Grow your data center with colocation

It's quicker and a lot less expensive than building your own

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Licking latency

Another motivation for creating a new data center is to boost application responsiveness for regional employees, customers and other end users. Organizations running latency-sensitive network applications -- the kind commonly used to power shopping and travel websites, financial services, videoconferencing and content distribution -- usually like to place their applications as near to end users as possible to improve response times. By splitting a data center into two or more sites, an organization can efficiently serve users distributed across a wide region or even over multiple continents.

Dayton, Ohio-based LexisNexis, known for its legal research and workflow services, decided in 2009 to establish a colo data center in Scottsdale, Ariz., to serve customers more efficiently from a location that's relatively immune from storms, earthquakes and other natural calamities. "We wanted something that was in the western region of the U.S.," says Terry Williams, the company's vice president of managed technology services. "Location was a huge part of our decision." The company already had a data center in Dayton.

Terry Williams
Terry Williams, LexisNexis' vice president of managed technology services, says that when it came to opening a second data center, "Location was a huge part of our decision."

Not surprisingly, network availability and performance were essential considerations for LexisNexis as it went about choosing its new data center site. "The key thing for us is network connectivity," Williams says. "That was something that just couldn't be compromised on."

LexisNexis is hardly the only organization seeking to bring data centers closer to end users for better service, says Darin Stahl, a data center analyst at Info-Tech Research Group. "There's a definite move toward decentralization and that's helping enterprises that want to open additional data centers for one reason or another," he says.

Williams says that turning to a colocation provider -- Phoenix-based i/o Data Centers, in his case -- didn't require his firm to compromise on any facility services or amenities. "We expected all of the normal things that a high-tier data center would have in terms of backup power, generators and all of those things, as well as network connectivity," he says.

For his part, Burch feels that using a colocation provider -- his firm chose Columbia, S.C.-based Immedion -- allowed a faster, less costly deployment without sacrificing convenience or functionality. "We were able to get everything set up within a two-month period, and that included the building out of office space, even converting some office space into raised-floor data center space, which is pretty amazing."

Yet, finding a suitable colocation provider can be just as challenging as scouting a site for a traditional data center. "We looked at taking a building and converting it ourselves," Williams says. After deciding that overhauling a standalone building wouldn't be cost-effective, LexisNexis started looking for a colocation provider. "I would say that we probably spent six months searching for a site, and we probably looked at no less than 30 different locations and providers -- it was a very extensive search," Williams says.

Space can be at a premium

Then, too, colo space can be tight in some geographies, so expect to pay a premium in those areas. Tier1's Paschke explains that the economic slowdown and resulting credit crunch put the kibosh on a lot of data center capacity build-outs. That slowed down some of the colo vendors, of course, but it also meant that enterprises put their own data center expansion plans on hold. So nowadays, if customers choose to turn to colo vendors, they may find that there isn't quite as much data center space as they need.

This situation is, of course, very dependent on the geographic area involved. A recent Wall Street Journal article, for instance, talked about an oversupply in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. In general, though, many analysts point to an undersupply of colo space in key locations.

One reason this is important is because some shops opt to have their second data center near their main facility so they can stay close to their gear. Paschke calls these "server huggers" -- people who want to reach out and touch their servers, even though the goal in most data centers is to automate much, if not all, of the systems management. If your main facility is in a high-demand area, it might be difficult to find a nearby colo facility.

More factors to think about when going colo include deciding upfront what you're willing to pay for. Some customers need mega-bandwidth for instant response times and require stringent service-level agreements, and some choose to have telecom links to several providers for backup purposes, in case one telecom vendor goes black. Others aren't so concerned. "Some people don't care; milliseconds don't mean that much to them," says Jonathan Hjembo, senior analyst at TeleGeography Research. "Customers just need a ridiculous amount of different things," and it's that diversity that's pushing the market forward, he adds.

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