Collocation centers (sometimes called carrier hotels) are a type of data center where multiple customers install network, server and data storage devices, and interconnect to a variety of telecommunications and other network service provider(s).
Today, collocation centers provide Internet access as well as other types of voice/data services. Depending on a company's size and IT requirements, a collocation facility can become the company's data center, provide a secondary site to the headquarters' data center that supports only certain critical systems, or provide a disaster recovery facility. This last option assumes the collocation site is sufficiently distant from the company's main location so that it will not be affected by the same disaster.
The value of collocation data centers in a disaster
Companies in both the private and public sectors are recognizing the benefits of collocating their mission-critical equipment in a suitably equipped data center. Similarly, the popularity of collocation continues to grow. Companies can save time and cost from sharing data center infrastructure resources and high-capacity network access. Significant benefits of scale (needed for large power and mechanical systems) result in large collocation facilities, typically 50,000 to 100,000 square feet. With IT and communications facilities in safe and secure locations, telecommunications, internet, application service provider (ASP) and content providers and companies of all sizes, enjoy improved system response times and the freedom to focus on their core business. These facilities also provide a secure disaster recovery capability so companies can locate IT backup assets, such as network services and data storage, in collocation centers.
Tips for selecting a collocation provider
It's important to chose a collocation provider wisely. Here are our top tips on selecting a reputable collocation partner.
- Choose a top quality Internet network. Ask the collocation provider(s) about their Internet network connection size and details.
- Choose a state-of-the-art facility. Make sure it has highly scalable and fast connections to the leading Internet backbones, redundant uninterruptible power system (UPS) and generator-backed electrical power, redundant HVAC systems and 24/7 on-site support.
- Choose a provider who's been around for a while. Find a collocation provider that has proven itself over time, especially with business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) incidents.
- Choose a provider with a good financial background. A financially sound company allows for better pricing and overall technical security because there are no hidden/excess charges attributed to alleviating company financial burdens. Choose a provider that has been consistently profitable for many years.
- Choose a provider with no extra fees. Look for providers that do not charge for up to ten Cat 5 cross-connects per customer cabinet, and offer free IP addresses with their service. Power for your collocated servers and equipment can often be included with collocation space without any hidden costs. Find a provider that will give you a fair rate on all the services and that does not rely on unnecessary costs.
- Choose a provider with a large backbone. To be rated a Tier 1 Internet backbone with the fastest connections possible, providers must have the largest backbone available on the market (OC192), and additionally have up to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) connections directly connected to hundreds of other national and international Internet networks to truly be redundant.
- Look into what security the provider offers. This includes digital surveillance cameras throughout the facility, card key locks at every entrance and exit, an enforced access list and personal locking cabinets.
- Look into whether the company specializes in collocation and business continuity/disaster recovery, or something else. A company that specifically sells collocation and BC/DR services is technically built to handle the necessities: maximum Internet speed, expansive space, security, and technical support.
- Look into the type of power protection the provider has. Providers should have continuous redundant UPS and generator-backed electrical power where backup battery banks are always online to keep the power on.
- Look into the provider's future plans. Successful collocation providers can handle customer requirements fairly easily. Research the pricing structures for future upgrades with various providers to know how you will be charged for additional business continuity/disaster recovery services and Internet bandwidth as you grow.
- Know their customers. Ask for a list of customers when researching collocation providers. Brand-name customers are a good sign. Speak to the provider's customers for their comments.
- Choose a collocation provider with internal equipment space. For maximum security, it is best to find a provider that offers secure locking cabinets to avoid any shared technical issues or even possible problems with theft.
- Choose a provider with several locations. Collocation providers that offer worldwide services may have a stronger backbone and can provide your firm with global BC/DR support not possible with a smaller provider.
What does a collocation center cost?
Monthly costs for collocation centers are based on numerous factors, such as space required, power, need for Internet access, bandwidth, and the need for IP addresses. Small data centers (under 400 square feet of space) could be as low as $1,500 to $2,500 per month. Larger installations (more than 5,000 square feet) will range from $25,000 to $35,000 per month. Be sure to have your initial and long term requirements carefully defined, and visit several providers to get the best price.
Using a collocation service for expanding your IT footprint and/or BC/DR capabilities is a worthwhile strategy. Providers are generally located in most major U.S. cities and offer a wide range of services. Be sure to consider collocation as part of your business continuity/disaster recovery program.
About this author: Paul F. Kirvan, FBCI, CBCP, CISSP, has more than 20 years experience in business continuity management as a consultant, author and educator. He is also secretary of the Business Continuity Institute USA Chapter.