Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part article on how to pick a data center co-location vendor. The first part covered checking out an actually facility, its power supplies, and its cooling. This segment offers advice on what to look for when it comes to standby power,  site access, outside threats and communications. It also offers a quick list of recommendations that any IT executives or data center manager would be wise to consider.  

By Info-Tech Research Group

Key Selection Criteria

When visiting the potential vendor’s co-location facilities, it is important to understand what to look for both before and during the site visit. While not every tile needs to be overturned, there should be some level of due diligence performed when meeting the vendors and taking a walk through the facilities. Use the following information, along with the ITA Premium, “Data Center Co-location Site Visit and Evaluation Checklist,” to ensure that the organization has all the information it needs to make the final decision.

(Bonus For Data Center Exchange Readers: Access a free Data Center Co-Location RFP Template.)

Standby Power

A vendor should have all the resources to maintain power in the data center in case of a power failure or long term outage. Ensure the data center is equipped with an adequate redundant power supply that pulls from multiple power grids.

  • Batteries. Batteries should be used as a UPS unless there is another source for UPS ride through (i.e. flywheels). They should be checked and tested on a regular basis. Recharge of batteries should occur after every outage to ensure that they are ready for the next. Batteries should be replaced every 2-3 years.
  • Generators. The vendor should have generators on site that are able to power the full data center load in case of an outage for at least 2-3 hours.
  • UPS load. The data center and its contents (equipment, HVAC etc.) should be the only load to which the UPS supplies power.
  • UPS security. The UPS should be physically secure in the data center or separate room in the facility where no intentional or unintentional damage can be done.
  • Fuel supply. The vendor should have enough fuel to power generators and extra fuel on site to power the generators in case of an outage.

Site Access
The organization, its personnel, and technology vendors should be able to easily access the vendor’s site for check-ups and maintenance. The vendor’s site should be conducive to the following:

  • Technology vendor presence. The vendor site should be in a location where technology vendors (i.e. Dell, IBM, HP) and other equipment vendors have a presence and are able to service the organization’s people and parts quickly and easily.   
  • Street entrance. A low risk profile should be maintained. Any entrances to the data center facility through a street entrance should be inconspicuous.
  • Travel Infrastructure. The location should be easy and affordable for the organization to reach. There should be ways to supply the location with fuel quickly and easily. There should be airports, train stations, and hotels in the area surrounding the data center.

Risk
The vendor’s facility should be in a location where there is low risk of threats to destruction. Consider the following risks that may surround the facility to ensure it is in a safe location.

  • Unintentional risks. The facility should not be in an area where there is a possible threat of unintentional manmade threats.  For example, although it may seem far fetched, there should not be any chemical plants, fertilizer factories, railroad tracks or airport runways nearby as any risk in these locations could be detrimental to the facility.
  • Intentional risks. The building should have a low visual profile, meaning it is unmarked as being a data center. For example, the building and the landscaping around the building should be designed to thwart intentional threats (terrorist, deliberate sabotage, civil unrest, etc.), the parking lot should not allow cars against the side wall of the building where the computers are, and the facility should not be near a U.S. embassy.
  • Natural disasters. The facility should not be in an area susceptible to natural threats. An area that is known to have reoccurring, or even occasional severe winter storms, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes is not an ideal location.  Also, if there is a permanent FEMA presence the area should be red flagged.

Communications
When visiting a vendor’s site, ensure that communication relating to communication providers and language meets the needs of the organization.

  • Strong communications presence. The site should provide multiple feeds from multiple providers. In addition, there should be diverse routes so that if one carrier is affected the rest may not be. Networks should not converge into or onto a single point of failure, and not on the same physical fiber somewhere down the road.
  • Language. Language issues arise mostly when co-location is located out of the country; mainly because these countries present a lower cost solution. Communication issues may arise due to language barriers - ensure that if the vendor is offshore, or contracts offshore, that the organization is still able to communicate on a high and technical level in case an issue arises.

Other

  • Staff expertise. Staff should be professional, experienced and certified.
  • Documentation. The vendor should be able to supply documentation expressing its processes, procedures, and project management practices. The organization may also want to view the documentation regarding disaster recovery, shift changes, and security measures as well.

Recommendations

  1. Determine a shortlist of vendors through a RFP process before visiting sites. For an example of a RFP, use the ITA Premium “Co-location RFP Template” and for help in ranking vendor proposals and fit with chosen criteria, use the ITA Premium “Data Center Co-location Proposal Scorecard.”
  2. Conduct site visits to vendors on shortlist. After a shortlist of vendors has been identified, IT should conduct additional due diligence by visiting selected data center co-location facilities.
  3. Be prepared and know what to look for. Just walking around the building is not enough. Representatives from the organization should be prepared and understand what to look for when conducting a site visit and evaluation. To establish a basis for the site visit criteria, use the ITA Premium, “Co-location Site Visit Checklist.”

Bottom Line
When a shortlist of co-location vendors has been determined, IT must complete an additional key step in their due diligence that includes validating vendor claims and following up with site visits to each potential location. Be prepared to confirm vendor information and conduct vendor site visits by understanding what to look for when making the final decision on a data center co-location provider.

© 1998-2009 Info-Tech Research Group. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission

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