You would be hard-pressed to find something more complex than a modern data center. A state-of-the-art building stocked with all the necessary software for a major company might run into billions in costs if you decide to build and operate your own from the ground up.
Even though many pundits had predicted data centers would become a thing of the past due to the ever increasing adoption of SaaS, as we previously predicted, data centers are still popular with companies and evolving for 2020. One phase of that evolution is for businesses to box up all of the gear in their data center and install it with what is called a colocation provider, or “Colo” if you’re looking for a snappy acronym.
“Going Colo” refers to renting space in a building, usually a rather large building, and moving all your physical servers and network hardware there. You’ll have neighbors who are doing the same thing because this is just a fancified way to say you’ll have a landlord.
The Colo market is getting big in a hurry. The global market was $31.5 billion for this type of data center arrangement in 2017, but is expected to expand to at least $62.3 billion by 2022. What a company, large or small, has to ask itself is if this type of arrangement is a good thing for DevOps. Let’s ponder that.
It’s Cheaper When You Don’t Own the Building
If you remove the possibility that you could be thrown out of the space at a moment’s notice (a worst case scenario that a good rental agreement should address), the idea is a no-brainer from a cost savings perspective.
For an enterprise, let someone else take on the risk of construction and infrastructure maintenance. For a small-to-medium-sized business, the cost of building and monitoring a modern data center makes it impossible.
The unfortunate reality is that, when you do own the building, someone has to take care of it. In a perfect world, every company would have a dedicated IT staff; if you’re Microsoft, Apple, Google or Facebook, that certainly is the case.
For much of the tech world, the choice to maintain a data center onsite often results in personnel being frequently dragged out of their role in DevOps and asked them to do something related to the data center, often a task they are not qualified for. This creates holes and inefficiency in the development process. That’s a bad thing.
Good Infrastructure Means Better Uptime
Guess what’s also bad for DevOps? The team’s least favorite scenario—besides an unexpected meteor strike—would be system crashes and downtime related to hardware issues. Downtime can be incredibly expensive for a multitude of reasons besides the obvious—employees sitting around twiddling their thumbs. There is also the scenario of actual lost income. As Amazon found out the hard way, the number can be astronomical.
With no internet connection, business payment systems, no matter how sophisticated, are likely to be non-functional, though some will queue payments and run them through when the system goes back online. This is why it’s a good idea for businesses to find ways to speed up transactions from clients and customers, such as automating invoices and customizable invoicing tools that allow multiple options for straightforward payments.
This is also another area where going Colo can be a huge help to development. Think about it. In return for scratching a monthly rent check, you get diversified and redundant power sources, the most reliable internet on the planet and enough bandwidth to strangle an elephant.
The bottom line is that moving equipment to a Colo space should be accompanied by a significant reduction in downtime. If it’s not, you need a different landlord. Downtime is the enemy of product/service development progress. A modern Colo arrangement means you don’t have to spend time running down to the local Dollar General in search of an extension cord when one flames out. Okay, you really shouldn’t be using extension cords from a dollar store in your data center, but you get the idea.
Secured Data and Premises
The only type of downtime worse than that caused by insufficient infrastructure is when data is breached either through hacker online trickery or physical penetration of the premises. The latter happens more than you might think. Bad guys decide to go old school and break into a Colo center in the middle of the night to physically drag servers out of the rack and spirit them away.
With the intense global focus on thwarting hackers, DevOps is already in the process of evolving into DevSecOps as we speak. The reason is simple. Development teams are realizing that a focus on security from the start reduces the chance that a project gets interrupted mid-development resulting in—you guessed it—downtime.
With a Colo provider, let them worry about security.
In a Word, Scalability
With the everyday lexicon expanding to include cloud storage possibilities, the idea of scalability is at least somewhat familiar to the masses and certainly to businesses.
Google actually started out in a colocation data center before their data collection grew to approximately the size of the Milky Way galaxy. For IT in general and DevOps in particular, scalability is the Holy Grail because no company expects to stay the same size forever.
A smart DevOps team, especially one that works in any of the growing number of SaaS business models, will put the bug in management’s ear about the benefits of Colo long before the need arises.
The worst time for an upwardly mobile small or medium-sized company to start thinking about making the switch is after you’ve already outgrown present resources. For example, when working with inadequate bandwidth, a peak time data spike can slow development as local computers struggle to find enough bandwidth to function.
Another dirty little secret is that Colo providers typically get better internet rates than a single company, so there’s that. With the cost of a spike spread across all tenants, the actual cost to you will be considerably less than trying to manage your own data.
The bottom line is that the service provided by a Colo center should reduce the strain on a company’s IT budget and resources. Common services provided to a tenant are support personnel, who monitor and troubleshoot systems and issues before they grow into a big, fat calamity. Money you don’t spend providing basic service to an onsite data center is money you can funnel toward doing your company’s main work.
There’s one more thing a Colo site provides that shouldn’t be undervalued, and that is peace of mind, because you have removed much of the stress, cost and personnel drain that accompanies running your own data center. Farm it out. Let someone run it who hires staff with the particular skills needed and has a vested interest in keeping you happy.