Data Center 101 – What to Look for in a Colocation Provider

When evaluating colocation providers, there are critical data center design factors that can influence your decision. Rada Flom, Senior Director of Data Center Operations at HOSTING provided an overview of data center resources in a recent webinar to help organizations select the best colocation facility for their needs. Missed it? Below are some key points. You can also log onto our on-demand webinar, Data Center 101 – What to Look for in a Colocation Provider.

Data Center Resources

Building Location and Infrastructure

Whether a data center is housed in a single-tenant or multi-tenant building can influence your selection. A single-tenant facility often enables the highest grade of support based on the Tier Model popularized by the Uptime Institute and ensures that there are no other tenants in conflict with your business. Keep in mind that some multi-occupancy data centers can also support higher tier levels. For example, HOSTING complies with Tier 3 requirements for power and cooling at all our data centers, including our Denver location. However, since the building also houses other entities operating administrative offices, it is considered a multi-tenant facility.

The location of a data center is also a key factor. If a data center is in a flood plain, check to see how often floods occur. Also find out if the data center is in close proximity to railroad lines or in a flight path. If industrial goods are transported through a railroad, a spill can trigger an evacuation which would lead to a “lights out” facility. Similarly, a flight emergency often results in an aircraft dumping fuel – a key consideration if a data center is located inland.

Finally, understand how the data center is constructed. A concrete slab and column construction is typically located in city centers. They offer a high floor load which can support cabinets with a heavier weight. Data centers with a concrete tilt-up construction are often found in suburban environments and are two stories or less. The concrete walls are poured flat at the foundation then raised into place. Since they are seismically robust, they are a good choice for areas located in earthquake zones.

Data Center Power Supply

Most data centers provide UPS power (uninterruptable power supply). The UPS system provides power in a consistent, reliable fashion to customer cabinets and is backed up by onsite generators in the event utility power is interrupted. It is typically used to protect hardware such as computers, data centers, telecommunication equipment or other electrical equipment where an unexpected power disruption could cause serious business disruption or data loss. A key question related to UPS is the data center’s fault tolerance architecture.

Look for data centers that have N +1 or A/B architectures. With N +1 architecture, an additional module is always in place to keep systems backed up during repairs, maintenance and fault. A/B architecture offers two distinct power supply channels. Since they don’t interact with each other, one can be taken down with no impact to the other one.

Avoid data centers with N single threaded architecture which cannot be maintained without impacting a customer load and sustaining downtime.

Data Center Cooling

Every data center and server component generates heat, which needs to be cooled reliably and sustainably. Additional cooling power must be allocated for such factors as lighting, human traffic and the heat load that a building absorbs from the sun, otherwise known as “solar gain.” HOSTING allocates 30 – 50% more cooling power for these conditions and also to ensure fault tolerance.

Controlling humidity within the data center is also essential as it controls static discharge. An excessive amount of humidity in the data center can negatively impact electronic equipment over time. Data centers that don’t have enough humidity, especially those operating in colder dry climates, are at risk of carrying higher static charges and  putting sensitive equipment at risk.

HOSTING maintains data center temperatures between 74 and 77 degrees and a humidity level of 30 – 40% (+/- 5%) which is in compliance with ASHREA standards. “Clean air” is circulated throughout our data centers which is free of dust and particulates.

Fire Suppression

Many data centers, including those that are owned and operated by HOSTING, use several fire suppression methods.

Pre-action dry pipe system

The sprinklers in this system are charged with air instead of water. In the event of smoke or fire alarm, it signals the system to charge the lines with water; however, deluge only occurs when a sprinkler head reaches 155 degrees or more and only at that particular sprinkler head. This ensures the suppression event is limited only to the affected areea.

VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection)

This is a grid of sniffers that pulls in air, sampling it at the ionic level to see if there are any particles  that suggest a component may be smoldering, and if left untreated, could develop into a fire. Each sector has a dedicated path of air traveling back to the VESDA. If an abnormality in the air is detected, it puts the fire system into a state of alarm. Data center personnel can then pinpoint and address the exact location within the data center using hand-held detectors that allow then to sample air locally.

Photo electric detection grid

Each smoke detector is assigned a grid that looks for opacity of the air which can indicate the possibility of a fire.

Data Center Security

It is critical to learn what security measures a data center has in place such as assigned access cards linked to a biometric signature of a person’s hand, man-traps to prevent “piggy backing” and on-site security personnel to qualify and control  visitor and vendor traffic.

Video monitoring is an essential security feature in data centers. Ask if the data center has camera coverage at all critical entry and exit points, and how long they retain footage. Each HOSTING data center has video monitoring via strategically located interior and exterior cameras, providing 90 days of video retention for critical areas.

If your organization is subject to compliance regulations such as HIPAA or PCI, check that the data center is adhering to the necessary security protocols and is being audited on a regular basis.

Network

Make sure the data center you choose has multiple backbone carriers that can provide redundancy and automatic failover for continual connectivity. Each HOSTING data center has 3-4 bandwidth providers to the data center. This allows for fault tolerance as we can shift traffic to different providers, ensuring our clients aren’t exposed to latency. Fiber is brought into the data center from two different paths of travel preventing an interruption in the event of a construction accident.

Customer service

Your business may not end at 5:00 pm, so make sure your prospective data center offers 24 x 7 x 365 customer and vendor access. A good data center will also offer access to high-level support teams 24 x 7 via multiple communication channels such as phone and email. A robust customer portal such as one offered by HOSTING will provide real-time visibility into your colocation environment and the ability to create a service ticket for routine issues.

Finally, ask if the data center provides a 24 x 7 x 365 staffed NOC and remote hands assistance. At HOSTING, our data center specialists walk the facilities every two hours to assess the condition of the data center and troubleshoot any potential issues.

HOSTING Data Centers

HOSTING owns and operates six world-class data centers strategically located across the United States. Built to scale to the needs of our domestic and international clientele, each data center leverages an ITIL-based control environment validated for compliance against HIPAA, PCI DSS and SOC (formerly SAS 70) frameworks. Our data centers are also 100% compliant against OCR and PCI Audit Protocols. All HOSTING data centers comply with Tier 2 architecture and satisfy Tier 3 design requirements where it counts most to our customer; for critical power and cooling. Our data centers boast round-the-clock, multi-layered security including 24 x 7 x 365 on premise personnel, biometrics, video surveillance and three layers of NOC monitoring.

Want to learn more? Take a tour of one of our data centers in Denver, Newark, Louisville, Dallas, Irvine or San Francisco today.

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