July 11, 2011, 8:47 PM — Brian Burch knew the moment had arrived. Two of his data center's key services -- availability and business continuity -- needed fast and dramatic improvement. Design and location limitations meant that his company's existing data center couldn't be upgraded to the levels necessary to provide the required function and performance gains.
So Burch, senior worldwide infrastructure director of Kemet, a capacitor manufacturer headquartered in Simpsonville, S.C., decided last year that it was time for his data center to split.
Even in today's challenging economy, enterprises are facing rising internal and external demands for IT services. When an existing data center can no longer shoulder an enterprise's IT burden alone, or when it becomes necessary to establish a secondary site to provide enhanced business continuity or regional network support, an important decision point has been reached.
By one analyst's count, there are more than 400 providers of colocation services -- known as colo for short -- offering a huge range of options and price points.
Colocation is different from traditional hosting, which IT folks may be more familiar with. In a hosting situation, usually the service provider owns the hardware and software and other infrastructure that serve up your applications. Providers can specialize in different types of services -- application hosting, website hosting, database hosting and the like.
In contrast, colocation customers own their servers, routers and other hardware and often tend to this gear with their own employees (although customers can pay for "remote hands" services for the vendor to, say, restart a server so their IT staffers don't need to travel to the vendor's location just to do that).
Some colo providers specialize by going after SMBs, financial services firms or other categories of customers.
There are two general types of colocation providers: wholesale and retail. Wholesale colocation providers deal with large spaces -- a 10,000-square-foot data center, for example. Except for the power and cooling infrastructure, it's essentially empty space. The customer, or tenant, does the work of rolling in the servers and racks, cabling up the gear and making sure it all works.
On the retail side, spaces are usually smaller -- down to individual servers or "cages" -- and there is more setup help available, for a price. In general, says Jeff Paschke, senior analyst at Tier1 Research, expect to pay more for retail colocation than wholesale space.