05-05-24 | Blog Post

A Guide to Managed Colocation and Unmanaged Colocation

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I purchased a server… now what?

Making the Decision to Switch to Colocation

Making a decision on how to handle your IT Infrastructure can be a difficult one – and one which requires some planning.  It is important that you understand all of your options before purchasing or renting your equipment.

One of the most common problems in communicating the value of managed colocation is undervaluing the time and cost of keeping your server up and running. Sure, the cost of buying a server is relatively inexpensive, but the costs to operate it can be overwhelming. There are many factors that go into the costs of operating a server but they all fall into one of four categories:

  • Housing and Protecting
  • Monitoring and Tracking
  • Responding and Repairing
  • Preventative Measures

These categories make it easier to explain the difference between managed and unmanaged colocation because the costs associated with each service can help you decide which service is right for you.

Housing and Protecting – This covers where the server is being stored, the power being supplied to it, the network keeping it online. It also includes any firewall or threat management system keeping hackers away from your server as well as features of the data center, such as raised floors and fire suppression, that help protect your server.

Monitoring and Tracking – This covers the monitoring of operating characteristics like disk space and RAM usage as well as the messaging system in order to alert the owner of the server if something is deemed to be out of the normal range.

Responding and Repairing – This covers any services that are necessary when your server malfunctions. These can include troubleshooting and remediation services as well as part replacement.

Preventative Measures – Besides the protection to your server mentioned in “housing and protecting”, preventative services like on-site or off-site backup help ensure that your data will always be recoverable.

What is Colocation?

Colocation is a service offered by data centers to house and power your servers at their own location. This can have several benefits depending on the services included by the data center operator you choose. At the bare minimum, colocation involves a place to house your server, the power to run it, and the connection to operate it online. Those services can be expanded upon to include everything necessary to not only get your server up and running but ensure that your server is working 100% of the time without any work from your company.

Colocation can provide you with many benefits, mostly due to the fact that you can take advantage of a data center’s significantly “bigger” infrastructure without paying for it up front. This can have significant impacts on uptime, deployment time, and security. It can also help with cost forecasting and planning as your contracts become “known costs” and can help you make decisions easier, faster, and safer. Scalability is another important benefit when outsourcing your IT infrastructure as you can continue to add servers without increasing your head count or having to build additions to your own larger data center.

How do Colocation Services vary from a Dedicated Server?

The main difference between colocation services and dedicated server services is that a dedicated server is owned by the data center whereas with colocation services, the servers are always owned by the client. Dedicated servers usually include many more server-side services that ensure your server never experiences downtime than standard colocation services but with some managed colocation offerings, much of the same services are applied.

What is Unmanaged Colocation?

Unmanaged colocation usually takes care of only the first category of server costs, “Housing and Protecting.” This is a hands-off type of service that allows you to take advantage of a data center’s infrastructure, but you are solely responsible if something were to go wrong with your server (ex. your server runs out of memory). Unmanaged colocation services tend to vary from data center operator to data center operator but typically provide a safe and secure place to house our server. Features of a data center that factor into the quality or their tier classification are the following:

  • power supplies
  • data communications connections
  • environmental controls (ex. air conditioning and fire suppression)
  • security devices

The more “disaster proof” a data center becomes, the higher data center tier it is (ranging from I-IV. IV being the highest). A Tier I data center is considered to be the most prone to failures and downtime whereas a Tier IV data center has the infrastructure in place to be the least prone to failures and downtime with a high amount of redundancy put in place, both on the network and power side.

Depending on the Service Level Agreement (SLA) with your data center provider, they can often guarantee a very high percentage of power and network availability (upwards of 99.9%). Depending on how critical uptime is to your company, a good look at your provider’s SLA is often a must.

Besides the infrastructure of the data center, the main costs drivers and therefore price motivators of colocation are:

  • Power (Amps)
  • Bandwidth (Mbps)
  • Rack space (Us)
  • Setup (Labor and Equipment)

When looking at unmanaged colocation, these are the four things you want to have a good grasp of going into the purchasing process.

What is Managed Colocation?

There is usually a wide variety of services that fall under “managed colocation” but all start with the previously mentioned unmanaged colocation services as a base. The managed colocation services tend to cover at least one of the cost categories mentioned previously. With unmanaged colocation, the server owner is still responsible for monitoring and tracking, responding to and repairing problems with their server and taking preventative measures like backing up their data. Managed colocation outsources many of those operations to a data center operator that can offer those services at a lower cost then a company could deploy by themselves.

