Managed Colocation Guide

Updated: May 24, 2010

What is Colocation?

Colocation is a service that hosting operators offer to house and power servers in their multi-tenant data centers. This can have several benefits depending on the services included by the data center operator. At a minimum, colocation involves a place to house the server, the power to run it, the HVAC to keep it cool, and the network connection to operate it online. The colocation services can then be expanded upon to include everything required to ensure that it is working 100% of the time without any effort from the company.

How is Colocation different from a Managed Dedicated Server?

To sum it up, a managed dedicated server is owned by the hosting provider whereas with colocation, the servers are owned by the client. Managed dedicated servers are fully managed by the hosting provider with a number of server-side features and capabilities than basic colocation. Managed colocation, on the other hand, applies all of the same services of a managed server to the colocated server.

What is Basic Colocation?

Basic colocation typically focuses on just the first category of server costs: housing and protecting. Basic Colocation is a hands-off type of service that allows clients to take advantage of a data center's infrastructure, but leaves the client solely responsible for managing the server. If there is a server malfunction (ex. server runs out of memory), the client is responsible for monitoring, managing and mitigating any server problem.

Basic colocation services tend to vary between data center operators, but typically provide the following features that vary depending on the quality or tier classification of each data center:

  • Physical housing for the servers
  • Uninterruptible power delivery
  • Internet connections
  • Environmental controls (ex. air conditioning and fire suppression)
  • Physical security for the data center and servers

The more redundancy that a data center has in its power and network infrastructure, the higher uptime it delivers and the higher data center rating or tier it achieves (tier IV being the highest). Depending on the Service Level Agreement (SLA), colocation providers can often guarantee a power and network availability upwards of 99.99% of the time .

Besides the infrastructure of the data center, the main operating costs (and therefore price motivators) for colocation are:

  • Power (in Kilowatts consumed)
  • Bandwidth (in Mbps)
  • Rack space (measured in "U"s)
  • Setup Costs (Labor and Equipment)

What is Managed Colocation?

There is a wide variety of services that fall under "managed colocation" which starts with basic colocation as the underlying service platform. The client provides the server hardware typically loaded with the operating system and applications. However, the managed colocation provider picks up from there - monitoring and managing the server, mitigating any issues that come up and maintaining the hardware for the client. Rather than leaving the client responsible, managed colocation outsources day-to-day server management operations such as:

  • Threat management
  • Technical support
  • Multi-probe around-the-clock monitoring, alerts, and logging
  • Asset tracking
  • Patch management
  • Capacity planning
  • First responder to any problems or issues that arise, troubleshooting, and remediation
  • On-site backup and/or off-site backup
  • Part replacement and service

Managed colocation provides the flexibility to decide what services and procedures the client wants to outsource versus which they want to have more control over. It transfers the day-to-day hassle of managing servers from the client to the managed colocation provider.

Questions to Ask Managed Colocation Providers

Basic colocation questions - What tier data center will the servers be hosted at? Is there 24x7 support offered by the managed colocation provider? What kind of physical and network security is in place to protect the servers? What is the service level agreement (SLA)? Is the data center SAS 70 Audited?

What does the managed colocation provider monitor? Know what metrics are being monitored by the managed colocation provider and how notification of abnormalities, outages and errors will be made. Will the client be notified when they are close to running out of disk space? Will the alert from the managed colocation provider come via e-mail, text message, or telephone?

Is data being backed up and how? Is it on-site or off-site backup, online or tape? How often is it backed up and for how long? What software is used to backup the data and what procedures does the managed colocation provider have in place to ensure that none is lost?

What happens if the server malfunctions? This may be the most important question to ask a managed colocation provider. Who is going to troubleshoot and identify the problem? Is the client responsible for the parts or the labor or both? Who will coordinate the resolution to the problem?

Are changes to the server being tracked and logged? Are patches being applied to the server? Why? How? When? How long does it take for the managed colocation provider to resolve a support ticket? Is that logged? Are changes to the server's configuration tracked and logged by the managed colocation provider?

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