For a long time, choosing a colocation provider was primarily a matter of pointing at a map and choosing whichever vendor offered the best price in the location you were focused on. If you were a business in Houston and wanted a local vendor, you would lease space in a Houston data center and base your choice on whichever service provider offered the best combination of trust and convenience. If you wanted a facility to reach a new market, it was still mostly a matter of choosing the region and selecting an inexpensive service. The major difference is that you would want to make sure the colocation vendor was a good data center services provider. For a while, colocation services were a commodity with little difference between service options and vendors.
This simple vendor selection landscape is disappearing, but the result is a better environment for organizations trying to leverage colocation solutions. Changing technology trends, more sophisticated data center constructed methodologies and diverse IT service opportunities has left colocation providers working to differentiate themselves from the combination. Colocation is no longer a commodity. Five especially noteworthy reasons why colocation services are diversifying include:
1. Cloud computing
With more organizations implementing hybrid cloud solutions, many companies find themselves needing to find a better way to integrate between private clouds, public clouds and traditional IT systems. One of the greatest integration challenges when dealing with the cloud is needing to address the wide variety of sources that information comes from. One one side of the network you have different cloud service vendors, internal IT systems and private cloud clusters as separate sources and destinations for content. On the other, you have users who can access data from workstations in the office, through the Web or by using mobile apps and services.
The result of this hybridized cloud environment is a need for a flexible, powerful and centralized network solution that can be a hub for data, and some colocation vendors are differentiating themselves by focusing on data center connectivity.
2. Cloud computing: The Sequel
I promise, we're talking about something a bit different here. Cloud computing isn't just leading to issues with hybridization, it is also creating a variety of performance challenges.
Businesses turning to the cloud have long known that the underlying virtualization architectures that make the cloud work can lead to performance challenges when running data-intensive workloads or particularly performance-sensitive applications. This is leading to the rise of bare-metal cloud solutions and similar performance-focused cloud systems that depend on extremely sophisticated data center architectures, including advanced connectivity options. Colocation providers that are trying to get ahead in this space often differentiate themselves by offering a fairly unique combination of solutions that can resolve cloud performance challenges.
3. High-density computing
The data center consolidation movement may not be big news at the moment, but that is only because it has matured so much that it is taking on a slightly different form. Many organizations are still consolidating their data centers, but the result is a hybrid IT environment in which cloud and non-cloud resources need to interact with ease. This often leads to an environment in which organizations are heavily virtualizing their systems and increasing hardware density in racks and cabinets. With more data in less hardware the infrastructure has to be more robust and run at higher utilization rates. This is possible, but only with advanced power and network systems that can support this density.
High-density computing is a complex and difficult matter, but building facilities that can host this type of infrastructure is becoming a key competitive point in colocation, with some vendors working hard to meet shifting enterprise IT needs.
4. Data-intensive research
The big data movement is helping organizations unlock the full potential of the information at their disposal, but doing so depends on capturing and analyzing huge data sets. From there, many companies end up running simulations based on that data that create even more information. High-performance computing systems are becoming more popular in enterprise segments as data-intensive research takes hold, and the potential value of predictive analytics and similar functions is becoming clear.
Many organizations are excited about HPC options, but don't have the kind of data center needed to support such functionality. Some colocation providers are choosing to differentiate themselves by creating facilities that can support HPC systems and do so in a cost-efficient way.
5. Regulatory compliance
The simplest point comes up last – many companies are facing regulatory pressure and need to simplify matters. Working with data center services vendors that can operate in compliance with regulatory laws makes everything easier and allows some colocation providers to differentiate themselves from competitors.
There are still some colocation providers out there designed to host your infrastructure as inexpensively as possible, but the decommoditization of the colocation sector is leading to more diversity and increasingly advanced service options. As such, colocation decisions are now just as much about functionality as they are about issues like location and cost.