A colocation center, or colo, is a facility that serves the data center needs of many businesses. Each server farm requires the servers themselves, networking switches, routers and appliances, equipment racks, rack wiring, electrical power, cooling air, and connectivity. Plus you’ll need physical security, fire suppression and a staff to monitor operations and take corrective action 24/7. You can provide all of this in-house or get it at a colocation center.
What makes a colo center cost effective is economy of scale. Instead of each customer having to maintain their own backup generators and fire suppression systems that are rarely used, the colocation facility has much larger units that serve all customers. The costs don’t scale linearly. The incremental cost of adding another user to the facility is pretty low and the facility cost spread over all users is less than what you can do on your own.
The somewhat hidden secret of colocation centers is that they have bandwidth available that you may not be able to afford on your own. A common connection is 100 Mbps Fast Ethernet. You know that it’s no great shakes to connect a 100 Mbps Ethernet node to your own LAN. Getting a 100 Mbps connection beyond your property line may be anywhere from expensive to impossible. At 100 Mbps, you are beyond the capability of twisted pair services such as EoC or T1/E1 lines. You’ll need fiber optic cabling brought into your building and lit for SONET/SDH or Metro Ethernet service.
Why is there such a difference in price between 100 Mbps bandwidth provided in a colocation center and the same level of service delivered to your facility? One big reason is construction costs. Downtown in a major metropolitan area there may be many fiber facilities in your office building or nearby. If you order a significant amount of bandwidth you might not even be charged construction costs. But move a bit off the beaten fiber path and those charges go up dramatically. If you are located in a smaller town, industrial park or rural area you can be looking at tens of thousands of dollars or more to trench fiber optic cable from the nearest carrier point of presence.
The other reason for bargain prices at colocation facilities is competition. Once again, depending on population density and popularity of high bandwidth network services, you might find yourself with only one carrier serving your location. Your negotiating ability is pretty limited without competition. Colocation centers, however, are carrier magnets. Service providers know that there are dozens or hundreds of customers in a single building who all need their services. It’s no wonder they all set up points of presence within the colo. Often, there is a “meet me room” where carriers and customers are connected.
The combination of having several or more eager carriers vying for your business combined with the trivial construction costs of running a drop to your equipment racks is what makes it easy and relatively inexpensive to get all the bandwidth you want in a colocation center. Can you say the same for where you are now? There’s an easy way to find out. Simply request bandwidth availability and pricing for both your location and a nearby colocation facility.
Note: Photo of server rack wiring courtesy of Guillaume Paumier on Wikipedia Commons