be alerted if there is a problem?
  • Do I need to give notice if I wish to cancel my contract and if so, how long?
  • Will my data transfer requirement increase over time?
  • Is there onsite technical help in case of an emergency if I can’t physically get to the Data Centre?

I also think that it is important to speak to the people who are running the Data Centre so you get a feel for what they are like as people, or better still try to arrange a site visit so that you can look at the facilities and make sure that they meet up to any expectations which are portrayed on their website. A good Data Centre should have systems in place so that very little, if anything at all goes wrong which means that regular contact and support issues are kept to a bare minimum.

The need for collocation is increasing on a daily basis as internet connections become faster and more reliable, the benefits are becoming all too clear and companies are buying into the concept of ‘Cloud Services’. I hope this article has shed new light on what co-location is and how it plays an integral part in the Cloud.

*”U” or “RU” refers to a defined unit of space within a data rack and ‘1U’ occupies 1.75” or 44.45mm of space. In more simple terms it takes up 3 hole spaces on the standard rack side rails. Some servers can come in 1U sized cases and are often referred to as ‘pizza boxes’ as they do resemble an actual pizza box. Most full height racks are 42U so in theory they could host 42 1U sized servers.

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