A colocation is rented space for your IT and data infrastructure in a data center owned by a third party, usually a professional data center services provider. There are small and large, local, national and global providers of data center facilities and services.
When deciding where to install a data- or compute-intensive infrastructure, the usual choices are either on-premise (in your own data center or server room located in one of your buildings), or in a public cloud (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud).
But there is another option that has been available and successfully used for decades. You can collocate your infrastructure with a data center provider.
Data center service providers offer more flexibility than both your own data center and the public cloud. Services range from basic cabinet (rack) space to custom setups matching your exact needs. While you could potentially create colocation-level flexibility within your own data centers, it would be cost-prohibitive.
A public cloud cannot be as flexible as a collocation, because it constrains you to using only application-level services. In a cloud, you have no control over your infrastructure.
When deciding whether to invest in a public cloud or local on-premise compute infrastructure, we often hear that public cloud more cost-effective. After all, in a public cloud you don’t have to worry about managing the physical aspects of a data center: power, cooling and space.
In addition, you don’t have to build the entire infrastructure first. You can start small, and purchase only the infrastructure components you need today. When you need more, you buy more.
While there are cases when investing in your own data center or server room is necessary, or gives you a competitive advantage, most organizations do not need them. This is why going to public cloud seems like a good idea.
Predicting how much a cloud is going to cost is impossible. Many companies, as they start to use public clouds, soon end up getting nickle-and-dimed by the provider, and overspend by a large margin.
Often a colocation is a be a better match with your needs. You don’t have to build your own infrastructure in advance, there is a lot of flexibility and options, and you don’t end up burning through cash by getting charged for hundreds of cloud a-la-cart services you didn’t know you needed.
A colocation is someone else’s data center. With a colocation, you take advantage of all the good that data centers offer (hardware choices, flexibility, control) and hand over all the pain (managing space, power, cooling, redundancy) to someone else.
You can start as small as renting a single cabinet (or even less, depending on which data center provider you pick), and scale up to many cabinets and even dedicated rooms.
Although public cloud infrastructures also run in physical data centers, in a public cloud you have no access to the actual infrastructure components. You are instead limited to the cloud provider’s application-level services.
You don’t have control over cloud services provided to you, including the software, hardware and their integration with the infrastructure layers below.
Since you have less control over how you set up and use your technology infrastructure and environment, you end up doing additional work to adapt the services given to you by the cloud provider to get the functionality you need. And if you manage to do that, you become locked to that cloud provider’s specific environment.
Unless you are using a technology for its most basic functionality, you will run into a need to customize your technology environment sooner rather than later. When that time comes, you will consider moving from the cloud to a colocation.
Contrary to popular belief, using public cloud often doesn’t save you money. In fact, it is usually more expensive, especially for data- and compute-intensive workloads, and as you scale it can get prohibitively expensive.
It is easy to see why. If you’re visiting a city for a week or two, you would find a place to stay with a service like Airbnb. If you stayed for six months or a few years, you would rent an apartment the traditional way. It just makes sense that it would be a lot less expensive.
It is the same with computing in the cloud. If you need to get something occasionally done, you would use a cloud. If you were computing 24/7 you would get a colocation.
Maybe you don’t want to have direct control over your infrastructure, especially if you don’t have the staff to manage it. And that’s perfectly fine. You don’t have to have your own infrastructure team, your data center provider can manage - any level - of the infrastructure for you.
What is important is that you have a choice. You can mix and match. You are not locked into applications and services you have no control over. You can let the provider manage your infrastructure and focus on applications. You can even manage certain infrastructure components yourself and outsource the rest. This flexibility is unique to colocations.
Colocations have dedicated connectivity to all major public cloud providers. You don’t have to choose between cloud or collocation, you can use both.
Public clouds do have their advantages. But they are very specific and complex to access. Many times you will just overpay and spend more time than you planed on various integrations.
There is a tool for every job. For simple needs, cloud is a good choice. There is no need to recreate something that already exists - Administrative and HR applications come to mind.
Data- and compute-intensive workloads are a different story. They use a lot of hardware resources, and purchasing those resources a-la-cart is expensive. It all makes economic sense. You wouldn’t rent a car at Hertz for a year, you would lease or buy one.
Colocations are more flexible and cost-effective than both on-premise data centers and the public cloud. You will not get locked into any specific cloud solutions that make it difficult to move your infrastructure elsewhere.
You can start small and grow as you need to. You don’t have to manager any equipment, but can if you want to. Colocations are connected to public clouds and you can integrate them together to take advantage of both.