9 considerations for a colocation data center selection checklist
Use this data center selection checklist to make fair and comprehensive comparisons between colocation data center providers before making a decision.
Using a colocation data center facility can benefit many organizations. However, there are colocation facilities that make sense for an organization and colocation facilities that don't. Getting the choice wrong can be extremely expensive for, if not detrimental to, business operations.
The following nine areas are the main ones to add to your data center selection checklist when looking for the ideal colocation facility.
1. The facility building itself
Although there are many aspects to consider when ensuring the facility fits your organization's needs, the first and foremost is if there's enough space. Here, the thing to look for is whether the building itself will suit your needs over a long enough period of time. Ask how rapidly the facility is filling up -- extrapolate and ask about any plans the colocation provider has have for expansion to deal with possible overspill.
Look at geographic fit, as well. How easy will it be for your staff to get to the facility if needed? Also, at a geographic level, consider the possibility of flooding, earthquake, forest fire or other dangers. Ensure you use trusted external data sources to see how such natural disasters might change over time.
2. Building security
Another feature of the building: Just how secure is it? Many organizations focus on the technical aspects around who is allowed in, whether coded locks/biometrics are used and what logging is in place.
An equally valid area is how the building is secured against brute-force entry. Many organized or opportunistic attacks on a facility, such as ram-raiding, are performed using trucks, SUVs or building vehicles to break through the exterior walls to get into the facility to steal equipment. Look for bollards, large planters or other large items that make such attacks difficult.
3. Information security
Information is the life blood of your organization -- after all, equipment can be replaced easily enough and apps can be reinstalled. Data is irreplaceable and its security must be high on your agenda. Data at rest in a facility should be covered well enough through the physical security measures above, but data in transit is another matter.
Ask the facility provider how they monitor their external WAN connections and look to see how such systems are secured through deep burying and armour shielding to prevent third parties from tapping into the lines. Facilities using aboveground connections should be avoided; these aren't physically secure. Those using wireless/microwave capabilities can be considered if this is alongside standard wired capabilities, as this provides a fallback capability should there be problems with the wired systems at a geographic level.
4. Power provisioning
Like the first area, don't just look at whether the facility has sufficient power for your needs now. Equipment densities are increasing; power densities are growing even faster. A facility might state that it will be able to meet your overall power requirements for the future, but will it be able to meet the power requirements per rack? Power distribution capabilities within the facility are just as, if not more, important than overall power capabilities.
Also, look to multiple external power supplies, preferably from different parts of the grid and to different parts of the facility, such that any disruption to a grid doesn't lead directly to power failure in the facility. No matter what, look to auxiliary power capabilities as well -- not only the presence of diesel generators, but how often these are tested, how often the fuel is replaced and how often the generators themselves are replaced.
Certain IT platforms are becoming less susceptible to heat issues. For example, solid-state storage creates a lot less heat and, so, requires less cooling. Similarly, modern equipment can generally be run at higher temperatures without an increased risk of failure.
However, the presence of sufficient cooling currently and for the future has to be considered. For many organizations wanting to burnish their sustainability credentials, the type of cooling -- free air, swamp, renewable -- might need to be considered as well.
6. Environmental monitoring
Although modern equipment might be less susceptible to heat issues, it still needs monitoring for heat, smoke and moisture. Fluctuating temperatures and too much moisture can cause condensation inside equipment, leading to electrical short outs. Too little moisture can lead to dendrite growth where metal threads grow and can cause short outs on circuit boards.
The presence of smoke and fire not only needs monitoring, but it also needs dealing with efficiently. Water isn't a good approach where electrical equipment is concerned -- gas or specialist foams are far better. Environmental monitoring should also be granular. It's far better to be able to identify and deal with a single hotspot in an area before there is a full facility issue.
7. Data center infrastructure monitoring
Data center infrastructure monitoring (DCIM) should be a requirement on every organization's data center selection checklist. DCIM provides full monitoring of what is going on across the base infrastructure in the facility.
The facility owner should both provide a simple portal view of that information to all its customers and open up the data streams for the customer to integrate the data into their own system. Look for standardized systems that enable easy ingestion of such data in real time.
8. Network access
A facility that is dedicated to using one provider's external network isn't a resilient environment. Look for facilities that have multiple internet providers with each connection coming into a different part of the facility to avoid all lines being taken out due to incidents, such as utility workers digging through the lines. If your organization is particularly wedded to any internet provider, make sure you can either directly use that provider in the facility or the facility owner is happy for you to have such access installed -- at your own cost, generally.
A secondary aspect of network access is being able to access your own equipment remotely. Wherever possible, you want to be able to minimize the need for staff to have to travel to the facility. If sufficient network access is provided, only physical problems will require such access. Ensure the facility owners won't block your remote access, as long as your technology meets their security needs as dictated in the contractual agreement.
This is a mix of areas such as power, cooling, network access and environmental monitoring. However, look for a full, joined-up story around how the facility owner looks to maintain the highest facility availability possible.
If your organization needs the utmost uptime, ensure that switch over to auxiliary power can be done quickly enough. Are there such things as in-line battery or spinning wheel power capabilities available to ensure there aren't breaks in power provision? What does the facility owner state in their agreements around areas such as planned and unplanned works and any effect on the facility's availability?
Choosing a colocation data center facility isn't something that should be treated lightly: Once the choice is made and equipment installed, changing course isn't easy. Therefore, covering the aspects around best overall fit of location, physical and technical facility capabilities, flexibility and cost will help in ensuring the facility will work for a long time. Sitting down with the facility owner before signing any contract and guaranteeing that everything is covered is time well spent.
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