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Q&A: Using a colocation data center for DR

In this Q&A, independent disaster recovery expert Paul Kirvan discusses specific issues organizations should consider before choosing a colocation data center for DR.

Colocation data centers can serve as geographically separate DR sites for organizations that cannot set up a secondary data center and do not want to use a cloud DR service. While there are certainly benefits this approach, organizations have to resolve some questions, such as who will have access to data and will it be available if a DR situation arises.

In this Q&A, disaster recovery expert Paul Kirvan delves into the DR-related issues that arise from colocation data centers.

Why do organizations opt for colocation over keeping DR in-house?

Cost (e.g., floor space, utilities, HVAC, hardware, staffing) is usually the key factor in a decision to locate IT assets elsewhere. A collocation facility can make sense as a low-cost second data center where secondary systems can be housed. However, many organizations will prefer to keep DR operations completely in-house and it's likely to be a while before organizations will sufficiently trust third parties that they will take a totally hands-off approach to managing IT assets. Negatives for collocation solutions may include concerns about data protection, hidden costs, and lack of knowledge about who has access to company data.

What are the specific considerations for choosing a colocation provider for DR?

Look for providers that have other clients using their facility for disaster recovery purposes. The location of the site with respect to potential disasters (e.g., near a rail line, near an elevated highway, near a busy traffic intersection, near a fuel storage facility, or in a flood zone or other potential natural hazard) is also an important consideration. You should also consider what services are provided, documented experience and credentials of staff, references from satisfied customers, pricing options, support for service-level agreements, adherence to established good practice principles, and documented compliance with industry standards and regulations.

What are the benefits -- or drawbacks -- of choosing colocation over cloud-based DR?

Both locate critical IT assets away from where they can be physically monitored and managed by the customer; this may be the most critical hurdle to overcome.  It may be possible to save money by eliminating or reducing the footprint needed for IT operations management, but the cost of saving money versus possible damage to critical intellectual property (IP) must be carefully weighed. With greater security provisions and experience by third-party service providers, it's quite likely that more organizations will opt for third-party management of their IT assets.

Are there any hidden costs associated with colocation that users need to be aware of?

Assuming that the proposed vendor has a policy of full disclosure of all its costs and fees, users should not be concerned about hidden costs. Have an attorney review all contract documents before signing. Have service-level agreements that spell out how one's assets and investments can be protected if the third-party fails to perform according to contract. If insurance is available that covers these kinds of solutions, consider investing in it.

Is there a certain point where enterprises are basically too big to use a colocation provider for DR?

It's hard to specify a cross-over point, e.g., for number of servers, number of communications lines, number of storage devices, amount of storage required, or SAN bandwidth required. With increased use of virtualization, the amount of hardware needed for a large firm to support its business operations can be dramatically reduced over time.

For the most part, though, very large firms are likely to be fundamentally more interested in maintaining a certain level of hands-on management of their IT assets. That strategy is not likely to change.

Do colocation providers offer visibility into systems remotely? Or is that just something you have to set up on your own, or assign staff to work at the remote location?

This is a service that vendors may be able to offer, and there may be an added cost for such a capability. Users should be prepared to proactively and dynamically manage their IT assets, even if they are physically located elsewhere.


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