Selecting the Best Location for a Colocation Provider

Examining the requirements for the location is vital to the selection of a good colocation data center. Over the past few years, more variables have entered into the decision making process. This article will analyze these variables and recommend where IT managers and administrators should focus their attention in deciding the right location and facility for their IT environment.

As one of the more important sections in this article series, examining the requirements for the location is vital to the selection of a good colocation data center. Making decisions based on distance alone is no longer enough — especially when choosing such an important part of an organization’s infrastructure. Over the past few years, more variables have entered into the decision making process. This the second article in a series on Data Center Colocation Selection, and will analyze these variables and suggest where IT managers and administrators should focus their attention in deciding the right location and facility for their IT environment.

When selecting a location for your colocation data center, an important planning criteria will be addressing your IT staff including application developers, data base administrators, and your CIO — not just the data center team. In some cases, you’ll want to consider staff response time when choosing a location.

The Physical Location and the IT Staff

  • Local IT support. Many times organizations will select a data center without actually considering the proximity to what is known as a “Response Team.” Uptime within a data center infrastructure is always important so the proximity of the response team is very important. Also important is access to the facility. For example, your staff may be near the facility, but if there is only one access road your systems could be at risk. Depending on the contract, some organizations choose to manage their own hardware and IT workloads within their colocation environment. This support structure means that there has to be reliable IT staff available within ‘X’ miles to provide immediate support.
  • Outsourced (“Remote Hands”) IT support. In some situations, many colocation data centers offer a “remote hands” service, where the provider maintains a staff of trained IT technicians who are available for maintenance items and operational support. While most colocation customers will still want to maintain an on-site staff member or two, using these services evens the playing field concerning the location factor in the colocation decision process.
  • Application developers and data base administrators. In today’s IT-centric companies, the application is the business. And as data becomes mission critical, DBAs (data base administrators) are joining the front line of IT operations. At times these professionals will need access to the cage and overall they will need secured, remote access to the systems.
  • CIOs and the C-suite. In some cases, data centers are becoming the “factories” of .com businesses and service organizations. Expect that the C-suite, not just the CIO, will want to conduct site
    visits and have planning meetings on-site at the data center.

Design, Build and Operate

Some data center colocation companies are operators only. They outsource the design and build phases of the facility. Look for colo providers that design, build, and operate their own facilities. This combination of skills and resources can reduce overall costs by avoiding 3rd party markups and improve availability by knowing how each part of the facility works.

Weather Patterns

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the total damage due to severe weather in 2011 climbed to $1 billion over the course of 12-14 major events. (Editor's note: Cost of last week's Hurricane Sandy could exceed $20 billion after the Atlantic storm slammed into the Eastern United States, flooding and damaging large area in a major metropolitan region.) Many times a data center will have everything that a potential buyer may require — but there is a failure to analyze the weather patterns of a specific region. To detail the importance of researching a location with the appropriate climate (Please download the Data Center Knowlege Guide to Colocation Selection and review the severe weather images on page 4).

In selecting the right data center, an important decision variable will be the weather of a given region. Even while staying in-state, just a few miles can make all the difference. The decision around weather is always difficult
because weather can be unpredictable — but it can still be measured. Plan around the following:

  • Rain fall and precipitation amounts
  • Average highs/lows
  • Wind gusts and average wind speed
  • Flooding
  • Major temperature variances

Examining averages and conducting regional weather research will help in the decision making process. Never focus on just one element; it’s important to evaluate weather patterns as a whole since various elements can affect a data center differently. For example, in making a decision, a region with slightly warmer than desired temperatures may be desired over one that is more prone to heavy winds or flooding.

Seismic Risk

In conjunction with weather patterns, make sure to evaluate the seismic history of a given region to ensure the lowest seismic activity risk. Many times this variable is overlooked because of price, data center availability, or in hasty colocation decision-making. There are regions in the USA which are much more prone to seismic activity than others. Some data centers place more of an emphasis on equipment seismic bracing and/or improving their building’s seismic stability. Remember, even a small seismic event can have serious repercussions on a live data center.

In the United States, there are a few major seismic hotspots that should be considered. Seismic activity measured within these hotspots can actually occur frequently. As a whole, California experiences a number of small quakes with magnitudes ranging from 2-5 on the Richter scale. In Northern California, for example, recent data published in Data Center Knowledge says that there is a 63 percent chance of a  magnitude 6.7 earthquake occurring in the next 30 years, a 67 percent chance in Southern California, and a 99.7 percent chance in California as a whole. However, not all of California is at risk to earthquakes. For example, some data center providers are locating in the Sacramento area, where seismic risk is quite low yet the location is within driving distance of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

Seismic risk exists broadly in the United States as well. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 38 US states have regions of moderate to high seismic hazard and 60% of the U.S. population lives in an area of moderate to high seismic risk.

Power Grid and Redundancy

Another variable in the colocation decision process is the regional power grid infrastructure. Just because a geographic area has access to a good amount of power doesn’t mean that the power is delivered to the data center. Look for the location of power stations, substations, and feeds to the facility as well as redundancy throughout the delivery system. Also, research recent area outages to understand the time-to-repair for the utility provider. When working with a colocation provider, it’s important for them to understand the security and redundancy metrics of their local power grid. Many times, this can span at a national level. Take the time to understand the local power utilities, their capabilities, and how that ties into the colocation provider you are selecting. Remember, in emergency situations, you need to plan for redundancy and the availability of power.

Weather patterns also play a big role in how power is distributed. Areas which require more cooling due to heat constraints may have a stressed power infrastructure. Make sure that the data center you choose has multiple power sources in a location capable of handling those power needs. There are numerous locations where power is sufficient and will meet the demands of the average data center consumer.

Regional power considerations must be taken into account when selecting the right colocation data center. Check where the power is coming from and where there are available redundancies. Ensure that there are no major power constraints in the area to allow for maximum data center operation. (Please download the Data Center Knowlege Guide to Colocation Selection and review the Power Grid / Plant images on page 7).

Accessibility – Routes, Roads and Airports

According to the National Highway System (NHS), highways in the United Sates represent only about 4 percent of the nation’s total public road miles and 6.6 percent of its lane miles, but carry about 50 percent of the travel. In selecting a data center colocation provider, take the time to analyze a map of the region to ensure that there are easy ways in and out of the area. Look for routes in and out of the facility that do not require major roads or highways. Ensure that there are several ways to access the data center and that there are redundancies built in for easy access.

Another important factor is the availability of an airport. In some situations, equipment and personnel will have to be flown in for support. Ensuring that your data center has a readily accessible airport facility may be an important requirement. Furthermore, take the time to learn where international and regional airports reside. Since there isn’t always the need to be around a major airport, regional locations may serve the function as well.

Next week, the article in this Colocation Selection series will help you evaluate the colocation facility. If you prefer, you can download the entire Data Center Knowledge Guide to Colocation Selection, compliments of RagingWire.

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