How to Choose the Right Colocation Data Center To Address Current and Future Needs
Selecting a colocation data center is an important decision for a company, and for good reason. They are trusting a colocation provider to protect some of their most expensive and fundamental business resources and enable 24/7 operations without fail. They are also signing a contract that can have a term of one to five years. This means providers must be positioned to meet an organizations’ IT needs presently and into the future.
When touring and evaluating colocation data centers, they can all start to look the same. They have many of the same features, and every colocation provider will show them on every tour. But, there are essential details to look out for to see if a data center will meet an organization’s needs. IT infrastructure managers should ask about these six features in their evaluation process to help them make the best choice for their organization.
IT leaders first want 100% uptime and availability from their colocation provider. Colocation providers can offer different levels of redundancy with combinations of power and cooling system paths that provide varying guarantees of availability. We will examine this more closely in the next section and focus on the colocation provider’s track record at the facility under consideration and their standard operating MOPs and SOPs.
Even if a colocation provider has built the most robust, redundant, and secure data center, it is not entirely reliable without meticulous management and a 100% uptime SLA.
When interviewing potential colocation providers, ask for their uptime records since opening the data center. They should be able to provide this information. If they did experience an outage, ask how they handled it. Were all customers continuously updated? How long did the outage last? Also, ask potential providers for references from current or previous customers that can vouch for them.
In addition, to track records, ask colocation providers about their SOPs. How often do they run different tests for power outages, network outages, etc? Do they regularly practice emergency procedures? Is there always staff onsite? These kinds of questions can help companies understand whom they’re partnering with and how seriously they run their data centers.
Many data centers may provide redundant equipment, such as UPSs and generators, to power IT equipment and support facility equipment in a grid failure. They also may have additional chillers and water pumps to serve as backup for cooling equipment. However, while data centers may have surplus equipment, maintenance, testing, and redundancy implementation can differ. Not all data centers offer fully redundant paths through the entire mechanical, electrical and cooling line.
When seeking a 2N redundant system, the mechanical, electrical, and network infrastructure and pathways must be fully mirrored, including redundant, diverse power feeds and power substations. The mirrored or backup systems can switch over for continuity in an outage or at a failure anywhere along the path. In other words, there is no single point of failure. It also means the data center has sufficient power and cooling equipment for every customer in their data center to have redundant resources. Some data center providers claim to be fully redundant, but they don’t have enough generator power, fuel, or UPS support to back up the entire facility.
Some colocation providers are stringent about how customer servers are set up within the shared space. Providers may enforce specific containment types, exclude lab space in cages, or offer only one type of redundancy to fit all customers. Therefore, it is helpful l to evaluate based upon flexibility measures; colocation providers can offer their customers customized environments options as well as flexible power configurations. Companies may have the opportunity to leverage N, N+1 redundancy without paying for more than they need.
When touring colocation facilities, ask providers to explain their redundant systems and customer options. Some companies may not require full redundancy and would be satisfied with N+1 and an SLA that offers a certain level of availability.
3. Power Options
The highest cost associated with any data center footprint is power. IT and infrastructure managers should understand their density needs now and five years into the future. High-performance computing needs will likely continue to grow as organizations incorporate more data processing and analytics into their operations and service offerings. Ask about the highest density per rack that potential colocation providers can accommodate.
IT managers should also estimate the kilowatt-hours their equipment consumes monthly and how that number is likely to change in the future. With this, managers can estimate costs with potential providers and determine the best rate structure for them. For example, some colocation providers charge flat rates for power while others charge by metered usage.
4. Network and Connectivity
Data centers can be substantial connectivity resources. Ask potential colocation partners how many network providers they offer access to in their data centers. If colocation providers work with multiple network providers, it creates a marketplace within the data center, giving customers the flexibility to choose providers based on solutions, pricing, reliability, and SLAs.
As businesses distribute their IT resources to optimize workflows and applications, hybrid strategies are preeminent, and it’s important to evaluate the cloud connectivity options. Ease of use and pricing may vary from facility to facility. Ask the provider about direction connectivity between their data centers for businesses that may consider multiple site deployments.
Lastly, ask about how the network infrastructure is delivered into the building. Are fiber routes redundant? How are the fiber routes protected? This information can help companies determine the level of network reliability the data center offers and if the latency requirements meet expectations.
There are several ways to evaluate whether a data center can support a company’s sustainability goals. Renewable power procurement is one of the top ways that data center providers can assist customers in meeting their own ESG mandates, offering renewable energy and onsite energy generation to offset the data center’s carbon footprint.
Sustainable data centers will also focus on maximizing energy use and minimizing energy loss by capturing and reusing the heat that IT equipment produces. They may be accomplished by using closed-loop cooling systems that utilize recycled water and reduce water loss through evaporation. Closed-loop systems also require less horsepower than open-loop systems. Hot-aisle and cold-aisle containment are also important for energy efficiency, as it does not allow hot air produced by equipment to spread throughout the data hall, making it easier to control the temperature with less energy. Lastly, ask about their backup power and fuel sources. How efficient are their UPS batteries? What kind of fuel do their generators consume and how regularly is equipment updated to leverage new efficiency innovation?
6. Transparency and Communication
One of the qualities that are more difficult to evaluate in a potential colocation provider is transparency. Yet, having a good match in the level of transparency a customer requires can be a considerable asset during the duration of the contract to ensure compatibility between the customer and the facility.
Here are a few considerations. Do they provide regular maintenance reports? Do they maintain open conference calls during emergency weather events? What kinds of reports can they provide their customers and how easy is it to access this information? One more concrete way to evaluate this is to ask if colocation providers use data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software to track efficiency in a transparent way. With modern DCIM tools and sensor technology, data center managers can easily monitor power usage and distribution, monitor cooling equipment, temperature, humidity levels, and network performance in real-time, and gain a deeper understanding of their power usage effectiveness (PUE).
Increased regulation and corporate sustainability targets will require detailed and accurate energy consumption analysis. DCIM visualization tools can provide the verification that will be needed to demonstrate compliance with regulations and show progress toward sustainability goals. They also make it easier to run data centers as efficiently as possible. Using the wealth of data collected by DCIM tools, it becomes possible to track, document, and reach energy-saving goals. Ask providers what types of reports they can provide. Another way to get an idea of a colocation provider’s level of communication is to ask them to provide references. Reach out to these contacts and ask about communication processes.
IT and infrastructure managers should keep these questions in mind as they tour multiple facilities to help distinguish between offerings that may appear to be very similar at first glance. Taking note of the answers can help prevent tours from blurring together and provide clear criteria to compare providers and make the best decision for the organization today and into the future.