Grow your data center with colocation

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

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Other considerations include security -- both physical and virtual -- and backup infrastructure, including power, cooling, fire suppression and the like. Customers also need to discuss their future needs with their would-be colo partners, to make sure the vendors will have enough space for the customer's anticipated needs for the next few years. And be sure to do a financial analysis.

Staffing and related issues

Mention "colocation" and a lot of IT staffers will hear "outsourcing" and will naturally fear losing their jobs or influence, analysts say. "People are resistant to change," Tier1's Paschke says.

Figure on your staff needing some time to become comfortable with this notion. Info-Tech's Stahl talks about an evolution from using colo for a backup data center to perhaps handling more critical, first-tier kinds of hardware, storage and applications. "Once that happens, customers start to wonder whether it's the best use of a server admin to go to the colo facility and mess around in the cage for a day." At that point, the company may be ready to consider managed services for some of their IT functions.

LexisNexis' Williams notes that one secondary data center requirement that tends to be overlooked until the very last moment is finding qualified people to staff the facility. Sometimes enterprises opt to use the colo vendor's on-site experts, but other times they simply lease space within the facility and staff it themselves.

data center

"Obviously, you're going to do local hiring," Williams says. But he notes that a remote data center has different staffing needs than a primary site. Since secondary data centers generally don't have as many management and administrative jobs as main sites, hiring needs tend to focus on technical individuals who can easily move between multiple tasks. "You want a small staff that can actually do a number of different things," he advises.

Still, Williams notes that LexisNexis had no shortage of Dayton data center staff members volunteering to transfer to the new location. "If it's in a nice location like Scottsdale, everybody is raising their hand to move out there and provide support," he says.

For most enterprises, adding a colocated data center is usually a significantly easier task than creating a primary site from scratch. In most cases, established platforms and practices can be replicated fairly painlessly at the new location. Kemet used its main data center as a staging area for the new site.

"To ease the transition, we actually built all the new equipment in our primary data center," Burch says. "We synchronized all the data that was going to be replicated at the new site and conducted some tests to make sure everything was going to work the way it was supposed to." The equipment was then transported to the new data center. "We then simply turned it on and just let it catch up on what it had missed in the eight hours it had been in transit," Burch says.

To complete the job, the Kemet team conducted a series of tests to make sure that the new business continuity system would work flawlessly. "Once we had confirmed that, we basically declared it in production and then, a month later, we let our traditional [disaster] recovery contract expire," Burch says.

Other pointers

Careful planning and close attention to details are vital to a successful deployment, Burch says. "Most of all, look carefully at any contracts that might be involved with the new data center, particularly any disaster recovery or hosting contracts that could be either a positive or a negative in your planning," he advises.

Burch also urges organizations not to neglect their main data center when planning their new facility, particularly if they intend to use the new site in any sort of backup role. "We did our new facility in conjunction with upgrading all of the equipment in our current data center," he says.

Kemet also placed all-new equipment in its remote data center. "That's provided us with a good bit more flexibility as well as horsepower for our test and development environment," Burch says. "The developers are very pleased with that."

LexisNexis' Williams feels that finding a competent and trustworthy colocation partner is essential to the success of a secondary data center, since the provider will be responsible for delivering essential infrastructure services, including power and cooling. "The key thing is to find a partner that can provide what I would consider to be that intimate level of service -- meaning that you feel that you're the only client there."

John Edwards is a technology writer in the Phoenix area. Contact him at jedwards@gojohnedwards.com.

Additional reporting by Johanna Ambrosio, Computerworld's technology editor.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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