If you’re a small business that needs all the advantages of a large IT department without the associated costs of running one in-house, colocation might be the hosting option you’re looking for. A lot of big corporations invest millions of pounds in building the infrastructure to host their own servers for websites, databases and other applications, along with large teams of IT professionals to manage these servers from day to day. A small business is often unable to fund such a department, but there are other options available in the market from simple shared or dedicated hosting to full colocation hosting.
What Is Colocation?
Colocation avoids the need to own your own datacentres and their associated costs and infrastructure by allowing you to locate your server in someone else’s rack in their datacentre and share their bandwidth as though it was your own. Once the server is set up (some colo companies provide outsourced IT managed services to do this for you too) it is physibusinecally moved to the colocation provider and installed in their rack. Some companies also allow you to rent servers from them to save on this additional step. The colocation provider then gets your server up and running and you are able to access it just as you would if it was with a normal hosting provider. This is of course more expensive than standard server hosting but is usually much cheaper than the cost of getting a dedicated internet line built into your offices.
Colocation’s biggest advantage is its cost to bandwidth ratio. A limited business grade DSL connection could well cost £200 or more but for the same or less a server could be collocated to a facility that has much higher connection speeds and improved redundancy to help with business continuity planning. If you are looking for a T1 line or similar high speed connection then colocation savings tend to drastically increase.
Technical support services are normally vastly superior at colocation facilities than many companies can afford to have in-house. There’s also better protection against problems like power outages, temperature increases (or decreases) and data backup facilities. If you are moving offices, opening new offices or otherwise expanding your business your server will keep running regardless, so you won’t need to worry about your website, database or other application dropping offline just because someone moving furniture trips over a cable.
If you own the server (or rent or lease it) it is often easier to upgrade both the hardware and software than waiting for a service provider to get around to organising upgrades. If you need to install a certain framework or operating system you can just purchase and install it with no need to worry about pestering your hosting providers to get things installed, especially if critical project deadlines are coming up.
A lot of colocation providers provide very secure hosting. Many have very sophisticated security setups – some are even located underground in secured bunkers! – which will normally be far safer than anything most companies can organise internally. Most have a great deal of internal security certification which can make them ideal for PCI DSS compliant hosting if you are handling credit card information or other sensitive data.
Decent colocation providers can be a bit tricky to find. Geographical location can be an issue if you need physical access to your server rather than using a fully managed service, but if you aren’t near a major network hub then you may find that colo options are thin on the ground. Physical server access is also restricted by travel time and the necessity of accessing your machine only during the colo provider’s service hours – although some premium services do boast 24/7 access and availability.
As well as being more expensive than normal hosting, even on dedicated servers, colocation hosting can be quite expensive and often fluctuates in price. A number of providers will bill you for their services based on data transferred to and from the server, so if you have an intensive period of traffic you could suddenly see the colocation bill skyrocket.
Thinking of Colocating?
If you’re considering colocation, think carefully over what you need from your server versus what you can afford to support. If the server needs to be extremely robust with high levels of redundancy and a great deal of traffic capacity, or if you need a professional managed IT service, you may be better off with a colo hosting provider. If you are a small company with a low traffic website or just don’t have much activity on your server then it most likely is not worth the effort or cost. If you do have a large web presence but can’t afford to deal with big overheads in terms of network connections, staff salaries and other etceteras, colocation may well be an ideal solution to save you time and money in the medium to long term.