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Colocation: Curtailing the confusion

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Dennis Thankachan, Lightyear’s CEO and cofounder, debunks the common misconceptions and misunderstandings that surround colocation.

There are several common misconceptions and misunderstandings when it comes to colocation. Perceived barriers of entry include everything from the fact that colocation is expensive, inflexible, or simply not as secure as on-site hosting.

In truth, colocation data centres often have much better connectivity, infrastructure and security than many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can afford when using their own on-site hosting. This article will debunk many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding colocation and reveal why you should consider it for your business.

Colocation is the same as traditional web hosting

Colocation is not the same as traditional web hosting. Traditional web hosting involves sending your files to another server owned or managed by your web host. Depending on whether you have a private or shared server, you may be sharing that space (and bandwidth) with other clients of the web host.

With colocation, you physically own the servers that are colocated in another data centre. Although the server physically resides in another location, it is still yours, and you don’t compete with others for server resources or bandwidth.

The customer has little or no control over infrastructure

All you rent at a colocation centre is space and connectivity; the servers and the software running on them belong to you, and your staff can perform most maintenance and configuration tasks remotely. Additionally, there is fierce competition among colocation providers, so many data centres will accommodate additional business needs. If you find one that isn’t flexible, shop around until you find a more flexible provider that better suits your needs.

There are no availability guarantees in a colocation arrangement

Colocation centres often have staff on-site 24/7 to deal with any issues that arise. They also have multiple failover procedures in the event of a power failure, from battery backups to on-site diesel generators, and even direct connections to local utility companies. Colocation centres also typically run at around 80% capacity or less, so they have room to be flexible in the event of spikes in traffic.

Colocation extracts a performance penalty because the equipment is offsite

A greater physical distance between client and server means data has to travel further, and therefore it can take a longer time to transfer. However, this performance penalty is often overstated, as colocation providers often implement solutions that mitigate against this.

Colocation data centres are usually a lot more efficient than traditional on-site servers. Many of these data centres will have direct connections to local utility companies, and some also use what’s known as ‘dark fibre’.

Traditionally, fibre optic connections are shared among many different companies and customers. Comparatively, the data centre owner uses an individual dark fibre connection, so there is no competition for resources. This allows colocation centres to offer impressive performance despite the physical distance.

Colocation is expensive

Compared to traditional web hosting, colocation is more expensive. The problem with this comparison, however, is that the two services are fundamentally different. With colocation, you essentially get all the advantages of having your own data centre — from the superior internet connectivity to 24/7 on-site management.

A better comparison to make would be the cost of staffing and maintaining your own data centre. Naturally, compared to this, colocation is typically much cheaper.

Colocation is inconvenient

Not having physical access to your servers might be considered an inconvenience to some, but a lot of colocation providers offer managed service contracts. This support can include physical security, network security, disaster recovery, support with cooling and power issues, and more.

Some providers can even help fine-tune and upgrade your server hardware and software. The amount of support you get depends on how much you want — whether you prefer a fully-managed service or not.

Colocation limits scalability

Colocation data centres are incredibly flexible. Since they handle many different clients, they have the resources to scale to meet virtually any demand upon request. These resources can be raised or reduced at any time, often much more quickly than would be possible with traditional on-site hosting.

Colocation is less secure than on-site hosting

Security is a priority for many colocation data centres, and many include several layers of physical and network security.

Equipment for different clients is physically separated and locked behind cages, in addition to 24/7 surveillance, on-site security guards, biometric scanners and more. Many colocation providers are also happy to offer tours to their clients if you’d like to verify security procedures that are in place. Few SMEs can afford this level of protection with on-site hosting.

Uptime could be an issue

Colocation data centres are typically staffed 24/7 and include several failovers and backup devices for power. There is a lot of redundancy built into the services provided by colocation data centres, making them considerably more reliable than other hosting solutions. Some data centres even offer 100% uptime guarantees. This level of reliability is considered a competitive advantage by many colocation services.

Cloud will eliminate the need for colocation in the future

Cloud hosting offers a lot of similar benefits to colocation, but the big difference is vendor lock-in. Creating a genuinely platform-agnostic service in the cloud is extremely difficult. Many large players such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure offer similar functionality, but with slightly different ways of doing things.

Businesses with large-scale services that are fully integrated into one particular cloud platform know how difficult it can be to migrate to another. Since you own the servers you use when using a colocation provider, you have complete control over how your product and data is structured.

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