1) Where do I need my equipment to be located?
If your servers are hosting client-facing applications, you’ll need to know your clients’ demographics. Where are most of them located? Sometimes this question may be very straightforward, and sometimes it may be extremely difficult. If you’re not sure, you may want to do some market research before signing a contract. Additionally, if you have a colocation service provider in mind that you’d like to use, you can ask them if they have any data that might be useful to you – it’s very possible that they host other businesses that service similar clients and will be able to point you in the right direction. Many quality providers have multiple locations and can offer you a multi-server package that better suits your needs.
2) What buildings or POPs does the provider have fiber running to, and what is the total fiber capacity?
Even if your bandwidth requirements are minimal right now, your traffic throughput needs could increase exponentially overnight (keep in mind that we live in a day and age where a single viral video could send you from 10 megabits per second to 10 gigabits per second). Ask potential providers what buildings they have fiber connectivity with and what their capacity is. If they have 50Gbits (gigabits per second) of connectivity capacity, but they’re already pushing 40Gbits, you’ll want to ask what their strategy for future growth is and how it might impact your service (while upgrades are generally fantastic news, they often also bring service interruptions – if your servers/applications are mission-critical, this should impact your decision when choosing a carrier).
3) Will I be using the provider’s bandwidth or will I be directly connecting to transit carriers? Or both?
This question is important for more than just cost purposes. Redundancy is relatively easy to achieve on the networking side of things, so you/your business should absolutely consider using BGP to “multi-home” (connect to multiple carriers). Your internet routes will be more diversified, faster, and you’ll have a failover plan already in place. If you’ll be using the provider’s bandwidth, you’ll want to ask them for a list of traceroutes to the internet destinations that you reach most frequently (if you’re using your equipment to run Google searches, for instance, you’ll want to make sure you have a quick, reliable, and low-latency path to the server’s nearest Google IP). If you’ll be going through a third party transit carrier, you’ll want to make sure that the provider can provide a cross-connect to them and what the associated costs are.
4) How many methods of security does the data center employ and what are they?
If all you are hosting is your personal collection of funny images, chances are you don’t need NSA-grade physical security measures in place for accessing your colocation equipment. On the flip side, if you’re hosting classified company financial documents, you’ll want to ensure that there is a reasonable amount of physical security in place, as well as a variety of different security measures in place. For example, when walking into QuadraNet’s Los Angeles data center location, you’ll be greeted by a security guard, who will call QuadraNet to verify that you are an actual client and that you have permission to enter the facility. After, you’ll be greeted by a member of QuadraNet’s support team on a different floor, who will check you in, verify your identification, and then escort you to your equipment. Depending on where the equipment is located, there may be additional keys and/or biometrics in place, but every part of the data center is also monitored by 24×7 security cameras. You’ll want to ask a potential provider what steps need to be taken when entering the facility and whether or not you receive your own access card (generally meaning that you have unescorted access to the facility). If not, you will want to ask what sort of unseen security measures are in place (such as cameras) in the event of a security breach.
5) What does the provider offer in the way of power infrastructure and what level of redundancy is offered?
If what you or your business is hosting isn’t mission-critical, this may not seem like an important question to ask, but power issues down the road can cause major headaches and many unforeseen issues. If something as simple as editing a database is being done while a power outage that impacts your equipment occurs, data corruption can occur and cause your business hours and hours of downtime and man-hours in data recovery procedures. Ask the provider which “N scheme” of power redundancy they have in place and demand specifics. Some providers will claim redundancy (like N+1), but they’ll only be covered on Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPSes) and not have a failover plan should a different piece of equipment fail.
6) What is the physical infrastructure of the data center like?
This information will help you plan your colocation deployment. Every situation is different, so you will need to use the answers from your potential colocation provider in order to develop the appropriate solution for your business. Ask questions like:
- How large are the cabinets and how much equipment can they reasonably hold?
- How critical are fire suppression systems to me?
- Does the data center have raised flooring or concrete slabs?
If your equipment isn’t mission-critical, you may not mind if it gets wet in an emergency situation. If it is, you may need something like VESDA (Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus), which will resolve emergency situations before they become a service-impacting problem.
7) Do I need SLA guarantees or does the provider offer SLA guarantees on power and network?
This question again depends on how mission-critical your business’s data, services, or applications are. If a minute of downtime will cost your business sales, then you need to look for a colocation provider that offers SLA (Service Level Agreement) guarantees. If you’ll be using the colocation provider’s network/bandwidth (see the relevant question above), then you’ll want to ensure that the provider offers a network SLA as well as a power SLA.
8) What physical natural disasters are likely to happen at the data center’s location?
Don’t be afraid to ask for information about previous outages. For instance, if the data center is located in California, earthquakes may be a potential problem to consider. If that’s the case, ask them for information on earthquake retrofitting in the building, how their cabinets are bolted, and whether there have ever been any related problems in the past. Ask other questions like:
- What are the data center provider’s recovery procedures during a natural disaster?
- What are the generator/refueling procedures during a natural disaster?
- How long of an outage can the data center sustain?
Try to think outside the box as well – if the data center is located in London, storms might prevent technicians from commuting to the data center. Ask the potential provider for contingency plans that are in place.
9) What services are included or available for my equipment/network?
Even if you have your own staff to complete remote hands projects for your business, an incident may occur that requires emergency hands-on technical support. Ask your provider questions like:
- Is remote hands available 24x7x365?
- If not, how close is a technician at any given time?
- What are the fees for advanced remote hands?
If remote hands is not available, ask them how far away the closest technician is at any given time. You’ll also want to ensure that those technicians are capable of completing any work that you may need done. For example, if your equipment is comprised primarily of Cisco gear, you’ll want to ensure that there are technicians available who are familiar with Cisco IOS. You’ll also want to keep in mind that there may be higher fees associated with requesting more skilled labor.
10) How does equipment shipping work and what are the in/out policies and procedures at the data center?
If you need to send your technicians to work on your equipment, find out how that gets accomplished and what the relevant procedures are. Most secure data centers have some level of equipment tracking in place, so you will want to ask what the process is for adding or removing equipment. Ask the potential provider if they have the ability to ship equipment out for you and what will happen when equipment is received at the data center for you.
BONUS QUESTION – Does my business require any data center compliance certifications, such as SOC2?
Most businesses do not require their colocation provider to have any certifications, but if you’re hosting certain types of data, you will want to ensure that the potential provider has the relevant certifications in place. Most data centers deal with these questions on a daily basis, so if you’re not sure if what you’re hosting requires compliance, don’t hesitate to ask the potential provider, as they may be able to provide additional insight.