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Colocation in disaster recovery: Everything you need to know

Colocation is an important DR strategy and it's a vital resource for ensuring mission-critical systems and data files can be securely protected and available when needed.

A colocation center -- sometimes called a carrier hotel -- is a type of data center where multiple customers install network, server and storage devices and interconnect to a variety of telecommunications and other network service providers.

Depending on a company's size and its requirements, colocation providers can become a company's primary data center, provide a secondary site to the main data center that supports specific critical systems or provide a technology DR facility. This last option assumes the colocation site is sufficiently distant from the main location, so it won't be affected by the disaster.

Colocation centers also provide a secure DR resource so companies can position backup assets, such as network services, servers and data storage, in those facilities.

Why should colocation be included in a disaster recovery plan?

Colocation provides opportunities to establish alternate DR facilities where equipment and data can be securely stored for emergency use in a disruptive incident.

The colocation vendor typically provides secure space in its building, and it's up to the customer to populate the storage cage with racks of equipment. If the disaster recovery strategy designates remote storage of equipment and access to data and applications, then a colocation component can be added to a DR plan.

Benefits of colocation for disaster recovery

Public and private sector organizations recognize the benefits of colocating their mission-critical equipment in a suitably equipped alternate data center. Colocation is popular because of the time and cost savings a company can realize when using shared data center infrastructure resources and high-capacity network access.

Scale -- needed for large power and mechanical systems – is another major benefit, as large colocation facilities are typically 50,000 to 500,000 square feet. With IT and communications facilities in safe and secure locations, plus access to telecommunications, internet, application service providers and content providers, companies of virtually all sizes can improve their system response times and enjoy the freedom to focus on their core business. These facilities also provide a secure DR capability in that companies can locate IT backup assets, such as network services and data storage, in colocation centers.

Cost, challenges and other considerations

Monthly costs for colocation centers are based on numerous factors, such as space required, power and the need for internet access, bandwidth and IP addresses. Small data centers -- under 400 square feet, including a secure equipment cage -- could be as low as $1,500 to $2,500 per month. Larger installations needing more than 5,000 square feet can range from $25,000 to $35,000 per month. Be sure to have your initial and long-term -- e.g., two-year and three-year -- requirements carefully defined for the best price and visit several providers for comparison.

Growing popularity of cloud technology is perhaps the biggest challenge for colocation service providers. Customers don't need to contract for physical space in a secure facility, as the cloud provider handles all user requirements in its own data centers. Interestingly, colocation centers can provide a pseudo-cloud because all necessary facilities can reside in the colocation center, same as for a cloud platform. It, ultimately, becomes a matter of cost, logical and physical security, resource availability and availability of on-site technical staff. Perhaps, the only real difference between colocation and cloud is that customers can usually visit their colocation center, whereas the cloud vendor might not permit customer visitation.

Selecting a colocation provider

There are many important factors to consider and questions to ask before choosing a colocation provider, including:

  1. Does the provider have top-quality internet resources? Ask the colocation provider(s) about their internet network connection size and network details.
  2. Is it a state-of-the-art facility? Make sure it has highly scalable and super-fast connections to the leading internet backbones, redundant uninterruptible power supplies (UPSes) and generator-backed electrical power, redundant HVAC systems and 24/7 on-site support.
  3. How long has the provider been in business? Find a colocation provider that has proven itself over time, especially when supporting business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) incidents.
  4. What is the provider's financial status? 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.
  5. Does the provider charge extra for cross-connects, IP addresses, power, etc.? Look for providers that don't charge for up to 10 Cat 5/6 cross-connects per customer cabinet. Also, look for providers that offer free IP addresses with their service. Power for colocated servers and equipment can often be included with colocation space without any hidden costs. Find a provider that will give you a fair rate on all the services without charging unnecessary costs.
  6. What is the provider's network redundancy and size of internet connections? To be rated a tier 1 internet backbone with the fastest connections possible, providers must have very high-bandwidth backbone network resources -- e.g., OC192 and larger -- and, additionally, have direct 10 Gb, 100 Gb and up to 100 TB connections, as well as similar Gigabit Ethernet resources, to multiple national and international internet networks to truly be redundant.
  7. What security does the provider offer? This includes digital surveillance cameras throughout the facility, key card locks -- also, biometric access, such as fingerprints -- at every entrance and exit in the facility, an enforced access list, and securely locking personal cabinets and cages.
  8. Does the company specialize in colocation and BC/DR or something else? A company that specifically sells colocation and BC/DR services is technically built to handle the necessities: maximum internet speed, flexible and expandable space, security and technical support.
  9. What power protection does the provider have? Providers should have a continuous redundant UPS and generator-backed electrical power along with backup battery banks to keep the power on.
  10. How does the provider plan for future requirements? Successful colocation providers can handle customer requirements fairly easily. Research the pricing structures for future upgrades with various providers to know how you'll be charged for additional BC/DR services and internet bandwidth as you grow.
  11. Who are the provider's customers? Ask for a list of customers when researching colocation providers. Brand-name customers are a good sign. Speak to the provider's customers to get their thoughts.
  12. What internal equipment space is available? For maximum security, it's best to find a provider that offers secure locking cabinets and cages to avoid any shared technical issues or possible problems with theft.
  13. Where else does the provider have facilities? Colocation providers that offer worldwide services might have a stronger backbone and can provide your firm with global BC/DR support and access to multiple data center facilities not possible with a smaller provider.

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