It might sound obvious, but the first place to start when looking to locate a colocation partner is by visiting their data centre facility/facilities. Okay, so you’ve done the initial research and looked at not a few websites which all promise 99.999999999999999999 availability, SLAs with punishing penalty clauses and a recreation room with free meditation classes and life counselling for your employees whenever they have to go visit the colo data centre.
Just occasionally (!), the hype isn’t met by the reality. Overlooking the fact that, for obvious reasons, data centres don’t tend to advertise themselves, so many are housed in unassuming, if not positively unattractive, industrial units tucked away in the corner of a home counties trading estate, what matters is what happens when you pass through the front door. How do the security personnel greet you? What are the physical security procedures for admitting you to the data centre side of the colo building? Is there a decent sized, smart area for downtime – your staff might have to spend some time here, especially during the initial installation phase? What do the data centre halls look like? How is the cabling dealt with – under floor or overhead? Is there any hot/cold aisle containment, or just one big area full of cabinets and racks? How do you gain access to/secure your IT assets? What kind of UPS is used at the facility? What type of cooling is deployed? And how often is the overall colo facility tested, say, to understand the impact of any power disruption?
Quite a list of questions, and not an exhaustive one, but only by looking at the colo site and talking to the colo personnel who work there will you be able to understand just how up to date is the facility and, just as important, understand the ethos of the colo provider. Do they seem genuinely caring and helpful, or do you feel just like a number to them?
You need to know how the colo will react to any problem at the facility and how they will help you to minimise the impact on your business. Here attention might focus on the Network Operations Centre (NOC). Is this run by the colo itself, or subcontracted out? How responsive is whoever runs the NOC when a problem occurs? Okay, so we should be a world away from the hideously poor customer service lines employed by so many apparently blue chip companies (Press 1 for sales, 2 for technical support, 3 for a billing query, 4 for order checking, 5 for customer service, 6 to hear this message again, 7 to listen to soothing music, 8 for the Samaritans…), but how easy is it to contact the colo facility when you really, really need to?
Of course, in this day and age, the colo facility should be contacting you before you know you have a problem. Monitoring technology means that the colo can be checking that all is okay with the infrastructure you have inside their facility, giving you regular updates and maybe warning you when it seems you might want to change something. Whether or not the colo can carry out the work for you, or you send over your own staff, well that’s something else to consider.
Once you’ve visited the various colo facilities, chances are you’ve managed to draw up something of a short list. The next step is to ask to speak to one of the colo’s existing customers. This might not always prove easy, thanks to issues such as confidentiality, but most colos do release case studies every now and then and/or contract win news, so you should be able to track down one or more customers willing to talk. Indeed, it might be worth doing the detective work yourself, so you talk to a customer or two at random, and not the one who is thrust at you by the colo!
One other word of caution. Handing over some or all of your data centre and IT infrastructure to a colo doesn’t mean you can wash your hands of it. Faced with a catastrophic failure, the response that “I thought the colo was looking after it” isn’t much of a defence. Hence the title of this blog ‘Take your partner by the hand’. You and your colo need to work together as, put quite simply, there’s no telling what problems could occur.
The news in recent weeks has thrown up all manner of unpredicted (and, in many cases, unpredictable) man-made and natural disasters. So, however carefully you choose a colo - apparently sited away from any possible natural disaster, nowhere near any transport issues (but that would make it rather remote) and ‘camouflaged’ to blend in with the surroundings, there’s no such thing as the perfect facility. Add in all the M&E infrastructure, and the actual IT workload, and life just gets a whole deal more complicated.
So, if you plan on having a long and successful relationship with your colo partner, take the time to get to know and understand them before making that commitment.