These services can include:

  • Threat Management
  • Technical Support
  • Multi-probe Monitoring, Alerts, and Logging
  • Asset Tracking
  • Patch Management
  • Capacity Planning
  • First Responder, Troubleshooting, and Remediation
  • On-site Backup and/or Off-site Backup
  • Part Replacement and Service

These services, when executed properly, can be very valuable to an organization and provide peace of mind that their servers have the proper procedures behind them to reduce the risk of downtime or lost data to as close to zero as possible. Managed colocation provides the flexibility to decide what services and procedures you want to outsource and which you want to have more control over.

This flexibility creates an ideal environment for companies that want their servers in a secure and reliable environment. Their data is backed up, but they may want to have more control over a situation should something go wrong. Managed colocation allows you to pick and choose the services you want and creates a more customizable solution then a traditional dedicated server.

Multi-tenant datacenter operators offering co-location or dedicated server hosting can help cut costs by:

  1. Eliminating large-scale datacenter investments.  Co-location enables IT managers to expand their datacenter on a server-by-server or rack-by-rack basis.  This lets IT managers expand their data center footprint only on an as-needed basis.
  2. Reducing day-to-day IT maintenance. Co-location and dedicated server hosting enable the in-house IT team to concentrate on core applications and deliverables and leave the day-to-day data center operations to the colocation operator.
  3. Leveraging the experienced data center staff.  Rather than hire full time data center experts in security, cooling, power and networking – managed data center operators share their expertise over a number of data center users – amortizing the cost of the experts over many clients.
  4. Reducing the cooling, security, and power costs. By eliminating datacenter footprint required for future expansion and cutting the costs of building and maintaining security systems, co-location can offer a much more cost effective approach than running a stand-alone datacenter.
  5. Receiving rapid and accurate responses from datacenter providers.  It can be hard to keep in-house staff motivated to service other departments.  With competing requirements and many demands, responsiveness can be impacted. Outsourced data center operators are in the service business.  They keep their customers by being responsive and accurate, and realize that poor service can hinder their business and profitability.

If you own your own servers and are looking to achieve the same level of support as that of a dedicated server, managed colocation is a great option. Just make sure that you understand which services you are receiving and which are still your responsibility. Managed colocation is currently being used as a term to describe any sort of level of support beyond unmanaged colocation so make sure you know what you are getting when you sign up with a managed colocation provider.

Questions to Ask Your Managed Colocation Provider

  1. All of the Unmanaged Colocation Questions – What Tier Data Center will my servers be hosted at? Is there 24X7 Support? What kind of security is in place to protect my servers (both the physical features of the data center and the threat management security)? What is in the SLA?
  2. What is monitored on my server? Be sure you know what metrics are being monitored and how you will be alerted to abnormalities. Will you be notified when you are close to running out of disk space? Will you get an alert by email, through a text-message, or by phone call?
  3. Is my data being backed up and how so? Is it on-site or off-site backup, online or tape? How often is it backed up and for how long? What software are they using to backup the data and what procedures are in place to ensure that there is no lost data.
  4. What happens when my server malfunctions? This may be the most important question to ask. Will there be someone available  24×7 in case something goes wrong? Who is going to troubleshoot and identify the problem? Are you responsible for the parts or the labor or both in order to fix the problem? Who will coordinate the resolution to the problem?
  5. Are changes to my server being tracked and logged? Are patches being applied to my server? Why? How? and When? How long does it take for my support ticket to be resolved? Is that logged? Are changes to my server’s configuration tracked and logged?
  6. What kind of compliance requirements can you meet? Depending on what industry you are in, you may need a colocation provider that has been independently HIPAA audited against the OCR Audit Protocol (for healthcare), or one that has an attestation of PCI DSS compliance (for retail/e-commerce). Or, if in the financial industry, you may need SOX compliance. HIPAA hosting has its own set of requirements separate from PCI hosting and SOX hosting.
  7. Where are your data centers located? An ideal location is safe from natural disasters, has a naturally cool climate, and are convenient for high availability and disaster recovery solutions. For example, Michigan colocation offers a location free from destructive floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other unpredictable natural disasters, ensuring your servers aren’t at risk.

These are all very important questions to ask your managed colocation provider and should not be overlooked. When it comes to managed colocation, you want to be absolutely sure you are getting what you pay for and not anything less. It may be easier to customize but it also makes it a little more confusing.

Be sure to read some related articles below and if you have any questions or ways this post could be more useful to you, feel free to leave a comment or Contact OTAVA® today to learn more about getting started with colocation.

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