Is Co-Location The Right Choice for Your Data Center?

Today’s data center managers face a variety of challenges.  On any given day, they are expected to come up with ways to:

  • Reduce costs
  • Improve IT performance
  • Improve efficiency
  • Refresh hardware
  • Right-size their support systems to match their IT systems
  • Improve reliability
  • Do more with less

As they work hard to meet these sometimes-competing objectives, many data center managers are looking toward co-location providers to enable them to accomplish some of their goals.

A hypothetical example

A government agency has three data centers in its HQ office space.  Looking back, it would have made perfect sense to consolidate all three of these data centers years ago, but turf battles, budgets and politics all got in the way.  Now the agency has three sets of infrastructure to maintain, not to mention three operations teams.  To make matters worse, all three data centers are more than 10 years old, meaning they are far from optimized, from a space, cooling and power perspective.

What are the options?

Consolidate the Data Centers On-Site

Let’s say this hypothetical agency wants to keep their data center assets “in-house”.  The best way to achieve many of the aforementioned goals would be to create an up-to-date data center space within their own property and migrate the contents of their three data centers into it.  This is certainly a significant undertaking, but it can be accomplished with very little downtime and risk with the appropriate planning and outside support.

The downside to this concept is the up-front cost.  Building a data center is not cheap, and in the federal government today, there is a fine line between career suicide and approving capital funds for a new data center.  Before the decision is made to co-locate outside, this Agency would be wise to look at all of the various financing options.  Capital costs can be aggregated and financed through various lease instruments, thereby spreading out that big capital expense into much more manageable monthly costs.  In many cases, these costs will be less than the financial commitment required with an outside co-location provider.

Move all Three Data Centers to a Co-location Data Center

Let’s assume that our Agency doesn’t mind keeping its data center assets off-site, and is willing to move its systems into a co-location facility.  This is happening more and more today, and CIO level leadership is strongly encouraging this option as a way to comply with the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI).  Many also assume that this path will be a shortcut to minimizing downtime, maximizing reliability, right-sizing space, reducing staff levels, and lowering costs.

What’s not to love?

Co-location done right.

Moving your data center to a co-location facility is the right decision for many data center managers.  However, to know for sure, one must ask and answer the following questions:

  • Can you virtualize your applications in order to reduce the amount of hardware that must be moved and operated in the new environment?  It is not unreasonable to expect to reduce your IT footprint dramatically when consolidating either in-house, or outside.
  • Can you move some applications to the cloud now?  Alternatively, can you create your own cloud within the new hosted environment?
  • Are your applications and office network “cloud-ready”?  In other words, since your data will be stored elsewhere, will you have the internal and external network in place to send/receive information with minimal latency so the users do not perceive any decline in performance? Are your applications designed to operate across a WAN link?
  • Are you prepared to commit to co-location for the long term?  Moving offices is hard.  Moving data centers is extremely hard, and not something you want to do every year or so.
  • Are you actually going to save money when you factor in all of the costs and savings?  When you add in the potentially higher telecommunication expenses, are you truly going to save money over the alternative of consolidating in-house?
  • Are you still going to need data center space in your current office environment?  While the space allocation can be drastically reduced, it is not unusual to still require a smaller data center footprint in-house for networking gear and possibly some servers.

The big question that government IT leaders should ask themselves is this: when you look at the big picture, are you doing the right thing for the taxpayers by reducing costs, increasing productivity, improving reliability, and reducing your carbon footprint?  Are you considering co-location for all of the right reasons, or is the driving factor the need to placate Mr. VanRoekel, the Federal CIO, and comply with the FDCCI (Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative)?

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