What To Look For In Choosing a Datacenter
by Shawn Simon on Friday, June 13 10:50
Article written by: Wes Hogarth
Technology has exploded at an extremely rapid pace, especially over the last couple of decades. With this explosion in technology, there has been an extremely high demand for IT professionals with varying skill-sets (System Administrators, Network Architects, Database Administrators, System Engineers, IT Managers, and IT Consultants just to name a few). With this growing demand for people in these positions, there has also been an increase in urgency for companies to host their own IT infrastructure or find a third-party datacenter hosting company. Both options require time, personnel, and resources in some capacity. However What if you are a company that doesn't want to host your own IT infrastructure? This article will provide an unbiased view of how to choose that third-party Datacenter hosting company with confidence.
The first requirement that needs to be considered when choosing a company is: Budget
Every third-party company will be charge a different price for their services. Some companies might even offer specials during certain times of the year. Also, retail versus wholesale needs to added under this area as well. With retail, the space inside a datacenter probably already has the power, server infrastructure cooling, and networking in place. A downside to this is that generally speaking (not always the case), it costs more per square foot (including utility costs). However, when leasing a wholesale space, a smaller section of the datacenter is carved out for you. This could be a cost savings, but more time is required on your end to design network and power preferences. Finally, ask yourself two other important questions regarding the budget: How long would I need to keep this datacenter hosted by a third-party company? What's the actual cost savings of buying retail versus leasing wholesale? The latter can be solved by running a cost-benefit analysis, while the former can and should be answered by several different key personnel within a company.
The second requirement that needs to be considered when choosing a company is: Location
Many or all of you have probably heard that real estate is all about location, location, location! Well, choosing a datacenter provider is no different. For example: If your company is based out of Atlanta, Georgia, USA (which is a major IT hub in the southeast), would it make logical sense to choose a provider that only has one host location in Chicago? Probably not, since Chicago is in a different geographical region of the USA and there are plenty of companies in Atlanta that could serve as a host. Also when selecting a location, datacenters that are located in the main central part of a major city could potentially demand more cost since land and utility value are higher. Businesses should also consider datacenter location to the main telehouse, which provides the backbone of network connectivity to the datacenter itself. Finally try to stay away from locations that are prone to natural disasters. Who wants to see their money invested in a third-party datacenter company be swept away by a tornado, crumbled by an earthquake, or washed away by waters from a hurricane?
The third requirement that needs to be considered when choosing a company is: Design/Components
I group these two things together because without a design or layout, there is nothing for the components to be housed in. The design and components that make up a datacenter are critically important. Design can encompass things such as hot-cold aisles, number and location of server racks, and power drops in relation to the server racks. If the datacenter doesn't have optimal cooling, that's a disaster waiting to happen. Cisco published a very good white paper in August 2011 with their views regarding this (visit http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/data-center-virtualization/unified-computing/white_paper_c11-680202.pdf to read it). For the component aspect of this requirement, always ask the company what type of equipment they are utilizing. These questions can be high-level topics such as: What type of servers do you utilize (know HP and Dell are two of the most popular)? What types of switches do you utilize, Ethernet or fiber? (Cisco and Brocade are two of the most popular)? What type of power connectivity and battery backup system do you have in place? How are these racks connected to each other (mention concurrent maintainability if one or more switches have to be turned off, the datacenter can still stay running without downtime)? When was the last time you updated the components of your infrastructure (gets them to check components that are close to end-of-life)? What type of storage is implemented (including SAN, NAS, RAID, and File-server)? Also, more detailed questions can be asked such as: What type of operating systems are running on these servers? How often do you update firmware on switches and patch your servers? What are the specs of your servers (such as processor, RAM, hard drives)? Has their been any downtime lately? What type of connection do you have between yourself and the telehost? These questions can often be overlooked, but asking these type of questions is mission critical. Without quality, reliable components, the money you've invested in this third-party hosting provider stands a greater risk to be thrown away.
The fourth requirement that needs to be addressed is: Reputation
Reputation can make or break a company. When choosing a company, look to see if they have a guaranteed SLA response time. This SLA response time will be critical in the event of an outage, hardware problem, or something along those lines. A quicker response times guarantees you will get a phone call or some form of communication to you on a particular issue. In this SLA will probably be something regarding guaranteed up-time. Nearly all companies that I've seen are guaranteeing over 98% up-time, so anything less than that should be a red-flag. Also, consider the amount of staff they have to support that datacenter. Smaller third-party companies may not have the reputation or customer-base built up yet (they may be a quality datacenter) because they could be new. However, a more well-established company could have large high-profile customers in the same business sector as your company.
Consider this scenario - After examining budget and location, let's imagine you've narrowed your choice down to three companies: A, B, and C; A being the most expensive and second in reliability, B being the middle of the three in terms of cost but most reliable, and C being the least expensive and least reliable. My question to you is which one would you choose? Option C may be an attractive option due to low cost, but the risk is higher because of the reliability factor. If the datacenter in company C goes down for a long period of time, your company is probably losing money, missing deliverables, and potentially hurting YOUR reputation with your customers. Since your down to A and B, examine your budget and decide if the extra cost for company A is worth it. In my opinion for this scenario, the best bang for the buck would be my choice due to cost savings without sacrificing reliability or reputation.
Finally, a fifth requirement that needs to be considered is: Carrier Neutrality
If a datacenter is carrier neutral, that means that it can connect to several different providers and networks, which provide the network backbone into the datacenter. There is a chance that you could already have a reputation with a certain carrier, so if a datacenter does as well, that's a huge plus. Also, several different carriers into the datacenter provides an extra layer of robustness. For example, if a datacenter only has access to one carrier and that connection between the datacenter and carrier goes down, things are dead in the water until connectivity is restored.
I hope this article has provided you some helpful information for when it comes time to choose your datacenter provider. When in doubt, consider hiring a consultant with an IT background (CIO, CTO, IT Manager, or Systems Engineer) or a third-party company to aide you in choosing a datacenter provider. Most datacenter providers are very helpful, but they all want to earn your business. If you have someone or non-personnel resources available to help aide your decision, this will provide an extra layer of validity and verification. This extra layer can be the difference between lost time, lost profit, and lost customer-base.
About the author: Wes Hogarth is an IT Manager and Research Technologist with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) in Atlanta, GA. He has over 10 years experience in the IT industry (6 of those at GTRI as a Co-Op student and full-time salaried professional). More specific, he possess knowledge in datacenter management (system administration, networking, storage, and enterprise backup), systems engineering, IT project management, virtualization (Vmware infrastructure), technical support (both in-house and external GTRI customers), and technical product research. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology with a Minor in Business Administration as well as a Master of Science in Systems Engineering, both of which are from Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, GA. LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/weshogarth