Improving business resilience with colocation.

Peter Clarke
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On: 6 Jun 2019
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Offices are designed for people, but often, precious square footage is reserved for computer hardware: technology that supports essential services like incoming and outgoing calls, or software such as customer databases or financial systems.

This technology is vital for the business, but keeping it on-premise can actually pose risks to both the company and the technology. While many small and medium-sized businesses continue to keep critical systems on-site in a server room, there’s an affordable alternative: colocation, where key systems are housed in an off-site data centre that’s purpose-built to protect and house this technology.

It’s important to remember that colocation isn’t the same thing as cloud computing. By colocation, we simply mean locating your computers in someone else’s building. Cloud computing, on the other hand, means using someone else’s computers – which also has its own benefits. (Hybrid solutions are a blend: using a combination of your own software and hardware, in combination with cloud services).

Colocation, or colo for short, just means renting a tiny parcel of space in an off-site data centre, typically a rack or 1/2 rack; this is where you will set up and plug-in your servers, and where your IT person will go to do maintenance or make replacements as needed. Yet this relatively straightforward change to your systems’ housing arrangements can deliver significant benefits.

Why colocation over on-site housing?

1. Availability

If you want vital services to be up and running 24 hours a day with no interruption, colocation is the best choice. A data centre that provides colo will offer you a Service Level Agreement that promises 99.999% (also known as five-nines) up time for your systems. While large corporations might have members of staff on duty 24 hours a day, chances are your in-house IT person or outside IT consultant doesn’t work around the clock. Data centres are staffed 24-7, so if anything were to go wrong in the middle of the night with the electricity supply or an adverse weather event, the data centre team is alert and ready to make sure those events don’t affect the availability of your systems.

2. Temperature Control & Security

Computers generate lots of heat. On-site server rooms in an office building should be kept at an ideal temperature, not too cold or too hot, but heating and cooling problems can mean that someone ends up jamming a chair in the door and putting a fan on it, to keep the room cool until things can be fixed. Not ideal. Also, not secure, since anyone can then access the room. 3A colocation data centre can only be accessed by someone who is on the authorised list and has made an appointment in advance; there are fingerprint scanners and locks with PIN numbers at every stage. All this means that no one will access to the rack where your precious systems are housed, unless they’re there for a good reason.

4. Reliability

This centres around your Service Level Agreement. The SLA covers all of the environmental aspects of the colocation centre, including power supply, temperature and humidity, fire detection and suppression, and network connectivity. There’s simply no way that your own office building can deliver the same ideal environment for your computer systems – which, let’s face it, are touchy machines that dislike power cuts and torrential storms that can lead to leaky ceilings and short-circuits. A guaranteed SLA provides the continuity of service that means your networked systems and software will be available to your staff and customers whenever they need them.

4. Redundancy

This can take many shapes and forms, but essentially redundancy means belt and braces protection for your systems. A colocation centre has ingeniously laid cabling, for instance: what we call east and west routing, which means the power and connectivity to your rack are diversely routed in different directions out of the building, via discrete access points to multiple telecommunications carriers. Colo providers like Three also offer multiple data centres in different parts of the city, so you can house your computers in both centres and these can failover to each other: one will spring into action if the other meets a cataclysmic event, such as an explosion that destroys entire buildings.

Colocation and your IT team.

It’s important to remember that colocation doesn’t replace the need for your IT team. On the contrary, whether you use an in-house or external IT consultant, colo simply keeps the systems that the person is responsible for in an optimised physical environment. Remember that colo centres don’t tend to keep spare parts on site, for example. If your server dies, your IT person will still need to go on-site to make repairs and replacements.

Which is a good time to mention: anyone who attends the colo centre on your behalf needs to follow an established code of conduct which protects everyone whose equipment lives in the data centre. That covers everything from how your systems are cabled and labeled (clearly, according to the guidelines provided) to the amount of sloppy lunch food you’re allowed to bring onto the data centre floor (none, as you might expect).

Powering growth and reliability in your business

Colocation doesn’t decrease the amount of control or security you have over your business technology, it increases it. That 24-hour, optimised, climate-controlled environment for your systems is also available at a competitive price point, and much more affordably than you could build the same environment yourself.

As your business grows, you can simply extend your rack space in the colocation centre, and even move into other services which are already connected and ready to use at the centre, like Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure cloud services. You may also opt for a hybrid solution, blending own-hosted and cloud-hosted services.

If your business is looking at moving to the cloud, an important first step is colocation in a data centre: moving into a data centre gets you closer to the points of presence for the major cloud services, so it’s only a small step to access these, once you’re ready.

With your systems available around the clock in an ideal environment, you can also start to think about how to leverage this no-fail connectivity to do more with your business. Could you offer new, 24-hour services to your customers, or even move into other geographies and time zones, if you didn’t have to worry about connectivity, ever?

Colocation doesn’t just benefit the large enterprise or one particular sector, we’re seeing companies of all sectors, sizes and types transforming their business through colocation. If you have your sights set on growth, and you want the confidence that your systems are secure, scalable and available 24 hours a day, colocation just might be the ideal next step for your infrastructure.

For more information, call our Business Advice team on 1800 200 017 or