Whether you love or loathe them, TV property programmes such as Location, Location, Location are popular because they tap into peoples’ aspirations for a better environment, and their desire to get more value from their investment.

The same aspirations apply in business. You may want to make more effective use of your premises, or to reduce capital expenditure. Colocating – moving your servers to a data centre – promises to do this by freeing up valuable office space, and cutting capital expenditure on IT, which in turn streamlines your budget.

But just like buying a new house, it’s a step that shouldn’t be taken lightly. So how do you establish if colocating is right for your business? And if it is right, how should you go about choosing the right colocation partner? Here’s a practical guide to help you navigate the decisions, and ask the right questions of potential partners.

Going colo: doing the maths

The main driver behind most decisions to colocate is usually cost. As your IT and server estate grows, so do the costs of power, cooling, and housing the equipment. For example, if you have multiple racks of equipment in your main office building, colo can become an attractive option in terms of freeing up usable space and reducing energy bills.

You should consider the rent paid, or money that could be made by reusing or leasing the space used by the racks. Even the business rates you pay on that floor space can be factored in.

If an application is business critical, the risks of hosting locally are greater than in a datacentre. Local server rooms can be exposed to theft, fire, water damage and more. Locally-hosted servers are traditionally backed up to tape, demanding careful handling of the tapes themselves. Furthermore, they rely on the Internet connection and power feeds to your office building. These are rarely as resilient as the connectivity and power supplies to data centres – which makes colocation for critical applications well worth considering.

It’s also important to consider impending costs in maintaining your servers and IT infrastructure. Are any key components of that infrastructure due for replacement? Will those replacements increase overall power requirements? What about network speeds – is an upgrade needed to improve performance?

Furthermore, will any impending business changes necessitate relocation, or an investment or upgrade in technology? Any combination of these factors can create a decision point at which colocation becomes a viable option.

Flexibility counts

Sometimes the calculations are relatively straightforward – comparing the cost of extending your current in-house server room versus a much smaller outlay to begin colocating, or using a colo facility to implement a disaster recovery option to support the IT at your main site.

In these situations, deploying into a colo site can typically be accomplished in a shorter time than constructing new facilities – an advantage when a company needs to respond quickly to keep focus on its business objectives.

The situation will vary from company to company, but colocation ultimately should help to give you greater transparency on IT expenditure and help to manage or reduce costs.

Choose your partner

However, while cost is a key factor in the initial decision to collocate, there’s much more to choosing the right colocation partner than the price alone. After all, savings are meaningful only if you don’t have to invest time and money in other areas.

For instance, if the colocation host can’t offer availability or connectivity that exceeds what you have currently, then any immediate savings could easily disappear because of inefficient practices, or unscheduled downtime. Remember that colocation isn’t just another room to put your servers in: it’s part of your company’s IT backbone

So choosing the right partner is critical. Here’s a checklist of the questions you should be asking, and the answers that a reputable colo partner should be able to give you.

Facilities matter

First and foremost, ask about the facilities themselves. Are they manned around the clock, or can you only get access during business hours? This has a big impact on security, as well as your ability to make changes or fix problems. Ask if technical support staff are always available on-site, and if these ‘remote hands’ are available to you as part of your agreement.

In terms of security, ask about CCTV throughout the facility. Are there locks at every entrance and exit? Are secure, individual locking cabinets provided, not just shared cages? This is a big step in preventing shared technical issues and theft.

Power is a critical issue: can the provider offer fully redundant, prime-source generator backed power sources, or even its own electricity substation to ensure maximum uptime and efficiency? Ask also about power available per server rack. Conventional received wisdom is for a maximum 2kW per rack – advice which is now outdated. Modern facilities should offer a minimum 5kW per rack, enabling more servers to be supported in the same footprint. Remember, your power needs will inevitably grow, so plan for it.

High power availability demands effective cooling systems. Heat is the enemy of servers, so the ability to keep stable, low temperatures at all times across a growing number of servers is critical. Can the facility offer redundant, efficient cooling in each of its sections, so that if one A/C system fails, a second is in place to handle cooling demands in any circumstance?

Making connections

Just as important as the facility itself are its connections and available bandwidth. Ask the provider to show you the connectivity the facility offers: can it provide 100Mbps and GigE uplink ports, so that data isn’t throttled at the server connections? Can they offer dedicated fibre links for optimum, fully scalable data capacity, as well as redundant high-speed links to other major international hubs and networks, avoiding single points of failure?

You need both capacity and resilience. As a minimum the provider should offer up to 10GigE connections and, with bandwidth demands growing constantly, ask about the provider’s migration path to the new 40/100GigE standard in its wide-area topology.

Relationships matter

Finally, it’s vital to choose a partner that you can happily interact with in the coming years. There has to be a good foundation for resolving issues and making requests, as well as the establishment of agreed service levels. Standard business practices and due diligence apply: ask for reference accounts and contacts who can describe their experiences.

Colocation contracts often run for two or three-year periods, so it’s important to factor in planned IT initiatives to ensure the facilities will support the business throughout the duration of the contract. You don’t want to be back to square one if the colo facility cannot meet your needs in 18 months’ time.

In conclusion, colocation means more than just a place to put your servers – it’s the basis for your company’s business IT. With the right approach, you can ensure that the move to colo will help you achieve your business goals, not restrict them.