What should you know about colocation services

Cloud symbol overlaying servers in a data center - colocation services
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Colocation services have moved on. Yes, you still have the option of the empty warehouse to fill as you will. But today you have many more choices, right up to the more sophisticated colocation data centers that run warm and cold aisles, ecologically protecting your business-critical hardware from warm exhaust air.

About the author

Terry Storrar is Managing Director UK at Leaseweb.

According to a May 2020 report from ResearchAndMarkets.com, the colocation market is set almost to double by 2025, reaching a projected value of GBP 36.2 billion. If nothing more, colocation is a hot one to watch. And future trends in colocation services are shifting as factors such as COVID-19, 5G and AI computing-as-a-service are changing workforce operations, systems management and business requirements for secure, low latency, high-powered technology.

Whether you’re reviewing your existing colocation services or considering them for the first time, what do you need to know? Firstly…

What is colocation?

Colocation services are data center services where you locate your own servers and other computing hardware and storage systems in an offsite, third-party data center. Typically, you pay a monthly fee for five key elements, which include:

Floor space This may or may not include racks and cabinets for equipment.

Physical security You should expect 24/7 surveillance and on-site guards. Biometric authorization is common among newer data centers.

Power To reduce the risk of downtime, modern data centers usually provide redundant power sources backed by an emergency electrical Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) system and a good old-fashioned diesel generator for that extra piece of mind.

Networking Most data centers still expect you to arrange and manage your own Internet connectivity, which isn’t always practical depending on your internal resources. For example, you may not want to spare the manpower or time to set up and manage contracts with multiple carriers or telecoms providers and so on.

A colocation service that offers a network service spares you that time and hassle. They provide you with uplinks to your platform while they handle the routing and contracts. You would expect this type of service to offer 24/7 support.

Cooling Colocation services can lower the power costs for cooling, especially as some data centers are starting to invest in more ecologically sound technologies, whose lower costs are shared across multiple customers. These sophisticated cooling systems not only help protect your hardware by keeping it at the optimum temperature, they also avoid wasting energy – warm and cold aisles are used appropriately.

How much more cost-effective can colocation be?

Using a colocation service lowers the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for your business. It cuts down costs of utility bills, infrastructure, and physical space, not to mention the costs of your team managing the facility and troubleshooting. You will then have more time to concentrate on company specific goals and innovation.

Using a modern colocation service can also be a simple way of reaping the benefits of the latest technology without having to front the costs, helping your business keep up and get ahead of the competition. You avoid capital expenditure and instead have a single, manageable monthly expense, taking advantage of the economies of scale that come with using a colocation service where costs are shared among all customers.

Other benefits to using colocation services

Business continuity and security The advanced recovery solutions for power and infrastructure that modern colocation services offer, help ensure your data is available at all times – or at least for an often guaranteed 99.9% of the time. And simply by having your data in a separate geographical location helps with business continuity, as it helps protect your data against fire, flooding and so on. If you have an emergency at your usual site, the business can still operate from elsewhere with continued access to the data held at your offsite data center.

Scalability If scalability is important to your business, you can benefit from the bandwidth that a colocation service offers. It’s so much easier and faster to scale in a hosted data center, and the costs per Mbit will be lower. This can make colocation a smart choice for the sole-trader who is preparing to scale up just as much as for an SMB or Enterprise operation.

Service and support A colocation service gives you cost-effective access to outsourced expertise, services and support all in one service level agreement (SLA). You can either choose to have your own technicians handle maintenance and emergencies, in which case you may want to consider building a degree of redundancy into the infrastructure. Or you can often hire a remote pair of hands with your colocation service provider, and they can replace defective components etc.

This is sometimes done on a pay-per-use contract. In terms of cost and resource allocation, if your business has relatively stable needs it will be better suited to colocation than on-premises hosting.

Three elements driving future trends in colocation services include:

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic
  2. 5G technology
  3. AI computing-as-a-service

The third is quite literally driving trends, as electrical vehicle manufacturing is about to hit the roads in a major way and drivers will expect constant communications to support AI assistants such as Siri or Alexa, as well as features like navigation and software updates. Low latency and data center support will be key for this journey, both of which colocation services can deliver.

COVID-19 has already shifted the business-critical data center specialist to key worker status, and more data centers have improved and increased their remote management tools. For example, telephone support, ticket support and many customer operations are often now managed off-site. The same for cooling systems, which can be managed remotely, with staff alerted to spikes or alarms from their remote working stations.

When it comes to colocation data center staff attending onsite, biometric fingerprint locks are being replaced by eye scanners to lower the risk of spreading the virus through touch. This is important, especially when customer organizations can’t always rely on their own staff to attend the colocation center - to replace a hard drive, for example - so the use of remote hands has shot up during the pandemic.

Again, with more staff working from home, a lot of organizations are downsizing their office space. Co-location is a flexible option and particularly pertinent for industries such as healthcare and education, which are highly affected by coronavirus restrictions such as stay-at-home mandates.

Finally, 5G is enabling super-fast and affordable wired connections to colocation data centers. Workers should be able to work better whether they are in the office, remote or on the move. Similarly, increasing interconnections with cloud computing services is speeding up access for businesses to the edge of their networks, which will deliver faster services with lower latency.

Gartner’s research paper entitled Your data center may not be dead, but it’s morphing, predicts that by 2025, 85% of infrastructure strategies will integrate on-premises, colocation, cloud and edge delivery options, compared with 20% in 2020.

Whether you need to scale from 30 to 200 servers, you are looking for a competitive edge for the business, or if you simply want to outsource the costs, management and security of your data environment, it’s probably worth looking into colocation services.

Terry Storrar, Managing Director at Leaseweb UK.