Choosing a Data Center Colocation Site

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You made the decision to move your data center operation to a colocation site through a rigorous build-versus-buy analysis.  Pat yourself on the back and take a moment to reflect on the hard work and diligence that led to acclamation of your decision by the executive team.  Now the fun starts.  Choosing a colocation site!

The first step along the way is developing your decision criteria. Although all data centers have a lot in common, you will have unique criteria that must be matched to the colocation site.   There are obvious criteria associated with the physical space, geographic location, power, network access and physical security.  Then there are some not so obvious criteria to consider putting on your list.

Over the years, I’ve developed a short list that I use to help differentiate colocation providers.   I call them my “outside of the box” criteria because they are items that don’t automatically come to mind.

Housekeeping

It starts in the parking lot and follows you all the way into the facility, up the elevator and out on to the raised floor.  Every so often on your tour of the site, just stop.  Take a look all around you and note your impression of how clean and orderly everything is within your view.  Go so far as to have several floor tiles picked up at random spots and duck your head below the floor to see how organized power and network cables are below the surface.  What is this important?  If a facility is managed well at this physical level, it speaks volumes for the discipline they have in managing the core services.

Water Is Everywhere 

There are water pipes everywhere in a data center.  Chilled water loops and fire systems constitute most of them.  If there is water, there is a potential for leakage.  Ask about perimeter water dams and floor drains.  Ask the provider to show you how they will drain the floor if there is a leak.  Then ask them the opposite.  Do they have check valves in the floor drains to prevent water backup from storm drains and city services finding a way into your computer room?  It happened to me, so I always ask now.

What Are You Drinking? 

In a recent pandemic exercise I participated in, we found that the single most important element for survivability at our data center was drinking water.  City water supplies could be suspect in that kind of situation.  Ask how much potable water is stored on site and what the refresh cycle is.  Cases of plastic bottles aren’t going to be enough.  An underground tank is the best answer.

The Gas Line 

Fuel is the lifeblood for a data center in time of power crisis.  Check the size of the underground supplies at the potential colocation site and find out how the power is distributed through the UPS to be assured that you’ll get your feed in the event of a local outage.  If the outage is prolonged, though, the fuel tanks will need to be refilled.  Ask about the refueling agreements they have and where in the list of local priorities they fall.  Hospitals, emergency services and some government institutions will take priority in delivery of fuel during an extended outage.

There are others, but I think you get the idea.  My suggestion is that you engage an independent third party to either review your decision or help you craft the RFP that will lead to your decision. An independent third party can assist you in establishing the right criteria to find just the right match. The final decision is yours, though, and you are the ones that have to live with the decision, so do not be afraid to ask probing questions of your potential providers.  Their willingness to answer may be a good indicator of what the relationship will be like in the future.

To get more useful data center management strategies from Nemertes Research download the Q1 2012 Data Center Knowledge Guide to Enterprise Data Centers.

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2 Comments

  1. If you're looking at a colo that still uses raised floor and has water pipes in it you should probably find another colo facility. However, the point about taking a close look at your surroundings is very true. Often times the measure of a well run facility is how clean and well maintained it appears. If you ever have the chance to tour the Switch SuperNAP in Las Vegas you'll see that it is operated like a Nuclear Submarine, and clean enough to be an operating room.

  2. Jerry

    One key thing to remember when choosing a data center provider is to make sure your provider has a Tier III certificate by Uptime Institute. This will only ensure that your Enterprise or company can trust that your data center provider has pulled back the curtain to a third party auditor (Uptime Institute) and has nothing to hide. At the end of the day, having such credentials are important. You wouldn't allow a doctor to operate on you without a doctorate or equivalent would you?