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Hosting: Decisions On Location

April 10, 2009
By Carmi Levy, ProcessorMagazine.com

Just because you've decided to go with a hosted data center doesn't mean you're finished making major decisions. Now you have to decide whether the site should be local-or at least close enough to allow regular site visits-or farther away for disaster preparedness purposes.

It's a business-critical decision and one that demands a solid understanding of your business goals. Basic physics comes into play, too.

"It's a pretty simple equation, really," says Brent Gillentine, director of operations for S3 (www.s3.com), an Austin, Texas, company that processes stock market data in real time for most of the major Wall Street financial services. "You want the least amount of data to travel the least amount of distance. When data moves over distance, it impacts both time and money, two things you want to avoid."

Please Don't Squeeze The Server

Distance also affects that sense of control that many IT professionals covet.

"Ideally, you'd love to have all of your hardware colocated with your business so you can lay hands on it yourself without having to rely on a contractor," Gillentine says. "Nobody cares about your data and your business as much as you do."

But this kind of control comes with a cost, too.

"I'm not sure who coined the term 'server hugging,' but I think that is an excellent description for the desire of IT managers to keep their equipment close to their headquarters," says Tom Deaderick, OnePartner's director of business development. He adds that most organizations begin their search for a hosted data center within 60 to 100 miles of their headquarters.

"This first decision eliminates many data center choices that might provide superior service and capabilities to the few that are close at hand," Deaderick says. "So right out of the gate, highly qualified data centers are removed from consideration simply because they aren't close enough to the organization's offices. Many mediocre data centers get business just because they were close at hand."

The evolution of advanced remote management tools and hosting providers that deliver a broad range of hands-on services on behalf of clients means IT teams no longer need to go onsite as often as they used to. Beyond toolsets, location decisions should also factor in who owns the equipment, who manages it, and how they plan to manage it.

"It inevitably comes down to the basics," says Brett Jaffe, president of IT4 (www.it4yourbusiness.com), a Boston-based IT services company. "If you own the equipment, you want it local with failover elsewhere. If a provider is providing you with a customized solution for your company and delivering your technology as a service, they need the data center local to them. This does not necessarily mean it needs to be local to you.

"If a national provider is granting services, the location may be irrelevant, as they most likely have staff engineers on-site at the data center," Jaffe says. "The decision should thus not be based on location but rather what services will be offered, how much you need the data center tailored to your company, and what your tolerance is, if any, for downtime."

With that in mind, Jaffe says companies that require Tier IV data centers and acceptable data recovery models may be prime candidates for moving their entire service into the cloud.

Don't Forget Human Factors

For organizations still wary of the performance and convenience limitations of remote hosts, local providers continue to have their advantages-many of which are human-focused.

"If the relationship requires touch points, sit-downs, walk-throughs, and the like, a local host allows you to work through issues and create a more hands-on partner approach," says Andy Balazs, vice president of enterprise technology, advancement infrastructure, and operations for Antares Management Solutions (www.antaressolutions.com).

Moreover, just because it's far away doesn't necessarily mean it's properly redundant. A company based in Florida, for example, would want to think twice before selecting a remote site along the Gulf Coast, as both the company offices and the remote data center would be similarly vulnerable to hurricane strikes.

"Geography matters more than distance," says Jamie Brenzel, CEO of Data Deposit Box, an online backup and storage provider (www.datadepositbox.com). "If a business is located in an area in which natural disasters or other such threats are rare, using a local data center is probably OK. However, if the business is located in an area like South Florida, where hurricanes and even serious summer storms are almost expected every year, you're taking a big risk."

Going local demands similar critical thinking.

"Just because the data center is local doesn't mean it's going to have the same natural disaster propensities as your company does," Balazs says. "A company might be in a flood plain valley, but if they can look up and see my data center several miles away, towards the top of a hill, that data center isn't going to encounter the same flooding issues that my company does. So I'll probably be pretty well protected from that potential flood disaster."

Of course, a location-based decision can be rendered irrelevant if IT fails to consider quality and fit.

"Choosing a data center location for managed hosting is not as important as selecting a provider that meets your requirements for hardware, service, network, flexibility, and reputation," says William Toll, director of product management for NaviSite (www.navisite.com).

Comfort is another driver, and it means what’s right for one organization may not be right for another externally similar company.

"We’ve noticed over the years that some clients simply like to be close to their data—they feel more comfortable being able to visit the data center at will,” says Scott Thompson, CEO of the recently merged AmeriVault and NTG. “We also have clients 2,500 miles away that manage their infrastructure remotely."

But Is It Reliable?

As important as location is, reliability matters even more. Tom Deaderick, director of business development for OnePartner, says a better-provisioned facility located farther away is almost always a safer bet than a local data center with less-advanced infrastructure.

"A convenient data center is not as important as a reliable data center," he says. "I've maintained hosting environments that were 300 miles away from our office and never felt constrained by the distance. Remote management tools are very powerful and allow client operations staff to do installs, hard power-off, and virtually everything they could do if the equipment were onsite."